The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is two areas within Universal Orlando Resort’s theme parks that take their inspiration from the popular film series based on the J.K. Rowling books. Nearly every element has been translated into real life, seemingly by magic.
But it can be overwhelming to visit these parks, especially for the first time. Going early is the best way to see it all, starting at that part of both parks. But we have many more Wizarding World of Harry Potter tips, whether you’re a first-year or a Hogwarts alumni.
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The Parks of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Each is inspired by a different part of the Harry Potter Universe and has separate rides and experiences. They can be visited on separate days or with a Park Hopper ticket, which we’ll discuss further in another section.
The Harry Potter Experiences
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is different from so many other areas, and parks overall, because there is such attention to detail when it comes to every corner. Much of the fun is exploring the corners and looking at all the signs that have nods to the books and films. But you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy it!
Start your trip in Diagon Alley, located in Universal Studios. It’s where you’ll have the incredible moment of seeing where the bricks fall away and a magical world of shops appear. The firebreathing dragon at Gringott’s is at the center.
What sets Diagon Alley apart from the rest of the park is its shopping. Not every window is for a real place, but each has been carefully decorated like those from the films. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is a must-see, inspired by the twins’ joke shop. You can also change money at Gringott’s or purchase a wand from Ollivander’s.
If you purchase a wand from Ollivander’s, Gregorovitch’s, or any of the shops licensed by Universal, you can “cast spells” at points that have a metal symbol in the ground. It will show the pattern you should make with your wand for the desired result. The wand ceremony at the shop is also unique as one person is selected from the crowd to have a wand chosen for them, which can be purchased later.
Celestina Warbeck performs daily and so does a puppetry show of the Tales of Beedle the Bard. Outside of the alley, you can say hello to Stan at the Knight Bus or make a phone call to the Ministry of Magic at the red phone booth.
Don’t let the photos of Diagon Alley fool you. Hogsmeade also has plenty to offer. It’s here where you can get up close to the iconic Hogwarts castle and browse the shops that Harry and the gang enjoyed. You can also visit the Owl Post to have letters sent home. It also has authentic British pub fare.
There’s always something going on at Hogsmeade. Catch a performance of the Frog Choir or the Triwizard Spirit Rally. The Ollivanders wand ceremony is an experience in itself and you can also use wands here. At night, catch the lights show on Hogwarts Castle, which can’t be missed.
Rides at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Despite the many appealing aspects of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there aren’t that many rides between them. But the few are fantastic and worth the wait. Some allow you to use Express Passes and others can use the single rider lane. You’ll also need to use free lockers so pack light. Download the Universal Orlando app for the most up-to-date ride wait times.
Diagon Alley really takes your breath away once you arrive by the Hogwarts Express or enter the alley from central London. It’s also where the biggest crowds gather, so it’s a good idea to go there first.
Despite its popularity, there’s only really one ride at Diagon Alley: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Make a beeline for this ride, as the wait times can crawl past an hour some days. It’s a good one to use your Express Pass or single rider lane.
In this ride, you’re placed in a car that goes deep into Gringotts Bank. It’s not really a roller coaster, but rather an interactive 3D motion ride, but has some thrilling elements to it. If you do wait in line, you’ll get to see the goblins that work in the bank.
Access The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade either from the Islands of Adventure or on The Hogwarts Express. Here you’ll find a few rides, tucked around Hogwarts Castle.
The Flight of the Hippogriff is a beginner-friendly roller coaster. It offers views of Hogwarts Castle and Hagrid’s hut. It’s perfect for younger visitors that might be scared by other rides.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey brings you through the castle on an “enchanted bench.” The ride moves on a track that goes up and down and spins, featuring Harry, Ron, Hermione, and some of your other favorite residents of Hogwarts.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is the newest ride in the park and has had extensive wait times, usually at least an hour. But it’s well worth it, set on the former Dueling Dragons site with roller coaster drops and reverses, surrounded by the gentle giant’s magical creatures. Riders sit either on the motorbike or in the sidecar.
A Note on Wait Times: I rode Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure two days in a row. I was at the park before opening but was told that it wasn’t necessary to line up for over an hour. Instead, I downloaded the Universal app to keep an eye on wait times. The first time, I went around noon when the wait time was listed at 90 minutes, but it ended up being less. The next day, I tried around 10 am and used the single rider line and it still took an hour. It’s a nonscientific method, but it might be helpful.
The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express is transports guests between the two parts of the Wizarding World. It is a ride of sorts and shows different views on the screens depending on your direction of travel. Sit in cozy carriages like in real trains.
Between Hogsmeade and King’s Cross, you’ll see Buckbeak, the Forbidden Forest, Fred and George riding brooms alongside the train, Malfoy Manor, and later London and the Knight Bus.
In the opposite direction, a group of Dementors tries to attack the train near Malfoy Manor, but thankfully Harry and friends cast a Patronus to keep them away.
Remember that you’ll only be allowed to ride the Hogwarts Express with a Park to Park ticket. It lets you go between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Food and Drink in the Wizarding World
Everyone heads straight for the Butterbeer, but keep in mind that you can purchase it in many places throughout the Wizarding World and in many different forms: frozen, hot, and standard. Both parks have authentic British fare.
Diners have plenty of options for dining around Diagon Alley. If you’re looking for snacks and drinks, there are a few kiosks like The Fountain of Fair Fortune, which has Gillywater (bottled water) and Pumpkin Juice.
