10 Can’t-Miss Things to Do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

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There are a few things that are on every Harry Potter fan's bucket list: to visit Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station (the real one), to check out the “Making of Harry Potter” studio tour in London, and to geek out at both “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” parks (Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) at Universal Orlando.

It's so secret among people who know me that I am kind of a big nerd. I had already ticked off the Harry Potter sites in London and Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh, but I had yet to enter the ultimate fan realm in Florida.

So when Universal Orlando offered me tickets to visit their two theme parks during a special “Celebration of Harry Potter” event, I kind of couldn't say no.

Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Snowy Hogsmeade
Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Dragon atop Gringotts

I've now visited Universal Orlando several different times, and, whether consciously or not, usually spend the majority of my time in the Harry Potter parks. (What can I say? Once a nerd, always a nerd.) 

Even though I'd seen pictures of both the Harry Potter sections of the Universal parks before my first visit, I wasn't fully prepared to see them in real life – and let me tell you: they are AWESOME!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
The dragon breathes real fire!

After multiple days of park-hopping, butterbeer-drinking, and imaginary spell-casting, I've come up with this list of 10 things you MUST do if you visit Universal Orlando's Harry Potter parks.

10 Things to Do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

You can technically fit all of this into just one day if you have a Park-to-Park ticket, or you can spread it out over two days since Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios. (I will say, though, that a Park-to-Park ticket for at least one day is worth it, because it's the only way you'll be able to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks!)

Buy your Universal Orlando tickets here.

10 things to do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Here are the top 10 things I feel like you NEED to do when you're a Harry Potter fan at Universal Orlando, based on .

1. Exchange money at Gringotts

Gringotts Money Exchange
Goblin inside Gringotts Money Exchange

You'll find Gringotts in Diagon Alley (complete with fire-breathing dragon on top), but the Gringotts building itself is home to a (really cool) ride. Not far away, though, you'll find the Gringotts Money Exchange, where you can exchange your Muggle money for Gringotts bank notes.

I was slightly disappointed that you don't get handed a bag full of galleons, but it was fun nonetheless, especially since there's a goblin inside to interact with (ask him about his favorite color!).

And don't worry, this isn't something you spend any money on. You actually exchange money for Gringotts “money,” and you can use the Gringotts money just about everywhere within the Universal parks.

2. Ride the indoor rides

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando
Hogwarts Castle

There aren't a *ton* of rides in the Harry Potter parks – in fact, there's only ONE in Diagon Alley and 3 in Hogsmeade. Meaning it's pretty easy to ride them all if you want to. My personal favorites? It was the innovative indoor rides that really blew me away.

The “Forbidden Journey,” located inside Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure), is a grown-up motion simulation ride in which you feel like you're following Harry around on a broomstick, dodging dragons and dementors.

And the “Escape From Gringotts” ride in Diagon Alley (in Universal Studios) is a mixture of an indoor roller coaster and a 3-D ride where you get chased by Voldemort and Bellatrix through the vaults. Both were unlike any ride I've ever been on before!

*Be warned: The Forbidden Journey ride made me feel a bit sick, so if you're prone to motion sickness, I'd definitely take some Dramamine for this one!*

Hogwarts castle at night
Hogwarts Castle at night

And, pro tip: don't be scared by wait times. Wait times of up to 30 minutes will seem like nothing once you get inside, because the lines have you winding your way through Hogwarts and Gringotts respectively, complete with talking photos, animatronic goblins, and some appearances by Harry Potter characters.

The first time we went on the Forbidden Journey the line was only 10 minutes long – and I felt like we actually missed out on part of the experience because we went through the line so fast!

There's also a kid-friendly coaster in Hogsmeade (Flight of the Hippogriff), and the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (a more adult roller coaster) in the same area of the park.

RELATED: Universal Orlando: Which of Its Three Parks Should You Visit?

3. Go inside all the shops

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Weasleys Wizard Wheezes
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Especially in Diagon Alley, make sure to allow enough time to explore all the shops.

