For those of us that literally grew up with the characters in the books and movies, visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a dream come true. But, even if you don’t count yourself a fan of the books or the movies, Universal Orlando’s tribute to the world of Harry Potter is an incredible experience.
Here’s the Muggle’s Guide to visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located at Universal Studios Orlando Resort and more recently, Universal Studios LA, featuring interactive experiences, gift shops and thrilling rides.
It actually consists of two inner parks: Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Diagon Alley is located inside Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is inside Island’s of Adventure and both are connected via the Hogwarts Express.
I recommend getting at least a 2-day park pass, which will give you freedom to explore both to your heart’s delight – plus it gives you access to all other rides at Universal Orlando. The pass even includes a third-day-free option!
Travel Tip! Before you go: Download the Universal Orlando Wait Times App to know how long each line is for the rides in real time.
I would highly recommend visiting Diagon Alley first, as it gets extremely busy as the day goes on. As soon as you enter the park, literally run (or speed walk) to this location to avoid ridiculously long wait times for the rides.
Diagon Alley is the newest addition to Harry Potter, that opened in the Summer of 2014. The park features Escape from Gringotts – a 3D ride that includes animatronic goblins, fire-breathing dragons and even a glimpse of Lord Voldemort!
You can also visit iconic shops like Ollivanders Wand Shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Magical Menagerie, Wiseacre’s Equipment and Quality Quidditch Supplies.
Don’t forget to stumble down Knockturn Alley to take a peak inside Borgin and Burkes!
Tips for Your First Visit to Diagon Alley
Grab some lunch at The Leaky Cauldron. I was incredibly impressed with the quality of food at Universal Parks and especially at the Leaky Cauldron. They make their bread fresh daily and even import food from the UK for authenticity.
Get dessert at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Try a scoop of strawberry peanut butter with a scoop of salted caramel blondie, you can thank me later.
And finally, font forget to try some Butterbeer! You can try it at both parks, but, if you’re up for it, try all four ways it’s served in Diagon Alley: cold, frozen, hot or as ice cream! (P.S it’s non alcoholic so the kids can enjoy too!)
If you get an interactive wand you can interact with all kinds of shop windows and props throughout both parks. You can make fountains squirt with water, turn lights on and off in shop windows and even try the “wingardium leviosa” spell to float a feather. It’s a tonne of fun for both kids and adults!
Don’t forget to see the dragon atop Gringotts; it breaths fire every ten minutes, so you won’t miss it! You’ll first hear a low rumble then prepare yourself for the heat!
Transportation between the two parks got more authentic with the addition of Hogwarts Express in 2014. From Diagon Alley, you can return to the streets of London inside Universal Studios and enter King’s Cross Station.
As someone that’s visited London on countless occasions, there is little difference between “the tube” here and the real thing! There are even street performers inside. How’s that for authenticity?
You’ll make your way to Platform 9 3/4 and hop aboard for another interactive experience. Once onboard, you’ll look out an animated window through the streets of London, past the Dark Forest and then arrive into Hogsmeade.
But that’s not before a close encounter with a Dementor of course!
Here you’ll find Honeydukes Sweet Shop, the Three Broomsticks Restaurant, and a plethora of souvenir shops. Catch a ride on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster and send a local postcard from the Hogsmeade Post Office- stamped with a special Owl Post postmark.
The castle is the star of the show at Hogsmeade, where you can hop on the Forbidden Journey ride, a multi-sensory ride where you’ll soar above the castle with Harry Potter.
FYI the queue for this ride is an experience in itself. This is a ride you’ll be happy to wait in line for!
The queue is filled with rooms and settings from the books and films, including Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts class room, and the Gryffindor common room.
You’ll even encounter moving paintings from the movies in a real world setting. Stop and listen as the paintings talk amongst each other. It’s amazing!
Take note—both Escape from Gringotts and Ollivanders Wand Shop are extremely popular and lines can be long, so be prepared to wait 2+ hours on crowded days.
The Wizarding World is immensely popular, so plan ahead and arrive at least 15-30 minutes ahead of the park opening time. (Even better if you can stay on a resort hotel to access early admission).
As with most theme parks, it’s crowded—so go early in the day to catch the most popular rides first. Wear good walking shoes, because you’ll be walking and standing on your feet in lines—quite a lot!
Where to Stay
I would highly recommend booking a room at an on-site hotel. You’ll get quick access to the Universal Studios without the hassle of parking. We stayed at Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel, an on-site hotel that is both fun and affordable.
We had actually booked a 2-week stay in a different hotel, closer to Disneyworld, but decided to book a room in the Hard Rock for one night, purely for the benefits. Even though we didn’t actually sleep in the room, the benefits we got were more cost effective than buying individual theme park tickets. Let me explain…
For the 5 of us, we got a suite in the Hard Rock, for 1 night only, which included Express Passes for the front of the line privileges for 2 days (the day you check in and the day you check out). These express passes would have cost more than the room itself (had we bought them separately), so it was a no brainer to get the room, purely for these passes! We arrived at the hotel at 7am, to check in and claim our express passes. Obviously our room was not ready that early, which wasn’t an issue for us, as we didn’t have baggage, we just wanted our express passes LOL.
In addition to the express passes, we also got 8am early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, one hour before the theme park opens. This is something that cannot be bought, so it’s well worth it as it meant we were able to ride all the Harry Potter rides with virtually no queue times before the park opens to the public. Nb* The express passes are not valid for Harry Potter rides, but staying on site ensures you get early park admission, which is really the only way to ensure you ride these rides with minimal queue times.The express passes can be used on many other rides at Universal.
So basically, we drove to the hotel at 7am to park our car, get our express passes and early park admission (as we were technically booked to stay on site), and then drove back to our original hotel that evening, then we came back again the next day, to ‘check out’. But we still got the privilege of using the early park admission and the express passes.