The Leaky Cauldron offers classic English pub meals and is Diagon Alley’s only full-service restaurant. The decor is reminiscent of the movies and the menu features draft beer and fire whiskey as well as Beef, Lamb, and Guinness Stew, bangers and mash, and sticky toffee pudding. They’re also open for breakfast but it gets crowded, so go early,
If you still haven’t fully indulged your sweet tooth, grab unique flavors of ice cream at the legendary Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. The soft serve comes in standard varieties like chocolate and vanilla, as well as butterbeer.
The Three Broomsticks is the best place to eat in Hogsmeade, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Favorites include the full English breakfast, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie. It has outdoor space in the back, which is a nice alternative once you’ve seen the decor.
Grab a pumpkin juice, butterbeer, or glass of beer or wine at the Hog’s Head, a pub located in the back of the Three Broomsticks. They have their own brand of beer.
Indulge your sweet tooth at Honeyduke’s, which sells every flavor beans and all sorts of other treats like the pumpkin pasty. Pick up something to enjoy now or when you get home.
Looking for Butterbeer? Undercover Tourist has a list of everywhere to get it inside Universal Orlando Resort and all the varieties it comes in. There are also easy copycat recipes if you want to make it at home.
Where to Shop
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Universal Orlando overall, have many places to buy your favorite Harry Potter fan gear. Best of all, the prices are the same everywhere, including the airport! This includes pins, wands, and robes.
If you’re interested in buying a wand, decide in advance whether you want to simply buy it or go through the whole Ollivander’s experience. Otherwise, you can buy them at any Universal Orlando gift shop, inspired by those of different characters.
If you’re staying at one of Universal Orlando Resort’s on-site hotels, you can have your purchases delivered directly to your room, keeping you from having to lug it all around.
The Best Spots for Photos at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you didn’t take photos of your trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, did you even go? There are so many corners to snap, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Kings Cross Station- Take the iconic photo at the station before boarding the Hogwarts Express.
- Knight Bus- Greet Stan and the gang in front of the Knight Bus. There tends to be a crowd out front, but you can get nearly the same photo on the backside of the purple bus.
- Grimmauld Place- Keep an eye out for Kreacher as you pose in front of the building where the Order of the Phoenix hid out.
- Diagon Alley Entryway- The brick wall opens into the tight alley of shops, centered around Gringott’s. Go during early park entry or in the last hour before closing for the best photos.
- Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes- Tip your hat like the sign in front of this fun joke shop owned by the Weasley Twins.
- Fire breathing dragon- Catch the dragon as it breathes fire down on the alley below.
- Hagrid’s bike- Set just underneath the dragon is a motorbike and sidecar like Hagrid’s. It’s the perfect spot for you and a friend.
- Gringotts- If you want to see the bank tellers close up, snap a photo inside the line for Escape from Gringotts. You can also go to the Gringotts money exchange, where a single goblin is there to answer your questions.
- With food- Some other fun photos in Diagon Alley include sipping butterbeer or enjoying Florian Fortescue’s ice cream.
- Hogwarts Castle- The best views are from Hogsmeade village, specifically the bridge to the left that goes towards Jurassic Park. It’s a popular spot so be patient!
- Hogsmeade Sign- If you’re entering from The Lost Continent, the “Respect Spell Limits” is a popular location to photograph.
- Hogsmeade Station- Kings Cross isn’t the only place to snap photos. This station has a train you can stand in front of for photos as well as a conductor.
- Three Broomsticks- Take your photos from inside the tavern or head next door to the Hog’s Head to see the mounted head that gives its name.
- Honeydukes- The pastries and sweets at this shop are photogenic on their own, but the pink and green paint also make a nice background.
The Best Ticket Types
It is entirely possible to see both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in one day but it is exhausting. So instead, at least two days are needed, with one day for each park. If you want to ride the Hogwarts Express, you’ll also need a park hopper ticket. The Universal 2-Day Park-to-Park Ticket – Plus Extra Day is the best option for first-timers to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Express Pass is almost essential for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, especially during the busy season. It will allow you to go through a shorter line for all rides except for Hagrid’s. It will eventually be added to the passes. Keep in mind that this is an additional cost on top of your ticket price.
Some onsite hotels get free express passes, as well as early park entry, including the Loews Portofino Bay, Loews Royal Pacific, and the Hard Rock Hotel. It’s just another reason to stay at one of the Universal hotels!
Where to Stay
If you’re looking to get into the gates of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as soon as it opens, the Hard Rock Hotel is the closest to CityWalk and thereby the gates of both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It also has early park entrance and express passes. They have themed rooms for other characters, but none for Harry Potter.
But if you want the experience of themed rooms, there are a number of rental homes at Reunion Resort that feature Harry Potter decor. The sprawling resort has a variety of accommodations and is in Kissimmee, a short drive from the parks.
Legends Palace, pictured above, has a Harry Potter suite behind a sliding bookcase. It also has a pool and basement bowling alley! Find out what other vacation rentals in Florida are renting for!
Other Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips
Before you go, check out the Crowd Calendar feature on websites like Undercover Tourist that can tell you which days are most likely going to be the busiest. The big events like Mardi Gras, Halloween Horror Nights, and Christmas tend to be the busiest.
The Celebration of Harry Potter was previously held at Universal Orlando but is on a hiatus, but there are other events that feature star appearances. New ride openings bring in the actors from the films. LeakyCon will also be held in Orlando in 2020.
You’ll see many people wearing fan-related shirts, robes, and house sweaters, which can be purchased online before you go or at one of the stores within the park. You also might want to pack items like a refillable water bottle and sunscreen.
Here are a few of our favorite Harry Potter items from Etsy:
Need more inspiration for your trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Check out our Disney World and Florida Theme Parks board on Pinterest.