You might not ever get over your first sight of Diagon Alley, stretching out ahead of you with Gringotts Bank far ahead and a fire breathing dragon teetering on the building’s roof. Stepping around a blank brick wall it does feel like you have been transported far away to the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
For immersive experiences at Universal Orlando Resort this is something beyond your wildest dreams – to walk in the steps of the famous boy wizard, explore wand shops, take part in thrilling rides deep below Gringotts and catch the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmead before more adventures await you at Hogwarts.
Here is our Ultimate Guide to the Wizarding world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Islands of Adventure.
The first thing to know about the Wizarding world of Harry Potter at Universal in Orlando is that the experience is split over two sites – Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios Orlando and Hogsmead and Hogwarts are at Universal Islands of Adventure, so if you are planning to see it all in one day, make sure you have a ticket for both parks. You can get between the two using the Hogwarts Express (more on that below). If you see them without the Park-to-Park tickets you won’t get to travel on the train, which although a short ride is well worth experiencing.
You start spotting signs of what awaits you in the wizarding world of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando when you approach the brilliantly authentic entrance to Kings Cross station complete with uniformed staff in which is an incredibly faithful reconstruction of a little bit of London in Florida.
Here you can see the triple decker Knight Bus used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, complete with a Stan Shunpike lookalike and a talking shrunken head in the driver’s cab.
Across the street is Grimauld Place and if you keep a keen eye on the windows of number 12 you might spot Kreacher the Elf peeking through the curtains at you!
You’ll spot a blank brick wall to your left of Grimauld Place and it’s here that you step into Diagon Alley. Walking through the gap in the wall, you will find yourself immersed in the world of wizards and witches.
There is so much to explore here it’s sometimes hard to know where to start, but I would suggest taking a stroll up along the Alley and starting with Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes which is great fun to take a look around. You can stock up here on all things Hogwarts and plenty of tricks and treats from Ron’s older twin brothers.
On your way along Diagon Alley don’t forget to peek into the shop windows where you might spot famous faces from the books and films, or magical things taking place behind the glass.
Ollivanders is half way along the Alley and as well as being able to pick up all manner of wands of all shapes and sizes, including those of your favourite characters, you can also meet a wand expert and get to experience the moment when a wand chooses a wizard.
Both my eldest two were picked out of the group on the two occasions when we visited (so try and get them front and centre if yours want to be picked) and they absolutely loved it when their magic went wrong and nearly brought all the shelves off the walls. After the experience you can enter the shop and purchase a wand if you wish. There are wands here which make ‘magic’ happen at various points around the streets so if your children are budding wizards you might want to buy one of these to add something extra to your experience.
At the top of the Alley you cannot fail to miss the imposing Gringotts bank. This is the site of the immersive “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts” roller coaster ride which sees you travel deep inside the bank, and experience an epic battle between Harry and Voldemort, which has been created for the ride with the actors from the films. It’s a brilliantly thrilling ride which was perfect for my 8 and 10-year-old. Simply stepping into the bank and seeing the Goblins working hard away is an incredible experience – faithfully recreated from the scenes in the first film.
TOP TIP 1 My advice is to get here early for “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts” as the queues can get long and you cannot use fast pass on this ride.
You can also have a one-to-one chat with a Goblin at the Gringotts Money Exchange, where you will get grilled by a fairly grumpy animatronic goblin before changing your muggle money for a wizarding note which you can either keep as a souvenir or spend in one of the shops. This is a great fun experience.
TOP TIP 2 Nearby you can also check out wizarding performers acting out the stories from The Tales of Beedle the Bard or enjoy the tunes of Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees, but watch out not to get a soaking from the fountain in the middle!
All around Diagon Alley you can stop for refreshments at many wizarding favourites including The Hopping Pot, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour and the Fountain of Fair Fortune. My personal favourite was stopping for a meal at the Leaky Cauldron which serves breakfasts and lunches such as bangers and mash, cottage pie and a ploughman’s platter, all washed down with drinks including Gillywater or delicious Butterbeer.
There is plenty more to explore here including a trip into the world of dark magic along the poorly lit streets of Knockturn Alley where more mystery awaits.
TOP TIP 3 Equipped with your magic wand from Ollivanders look out for golden plaques on the cobbled streets. Follow the instructions on the plaques and you’ll see something magical taking place!
In order to travel across to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express you need to head out of Diagon Alley back into the Muggle World and into the entrance to King’s Cross Station. Follow the paths into the station and you’ll soon find yourself presented with the opportunity to step through the secret wall which will take you Platform 9 and 3/4s.