Just like in the book and movie versions of the magical shopping street, you'll find everything from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop to Madame Malkin's robe shop to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour to Quality Quidditch Supplies to Ollivander's wand shop (if you have kids, definitely wait in line for the whole experience at Ollivander's!).

You can even shop for “dark” objects in Borgin and Burkes down Knockturn Alley.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Inside Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes

Yes, most of the shops sell souvenirs and t-shirts instead of actual wizarding goods, but it's still really fun to wander through them all anyway.

And keep an eye on the “fake” shop windows, too (i.e. the ones that don't lead into actual shops) – these are often animated in fun and magical ways.

4. Buy an interactive wand

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida

Don't think this one is just for kids! If you're going to go to Ollivander's to get a wand of your own, be sure to get the interactive version!

Throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, there are interactive shop windows, fountains, and statues where you can wave your wand and bring something to life.

Casting spells at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It was so fun to watch faces – of both kids AND adults – light up when they made something “move” or made a fountain spring to life with the correct flick of a wand.

I didn't know about this feature of the parks before arriving the first time (and had no plans to buy a wand), but thought it was genius and a fantastic way to make people feel like they were really “part” of the magical world.

Diagon Alley at night
My wand at Diagon Alley at night

Once I got a wand of my own, it only made the Harry Potter parks feel more magical. I had so much fun following my map to all the spots where I could cast a spell and cause it to rain or make a feather float. So. Much. FUN.

5. Eat at either the Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks

The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley
The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley

There's one restaurant in each Harry Potter park (along with various stands selling drinks). You'll find the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and the Three Broomsticks (and attached Hog's Head Pub) in Hogsmeade.

Both serve “traditional British pub food” – I had a plate of mini meat and fish pies – and a range of Harry Potter-inspired drinks and beers. The prices actually aren't terrible, and it's a fun atmospheric thing to do.

My tip? Go for lunch instead of dinner and the lines won't be as long.

6. Drink butterbeer

Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Speaking of those HP-inspired drinks, you HAVE to try butterbeer. There are three different ways to try it – hot (offered seasonally), cold, and frozen – so pick one and have at it. (For the record, the warm butterbeer was my favorite.) The drink is incredibly sweet, though, so be warned that you may not be able to finish it.

If you want to try something that's not quite so sweet, order a Green Fishy Ale from The Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley. It's a take on bubble tea: a green, cinnamon-y drink with blueberry bobas that pop in your mouth. It doesn't LOOK particularly appetizing, but I loved it!

Fishy Green Ale in Diagon Alley
Green Fishy Ale!

The drink stands and restaurants also sell things like Pumpkin Juice, Otter's Fizzy Orange Juice, Tongue Tying Lemon Squash (lemonade), Peachtree Fizzing Tea, and Gilly Water (just good ol' bottled water), along with assorted alcoholic beverages.

7. Get candy at Honeydukes, or ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s

Honeydukes in Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

You of course can't go to Hogsmeade without visiting Honeydukes, the famous wizarding candy shop. Pick up a Chocolate Frog, some Fizzing Whizzbees (chocolate-covered pop rocks – my favorite), and of course some Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.

Play a fun game with your Every Flavor Beans: don't look at the flavor guide, and simply hand them out to your friends and have them guess the flavor! (Warning: There are more gross ones than good-flavored ones…)

Inside Honeydukes

If ice cream is more your speed, be sure to stop into Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley – they even sell butterbeer-flavored ice cream, which is very popular.

8. Enjoy the live shows

At each park, you can catch short live performances that will immerse you further into the Wizarding World.

In Hogsmeade, look out for performances by the Frog Choir, as well as a Triwizard Spirit Rally. In Diagon Alley, you can see a dramatic telling of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and listen to music by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.

9. Take the Hogwarts Express between parks

Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando

If you're going to Universal Orlando mostly for the Harry Potter parks, you want to make sure to get a park-hopper (park-to-park) ticket so you can visit both parks in one day. Then you can take the Hogwarts Express between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade!

