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 J.K. Rowling's version 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 $129 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. I love this post Amanda! I am going to the HP World for the 2nd time on THURSDAY! I couldn’t be more excited… the last time I went Diagon Alley had not been built yet. So this is really exciting.. so much new stuff to do 🙂

    And your post made me even more excited 🙂

      Oooo you are going to LOVE the new Diagon Alley part! It was my favorite bit. 🙂

    Wow! As an Florida expat (who worked at Universal Studios Orlando) living in London, I really enjoyed reading this. On my blog, I’ve written a comparison post between the London studio and Islands of Adventure’s attraction. One thing to add for anyone visiting London over the Christmas holiday is seeing Hogwarts in the Snow. It’s beautiful and includes the Warner Bros studio sets and castle being decorated for Christmas.

      I’ve been to the studio tour in London, too, and LOVED it! I think the parks at Universal are very different, though. The London tour is so unique because it’s the actual sets and costumes!

      I’m really excited to be going to London this summer and plan to go see the WB Harry Potter studio tour, and do the muggles tour in London. Is there any reason I should bring my interactive wand from Orlando with me? Will it work anywhere in the WB studio tour or anywhere in London?

    Hey, I wish there were more female nerds! Your blog’s name drew me in immediately.
    My husband and I are older travelers and always end up at WDW. I was a bit worried about the ride at Universal, but you have made it too inviting for us to miss next time.
    Apps, however is something that we really try to avoid like the plague. Its very sad to see the kids at WDW immersed in their 4 by 4 inch universe and missing the moment.
    Love your blog!

      I would definitely say give it a go! The Gringotts one is more like a roller coaster, and the Hogwarts one more like a 3-D motion ride (so if you’re prone to motion sickness, I would recommend the Gringotts ride more).

    I’ve now been to WWHoP four times (twice to Diagon Alley), and this makes me excited for a fifth (hopefully later this year)!

    […] when we were staying in Puerto Escondido on the Oaxacan Coast of Mexico I stumbled across another traveler’s blog post about her visit to The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter at Universal Studios O…. I had never heard of such a place! I truly had no idea that a Harry potter theme park existed. I […]

    I am a little apprehensive about the rollercoaster type ride. I really do not like those kind of rides. Any options?

      Unfortunately those are the main types of rides at Harry Potter world! The ones indoors aren’t *really* roller coasters, though – they’re 3-D experiences!

        Thank you Amanda for your quick reply. Love this site! One more question, if its ok. The 3D experiences; do the sits remain still or do they go up and down also?
        (My problem is motion sickness).

          Ahhh yes the seats move, too. I wouldn’t recommend the Hogwarts ride at all if you suffer from motion sickness – I took Dramamine and it still made me feel a bit funny! (The Gringott’s one, on the other hand, was fine for me since it was closer to a roller coaster.)

    We are planning a trip to the US in August 2016, and plan to visit the new Harry Potter world that’s opening at Universal in Anaheim (along with a trip to Disneyland). We are sooooo excited to be going there, but I’m interested to know if you know if it will be of the same scale as the Orlando HP world? I’m currently trying to plan how many days we’ll need at each place, and I’m starting to think 2 days at Universal and 3 at Disney… the trip is expanding in length (and cost) the more I think about it!! lol

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about the plans for the park in California! I *think* that they’re starting out by adding Hogsmeade, which was the first Harry Potter-themed section they added in Orlando. I’m not sure that they’re building Diagon Alley in California yet, though, so it sounds like there may be half as many HP attractions there in 2016.

    I am taking my 8 year old, 3 year old, and my parents who are in their 70s around Christmas time there. Should we plan on a 1 day or 2 days if the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the only part that we want to visit? I will be purchasing the Park to Park, plus hoping there is still the express pass I can buy. Thanks!!!!

      Hmmm you can definitely do both Harry Potter parks in just one day. But if there’s *any* chance you want to see other parts of the park(s) (and there are other very cool sections, especially for kids), then I would go with 2 days!

      Just one thing to keep in mind, the express passes don’t include most of the big Harry Potter rides, and when I went a few years ago right after Christmas we had over a 2 hour wait for the Hogwarts ride. So if you’re only interested in Harry Potter world, you might want to look into whether the express passes would actually save you time on any of the rides you’re interested in.

    Thank you so much for this! I am actually going to be there this weekend and was looking for some tips on what to see and do! I also saw someone’s comment about possibly getting in early even though we’re not a universal hotel guest. I’m staying at the Doubletree outside the gate, so I’ll be right there! Thank you again!

      Good luck – I hope you have a great time!

    Also, the flavor-changing potions for water bottles at the stand by Gringotts are cool too! And even if you don’t stay in a Universal hotel it’s worth trying to go early because both of the last times I went we got in early (when only universal hotel guests were supposed to be allowed in) anyway! Saves a lot of waiting time.

    Great post, gave me a lot of help! But I’m still wondering about one thing… Is it possible to visit both parks at the same day without having to stress and hurry? I’m a HUGE Harry Potter fan (I’ve been it for maaaany years now), and I’m planning on seeing everything, take every ride, visit every shop (and spend some time in it) and eat at a restaurant with my family. So basically; I’m planning on doing everything without having to hurry and stress. Should I spend one full day at Diagon Alley, and then one full day at Hogsmeade? Or is it enough to buy a park-to-park ticket and do both the same day? Also, how much does an interactive wand cost? Thank you! 🙂

      You CAN definitely do both parks in one day (and I would highly suggest a park-to-park ticket so you can take the Hogwarts Express!), but I would only suggest trying that if you don’t want to visit any other parts of Universal Studios and/or Islands of Adventure. I would probably recommend getting a 2-day park hopper, just in case!

      And I’m not entirely sure how much the interactive wands were since I didn’t buy one, but I’m almost positive they were around $40-$50.

    Nothing wrong with being a nerd, hehe!

    Love the photo’s, brings back lots of memories of my trip when I was there last October. I’m a Disney fangirl but even I can’t resist the lure of the HP franchise after the Universal section opened this year.

    Have to say, I was really pleasantly surprised how good it all was, loved the fire breathing dragon, and the interactive wands looked great fun, lots of people were doing it when we were there.

    Universal have really upped their game the last couple of years and provide something of a challenge to the Disney monopoly of the region.

    Which is good for people like us as we reap the rewards of the competition and investment it create.

      I was pleasantly surprised by how good the parks were, too, especially Diagon Alley! It completely blew me away.

    That is some serious fire breathing dragon! Going to include this on my next trip. Thanks for sharing Amanda.

      Yeah, and you could feel the heat from the fire every time it went off! It was very cool.

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