TOP TIP 4 There’s a magic mirror here which helps to create the effect of stepping through the wall, so one of your group will need to stay back for a few seconds to capture the moment!
As the Hogwarts Express pulls into the station you’ll be forgiven for thinking that it’s just a smart way to travel between the two parks, but of course the train is an adventure in itself. Seated in a classic train carriage, the train doors shut along with those of the compartment and out of the window we see London disappearing and strange sights dashing across the sky. You’ll also soon discover there are some familiar wizards on board the train too and you’ll see their silhouettes passing the compartment, hear them talking and you might even spot an escaped chocolate frog or two. Before you arrive there’s a short adventure for the wizards to tackle which is brilliantly realised and you feel very much like you’re on your way to the magical school.
TOP TIP 5 if you’re only visiting Universal Islands of Adventure there is still a chance to get a photo or selfie or two in front of the Hogwarts Express at the entrance to Hogsmeade.
Arriving on the Hogwarts Express, or by footpath in the Universal Islands of Adventure, the village of Hogsmeade stretches ahead of you and in the distance you’ll catch sight of the wonderful wizarding school of Hogwarts. The snowy rooftops of the village shops are brilliantly evocative and if you’re visiting only this park you’ll find as much fun and enjoyment here as within Diagon Alley.
One of the first rides to experience here at Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade is the Flight of the Hippogriff. If your children are feeling adventurous this is the perfect introduction to roller coasters with just the right amount of twists, turns and speed as you zoom past Hagrid’s Hut, listen out for Fang barking.
TOP TIP 6 While it’s a fairly short ride, the queues here aren’t long so you can jump back on and ride again if your children want to spot the Hippogriff another time next to the coaster track and whizz over and around the pumpkin patch.
Naturally there are plenty of places to grab a butterbeer in Hogsmeade including stopping into the Hogs Head pub or the Three Broomsticks. There is something really (dare I say it) magical about stepping into these famous spots from the books and films. They have been so well recreated. Again you can grab a good lunch here with traditional British dishes including Fish and Chips and Cornish Pasties.
TOP TIP 7 You can pick up an interactive wand here at an Ollivander’s wand shop or stall which can be used to make magic happen in the shop windows.
There’s an incredible array of magical items to be purchased at the likes of Dervish and Banges (Sneakoscope anyone?) There are also plenty of products to buy here and at Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods for budding Quidditch players from quaffles to snitches and even a Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick.
One of my favourite parts of this park attraction is the Owl Post where you can send a letter which will arrive with a special Hogsmeade postmark. There are also stamps, stationary and quills perfect for junior wizards and witches.
TOP TIP 8 Watch out for the Monster Book of Monsters snarling safely behind bars in the Owl Post. My kids were transfixed.
Just like Diagon Alley, there is street entertainment here including impressive displays of tumbling and acrobatics by Beauxbaton and dance from Durmstrang students. My children particularly loved the Frog Choir, with songs from Hogwarts students accompanied by giant frogs sat on velvet cushions.
The time has finally come to step into the hallowed halls of Hogwarts for the absolute best part of the whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This ride begins with an exploration through the corridors of Hogwarts where you’ll see the painting come to life, spot magical newspapers, and even get to spend some time with Dumbledore in his office. You’ll also spot the Gryffindor common room, the Room of Requirement and the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. This is a brilliant experience which any Potter fans will absolutely love.
TOP TIP 9 The queues here can be quite extensive, hence the elaborate and lengthy exploration through Hogwarts. Come early to beat the queues as once again fast passes can’t be used.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a real highlight of your whole time in the wizarding world. With Hermione working her magic on some school benches you’ll be whisked away down to the Quidditch pitch, see Harry and Ron sparring with Malfoy, but there’s more trouble around the corner. Dementors are circling and you’ll need Harry to rescue you from the depths of the Forbidden Forest. This is an immersive ride where you’ll be spun from scene to scene in a uniquely magical attraction.
You will spin and turn up above the grounds of Hogwarts and plunge deep into the forest. My eldest loved this ride and couldn’t wait to take it again and again.
TOP TIP 10 Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a thrilling ride which is perfect for older children, but due to a few scary moments it might be too much for younger kids.
The whole of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter does so much to help you believe you’ve stepped into the life of the boy wizard. There’s so much to enjoy at both of the parks and while you’ll need to get tickets for each, it’s well worth seeing every last corner of this incredible spell binding attraction. One word – Magical.
Find out more about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando Resort Florida at the Universal website and check out all of our features on Universal by clicking on the tab at the top of the page or by clicking here – Universal Features.
We travelled to Universal Orlando Resort as guests of Virgin Holidays, Universal and Mumsnet and all opinions are our own.