Get on at Kings Cross Station in Universal Studios, and get off at Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure. (And be sure to take the train the other way, too, as the experience is slightly different depending on which way you're going!)

Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando

It's a fun way to “travel,” and actually can save you some time walking between parks (assuming the line for the train isn't too long).

The ride itself is fun, too, but I won't give away why – you'll have to ride it yourself to see!

10. Visit the parks at night

Diagon Alley at night
Diagon Alley at night

Lastly, early park entry is great, but there's also something magical about visiting Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley after dark.

This won't be possible every night (especially during the summer months when the sun doesn't set until much later), but be sure to check the opening hours of each park for every day of your trip to see if you can catch either of these parks after dark.

I promise it's worth it! (Plus, if you stay right up until closing time, you'll have the areas almost all to yourself!)

Hogsmeade at night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Hogsmeade at night

There's also a nighttime light show projected onto the Hogwarts castle in Islands of Adventure. This only happens on select nights, but it's something worth planning your visit around if you can!

Where to stay at Universal for early park access

One of my biggest tips for visiting Universal Orlando is to stay at one of the park-associated hotels. There are eight of them: the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay HotelLoews Sapphire Falls Resort, the Aventura Hotel, and the new Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites and Dockside Inn and Suites.

Staying at any of these hotels will give you access to both Universal parks one hour before they officially open – meaning this is the best way to see Diagon Alley without any people, or to get in line for the Gringotts ride when there's no wait.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Empty Diagon Alley is truly magical!

All the hotels offer free transport to CityWalk and the parks (some of them offer transfer by boat, others by bus), or most are actually close enough that you can also walk if you want to.

Additionally, staying at one of the “premium” hotels (Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, or Loews Royal Pacific Resort) also will get you FREE Universal Express Unlimited passes to skip lines at some rides and attractions. This is an incredible added value (up to $170 per person), and works for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Flight of the Hippogriff, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter parks.

If you don't stay at one of the premium hotels, I love staying at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is a funky, family-friendly hotel that opened in 2015. It has two pool areas, a lazy river, a Starbucks right inside the hotel, and a free shuttle bus to take you to CityWalk and back that operates from 7 a.m. – 2 a.m. every day. And the prices are more than reasonable – we paid an average of $125 per night.

Check out Cabana Bay reviews on TripAdvisor | Book your own stay at Cabana Bay here!

Any of the on-site hotels are great choices, though. If you can't decide which one you want to stay at, compare prices of hotels near Universal here.

How many days do you need at Universal's Harry Potter parks?

You can technically fit a visit to both parks into just one day if you have a Park-to-Park ticket and don't plan to do much else at Universal Orlando.

I'd recommend spreading it out over two days, though, since Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios. This way you can spend one day at each park. (Though, I still recommend a a Park-to-Park ticket for at least one day, because it's the only way you'll be able to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks!)

Looking for more Universal Orlando content?

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Are you as nerdy as me? Is going to the Harry Potter parks in Orlando on your bucket list?

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*Note: I did receive complimentary park-to-park tickets from Universal Orlando. However I paid for everything else myself and all nerdy opinions and tips are completely my own! 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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86 Comments on “10 Can’t-Miss Things to Do at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

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  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, My family and I are taking my mom for her 61st birthday. This was a weird request being that she does not ride roller coasters. I think HP would be a great fit for her. Out of curiosity how did you get free tickets?

      She can certainly enjoy the Harry Potter parks (and Universal as a whole) without riding any rides! (The Hogwarts Express train would be fun, though, if she’s a Harry Potter fan.) As for how I got free tickets, I often get media passes for events or to specific attractions in order to cover them on the blog.

    Thank you for sharing all these tips! Wonderful read and awesome photos!!! My family and I will definitely be using your suggestions when we visit in a couple weeks!

