As the sun sets, downtown Orlando lights up for the holidays. (Photo by Dave Raith).
ORLANDO – Late some afternoon, when you’re ready to get into the holiday spirit, here’s a tip: don’t get in your car and then brave Interstate 4 on the way to the theme parks.
There’s no question that Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld draw overflow crowds with very popular holiday-themed special events at this time of year.
There is an alternative way of getting into the spirit of the season, however, and it comes at an attractive price tag – absolutely free – and involves being outdoors, walking, and getting a bit of healthy exercise.
Consider spending a pleasantly mild evening on a walking tour of downtown Orlando, where a very impressive array of holiday light displays awaits you – often in surprising places.
Start the tour just as darkness is setting in. Park your car near Lake Eola, and start at the beautifully decorated Christmas tree right next to the Disney Amphitheater. Watch that tree become fully illuminated – along with the Lake Eola fountain – at sunset.
And keep in mind, this is just the start of the tour.
From Lake Eola, walk up Central Boulevard to Orange Avenue. You’ll pass by the Orange County Regional History Center, which is well lit at this time of year, and just past it is St. James Catholic Cathedral at the corner of Orange Avenue and Robinson Street – again, a historic property beautifully illuminated after dark.
Orange Avenue, of course, invites those on a walking tour to enjoy quite a bit of exquisitely bright holiday lighting, from window shops to the decorations posted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. That includes the Christmas Star that illuminates the intersection of Central Boulevard.
Dripping icicles fall from the trees along Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

Check out the trees on both sides of Orange Avenue, nicely decorated with dripping icicle lights just past the intersection of Jefferson Street. Close by, at the corner of E. Washington and Orange Avenue, take a moment to glance inside the Region’s Bank building, which hosts a huge tree right inside its front window – still lit for all to see after the main doors have closed and been locked for the day.
Take the time to explore side streets off Orange Avenue as well. Church Street is, of course, well lit around Church Street Station, but check out the lighted palm trees a few blocks before that.
At the intersection of E. Washington and Orange Avenue, go west, and keep an eye out for the Elixir Barroom & Hash House. Even if you don’t want a drink, check out how nicely the holiday lights in their window shine and brighten an otherwise dark side street.
Churches like St. James Catholic Cathedral in downtown Orlando are well lit at night. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

Orlando’s historic downtown churches add considerably to this walking tour. The Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, at the intersection of E. Jefferson and Magnolia, is another beautiful building to walk past on this tour.
On the other side of Lake Eola, at 123 E. Livingston St., is another majestic church building, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, which is attractively gothic when lit up at night.
Then there are the apartment buildings like Aspine Apartments on E. Washington Street that have their own holiday lights to add to the mix. The list, actually, goes on and on.
In fact, find your own little side streets and discover something not listed here. But again, start at the Christmas tree at Lake Eola Park, then start walking — in any direction you like.
The holiday mood you develop during this pleasant walking tour will follow you all the way home.

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