South of downtown Orlando, Belle Isle is a residential city on the shore of the Conway Chain of Lakes.
Linked by canals, these three lakes take up more than half of Belle Isle’s total area. Lake Conway here is one of the largest in Greater Orlando, and a hotspot for bass fishing.
Even though there isn’t a lot of public land on its shores, the lake can be accessed via boat ramps, and there’s a cluster of several scenic pocket parks.
Another of Belle Isle’s great assets is its location. I love the SunRail commuter train, getting you to downtown Orlando in ten minutes.
There’s a ton of exciting attractions all around, from Universal Orlando, 15 minutes away, to karting tracks, state-of-the-art movie theaters, and the famous Florida Mall.
1. Conway Chain of Lakes
Integral to the cityscape, the Conway Chain of Lakes is Belle Isle’s dominant natural feature. This is three connected water bodies, comprising a total 1,800 acres.
Now, much of the lakeshore is residential, with private docks, but the city maintains public access to Lake Conway at four boat ramps. These are Randolph, Perkins, Venetian and Ferncreek.
If you’re up for some fishing, you couldn’t pick a better spot in Greater Orlando. The bass fishing is excellent here, but catfish, beam, and shad are also biting in these waters.
Belle Isle takes care of a few lakeshore pocket parks, too small for me to talk about as separate list items. Take the tiny Peninsular Park, which is an inspiring place to see the sun come up on Lake Conway.
2. The Florida Mall
Five minutes from Belle Isle is the largest mall in Central Florida, with close to 300 tenants. A remarkable thing about the Florida Mall is that it’s all on one floor, which gives it a giant footprint.
Being close to downtown, theme parks, and the Orlando International Airport makes it a convenient attraction. So no surprise that more than 20 million people visit this place every year.
For a small summary of the brands when I came through, there’s everything from Apple to Gap, Guess, Mango, Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Banana Republic, Sephora, UNIQLO and Zara.
There is also a hotel and conference center on-site, and they often feature live entertainment, especially on the weekends. So even for those who aren’t interested in shopping, there’s a lot going on.
3. Warren Park
This small but attractive Orange County park sits on Belle Isle’s eastern limits, and is split by Seminole Drive.
Among a thick stand of live oaks, Warren Park has access to Lake Conway, paved walking paths, and a playground. With so much shade from the canopy, there are plenty of covered seating areas for those escaping the Florida sun.
Warren Park is a much-loved picnic and exercise destination, especially during the cooler fall and winter months. As well as an awesome fitness path, you’ve got tennis courts, pickleball courts, and beach volleyball courts.
4. Orlando Watersports Complex
One of the largest cable wakeboard parks in the country is right on the southwest side of Belle Isle.
Primed for everyone from beginners to experts, the Orlando Watersports Complex has two full-sized cables for wakeboarding, wakeskating, waterskiing and kneeboarding.
Among the many features out on the water are transfer rails and enormous Unit XL Kicker ramps. There’s also a lake for boat-towed sports, from wakeboarding to tubing.
I have to save space to talk about the awesome Aquapark at the complex. This floating obstacle course covers more than 10,000 square feet and has 40 features, from overhanging walls to slides.
5. Universal Orlando Resort
The closest of Greater Orlando’s big attractions is Universal Orlando, 15 minutes west of Belle Isle.
Over 500 acres this complex is made up of three theme parks, and eight resort hotels with up to 9,000 rooms.
As well as Universal Studios Florida, Universal Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Park, a fourth theme park was in the pipeline when I wrote this article. Announced back in 2019 Universal Epic Universe was due to open in 2025.
For day-trippers the focus will of course be Universal Studios, with rides and live shows infused with all the magic of movie and TV IPs, from Harry Potter to Despicable Me.
6. Southport Community Park
On the other side of the Beachline Expressway from Belle Isle there’s an excellent community park maintained by the City of Orlando. An interesting detail I picked up about Southport Community Park is that it was previously a naval recreation center.
Up to the 21st century the Villages of Southport neighborhood was 200+ acres of housing for the Orlando Naval Training Center. Anyway, Southport Community Park is a relaxing place for a walk or run along tree-lined trails.
There are several pavilions, perfect for parties or family reunions, as well as a large fenced playground for wee ones. Sports amenities include baseball diamonds, a softball field, basketball courts, and soccer fields.
7. Cypress Grove Park
Northwest of Belle Isle is a sumptuous public park that opened in 1994 on the shore of Lake Jessamine. Cypress Grove Park is a former estate presided over by an elegant Colonial Revival mansion built in 1925.
I adore this part of the park where the trails curl along the lakefront under mature live oaks and cypresses, and among seasonal flower displays.