    Thanks for the detailed advice! I’m getting really excited for my trip.
    Also just wanted to say that I love the Tolkien-inspired concept of your blog and your on-theme tattoos!

    Pretty horrible experience with my special needs child. Historically, this park has had very very negative reviews(experiences) with families with special needs.

      I’m sorry to hear that, and hope you were able to bring you concerns up with the park itself.

    Believe it or not, my daughters took me to Universal to celebrate my 70th birthday because I had wanted to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter since it opened. You’d think 70 years old wouldn’t want to do such a thing but oh no, that is far from correct. I had a ball. We went on every ride at least once and some of them twice. The animatronics were simply amazing. I took photos of everything I could possibly take a photo of. And we had the frozen butterbeer everyday. Sadly, Universal is the only place you can buy it. I have wonderful memories of my 70th birthday and, it wasn’t in the Harry Potter park, but I even rode The Hulk roller coaster – twice! I forgot how much fun roller coasters are. I thank my daughters over and over for making my birthday absolutely the best and one I will always remember.

      Sounds like you had an amazing time, Diana! What a fun way to celebrate your birthday!

    Hey Amanda! I just wanted to let you know that I just started a blog for myself and it’s kind of like a travel blog. My first post is about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I shared this blog in my post because I remember reading it when I took my first trip to Universal Orlando Resort. It was VERY helpful and gave me great suggestions of what I should visit during my time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Please take a look at my blog as well if you get time. Thanks again!

      I’m glad you found this post so useful, Dillon!

    We are hoping to get to the USA in 2019 and would love to go to the Harry Potter theme parks. I have 2 kids – they will be around 8 and 11 by then, do you think the rides will be ok for them? My son is tall and lanky at the moment but my daughter is a tiny little fairy! Because we have never been to the US and perhaps there might be other stuff at the parks we want to see I am thinking a 2 day park to park might be best. Which hotel that gets you in early would you say would be best for a family eg serve brekky and have nice rooms etc? Thanks for the reply in advance ?

      I think those are excellent ages to visit Universal! If your daughter isn’t tall enough to ride all of the rides, there’s still so much to see and do, even outside of the Harry Potter sections of the parks. A 2-day park to park ticket would definitely be best! And as for on-site hotels, my favorite is Cabana Bay. They have family rooms, two pools (and a lazy river), and multiple places to eat breakfast (though the breakfast doesn’t usually come free with the room – but this hotel is the most affordable of the on-site hotels!).

    I went in March and I already want to go back. I wish I got a wand …

    But I guess, my next goal is to go to the one in London 🙂

      Next time you definitely have to get a wand! They’re so fun!

    I really enjoyed your insight into the park I’ve been dreaming of visiting since it’s opening! Really great photos!

      Thanks! I think these are definitely my favorite theme parks!

    I’ll be going in May! Can’t wait, it looks absolutely fantastic (and great tips too, thank you!).

      It’s SO much fun! I’ve been twice now, and it was just as magical the second time around.

    Hi! I’m heading to the parks early februrary (Just a day after HP Celebration 2017 – bummer!) and I was wondering how crowded is the park during the celebration. As I’m not actually getting to enjoy itself, I’m hoping for a emptier park! I got the entire Harry Potter experience, with a photoshoot and breakfast at both restaurants… but I really wanna shorter lines! Can I hope for that a week after the celebration? Thank you!

      It was fairly crowded during the celebration, but I’m honestly not sure what it’s like outside of that time period since it’s the only time I’ve been there! I would guess it would be less crowded, though. And a tip is to get to the park(s) as early as possible. When my friend and I went early in the morning, there were hardly any lines!

    Loved your article! I am planning to visit both WDW and WWoHP in November but, I am stressing out about how much time to spend at HP especially since the hours are reduced in November. Can I do both HP parks in one day or should I plan for two?

      You definitely can do both parks in one day, but that’s only if you aren’t planning to visit any other parts of Universal. If you want to see more, then I would suggest two days!

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