On the north side, across Judy Court, is more of a conventional park, still dotted with hundreds more oaks and wedged by whitewashed fences.
This is my favorite place to go jogging around Belle Isle, while there are also amenities for basketball, soccer, football, fishing, cricket, and sand volleyball.
8. South Conway Road
Around Belle Isle, most of the shopping and dining is concentrated along S Conway Road, which forms the city’s eastern boundary.
Where this road intersects with Hoffner Avenue you’ll find Conway Crossing, a sprawling shopping center on all four sides of the crossroads.
Some of the things I saw when I was here were multiple chain restaurants. These included Wawa, Wendy’s, Starbucks, McDonald’s mixed in with some locally owned options. A cool one was Estación Zuliana, a Venezuelan food truck noted for its empanadas and tequeños.
You’ve also got branches of Planet Fitness and Crunch Fitness, and a large Publix location.
9. Epic Theatres at Lee Vista
The nearest movie theater to Belle Isle is this branch of Epic Theatres, set among the hotels and restaurants north of Orlando International Airport.
Dinner and a movie is a breeze here. This location opened in 2016, which means that it’s equipped with all of the features you want from a modern theater, from comfy recliners to a pair of XL auditoriums with 17-foot large-format screens
There are 12 screens in total, and another great touch is that you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage white you watch your movie.
10. Crayola Experience
The famed crayon company, Crayola, has a one-of-a-kind visitor attraction at the Florida Mall. Ideal for young families in need of some inspiration, the Crayola Experience has 70,000 square feet of interactivity.
Take Melt & Mold, where kids can choose a crayon to be melted down and molded into a souvenir, or Rockin’ Paper, where a personalized work of paper art becomes animated.
Kids can also learn how crayons are made, and let off some steam in a two-story indoor playground.
As a flagship, the Crayola Experience also has an enormous array of Crayola crayons and markers from all 99 colors in the retail store.
The 2010s were transformative for Greater Orlando. One big project was this commuter rail service running north to south through the city and its suburbs.
Orlando’s SunRail is a modern, double-decker train that’s inexpensive to ride. Even when I wrote this list, the line was still extending north into Volusia County.
You can catch the train at Sand Lake Road, next to Belle Isle, and within ten minutes you’ll be in downtown Orlando at Church Street.
Keep going north and the Advent Health station serves the likes of the Mennello Museum of American Art, the Orlando Science Center, and the Orlando Museum of Art.
Stay on the train a little longer, and you’ll get to upscale Winter Park, with its museums and elegant old mansions.
12. Central Florida Skatepark
When I went to press, one of the units at the nearby Hoffner Industrial Park had recently been converted into an indoor skatepark. This kind of facility makes sense in Central Florida, where rain or excessive heat can be a factor.
The idea behind the Central Florida Skatepark was to bring the streets inside, with ramps, steps and rails for skaters of all ages to develop their skills.
People come from as far away as Miami to use this facility, which is cooled with powerful fans on hot days. Check the calendar for seasonal events, including camps during school breaks.
13. Barber Park
In the Conway area, this stunning lakeside park is managed by Orange County. One of many reasons to make the short trip to Barber Park is for the once-monthly Conway Community Market, taking place on Sundays, September through May.
Any other time this is a lush green haven, loaded with recreation amenities. A popular one for families with smaller children is the splash pad, while there’s also a roller-hockey rink, a skate park, basketball courts, and a dog park.
To me, Barber Park is also somewhere to take it easy. You can roam the trails, take picnics and admire the multitude of ducks on the shore of Lake George.
14. Downtown Orlando
Belle Isle has a quiet, residential character, but in ten minutes you can be in the heart of the action. Strictly speaking, Orlando has several downtown districts, but here I’m talking about the City District, right next to Church Street station.
This area has all the culture, entertainment, public spaces, and landmarks of a modern city. You might catch a Broadway show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, head out for a meal at one of the many restaurants, or view an exhibition at the Orange County History Center.
Just west, the Exploria Stadium is home field for Orlando City of the MLS. Meanwhile the spectacular Lake Eola Park is one of America’s great urban parks.
15. Orlando Kart Center
A little way south of Belle Isle there’s an acclaimed outdoor go-karting facility with an 8/10-mile track. The high-powered karts at the Orlando Kart Center can reach speeds of 45 mph on the straights.
The track is a joy to drive, with real curbing and bumps, and a timing system displaying your performance around the facility.
If you’re here with a younger family member who wants to ride along you can also rent a double-seater kart.
For basic karts, arrive-and-drive races are available in packages from one to 10, and no license is required. Prices include all safety equipment, including helmet and head sock.