We recently returned from another amazing trip to one of our favorite places to make memories, Universal Studios Orlando Resort. Stepping into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is such an immersive experience that you’re likely to forget you’re in a theme park but there is so much magic that can easily be missed if you don’t know where and what to look for. So I’ve put together this guide to 30 things not to miss in both Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.
Let’s begin with rides since they are a major draw for many to a theme park. There are only a handful at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter but what’s lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. Both Diagon Alley and Hosgsmeade are headlined by innovative attractions unlike any other in Orlando.
1. Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey inside Hogwarts Castle
The imposing Hogwarts Castle is the main landmark of Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and home to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This motion simulator experience will have you following Harry and his friends around the castle on a broomstick while dodging dragons and dementors. The line for this ride is almost more amazing than the ride itself. Though it may be tempting to blast through the que to get on the ride I recommend that you take the time to enjoy the back story and surprise character experiences. You will see many iconic pieces from the castle such as the mirror of Erised, the Fat Lady and other talking portraits, the notorious Sorting Hat and if you listen closely at the door of the Potions classroom you can hear a lecture from inside. Be sure to soak in every detail.
Top Tip: If you are prone to motion sickness or have a child who is not tall enough to ride (under 48”) you can still enjoy the walk through the castle and wait in the Child Swap room for your family or friends.
2. Flight of the Hippogriff
This family-friendly ride takes you on a short flight over the Forbidden Forest. It’s perfect for those who like old fashioned yet surprisingly smooth roller coasters. The dips and turns won’t leave you feeling dizzy or nauseated. While waiting in line, you can check out Hagrid’s hut perched to the side and see Buckbeak.
3. Escape from Gringotts
In Diagon Alley you will find Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride inside the Bank itself. Again, the pre-ride experience has so much to offer you won’t want to miss it. You enter through the bank lobby, adorned with a giant chandelier, marble floors and very realistic looking goblin tellers. You then descend to the vault area to join Harry and his friends on a horcrux heist. This 4-D attraction is the best combination of indoor roller coaster and high definition virtual reality. You will find yourself being chased through the vaults by Bellatrix and Voldemort himself. It’s an exiting adventure you won’t soon forget.
4. The Hogwarts Express …BOTH ways
The Hogwarts Express train is a super convenient way to get between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure allowing the two sections of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to feel like one cohesive and fully immersive experience. However to hop aboard the Hogwarts Express you will need a two park ticket. You catch the train at either the King’s Cross Station in the London section of Universal or the Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure. You will ride in a train compartment with 4-6 other passengers but no matter where you sit it will feel like Harry and friends are just outside the cabin doors. Keep your eyes peeled for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named outside Draco Manor.
Top Tip: There are two totally different experiences to be had on this ride depending on whether the train is traveling to London or Hogsmeade so make sure to ride it in both directions.
Being at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is truly like being INSIDE of the books and movies. You’ll definitely want to bring a piece of Potter-phernailia (see what I did there?) home with you. I highly suggest stopping into a shop or two to find some special things you won’t be able to buy anywhere else—not even online. The decor inside the shops and windows is an experience in and of itself. Here are a few of my favorites:
5. Ollivander’s Wand Shop
You simply can’t visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without stopping inside of the famous Ollivander’s Wand shop. You can visit this popular store at both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. For the full (and funnest) experience you should participate in the wand-fitting demonstration. There is an added line for this, but it’s worth the wait. Here, inside a dark and dusty room one lucky guest will be chosen to be “fitted” for the perfect wand for them. After the fitting you move into the wand shop, where you’ll be faced with a dazzling array of wand choices. Do you want Hermione’s wand with the dragon heart-string core or would you prefer Lord Voldemort’s eerie, bone-headed weapon?
Test the wands out. After all; it’s the wand that chooses the wizard. I would recommend springing for an “interactive” wand. They cost roughly $10 more but have the added benefit of allowing you to cast spells throughout the parks —more on that in a minute.
Top Tip: Make this one of your first stops as the line for the demonstrations can get lengthy. If you want an all together less crowded experience when wand shopping look for Wands by Gregorovitch in Carkitt Market or the cart outside of the castle in Hosgmeade. They have the “classic” wands and it will give you more space and a better chance to speak with a knowledgeable witch or wizard.
This is definitely the place to satisfy your sweet tooth. It’s not just your typical candy store though. Here you can find cauldron cakes, pumpkin pastys, chocolate frogs, fudge flies and Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans. Yes vomit-flavored beans really do taste like vomit—but your kids will love them. In fact my kids love everything about this store. Something about the intoxicating smells of chocolate and colorful candy enchants them into spending some of their souvenir money. And why not? It’s vacation!
7. Dervish and Banges
Dervish and Bangs sells an array of magical instruments including Sneakoscopes, Spectrespecs and Omnioculars as well as broomsticks, Quidditch Supplies and a variety of Hogwarts house apparel. Here is where you can also purchase your very own Monster Book of Monsters. The furry fanged book snaps at you when you try to touch it and calms down when you stroke its spine. Another, more menacing Monster Book sits in a cage at the front of the store. If you linger long enough you can watch it come to life, snarl and growl at would-be buyers.
8. Magical Menagerie
Magical Menagerie is a shop full of plush fanatics beasts from the Harry Potter books and movies. Well known creatures like Fang, Fluffy, Fawkes, Hedwig, Scabbers and Crookshanks can be found here. If you look up towards the ceiling you’ll find a Kneazle and a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Just outside, in the window closest to the bathrooms you will find a giant snake. It’s not Nagini, but it does speak to you in Parseltongue and then English mimicking the moments when Harry first interacts with a snake at the zoo in Sorcerer’s Stone and doesn’t yet realize his special abilities.
9. Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes
True to the books, the Weasley Twins bought Zonko’s and opened up a shop in Diagon Alley called Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. This store is filled to the brim with fun toys and novelty items inspired by the Harry Potter books and films. You can even hear the same music played in the background of the movie when they go into Weasley’s store! One of our kid’s favorite souvenirs is adopting a Pigmy Puff. If you do this, don’t miss the “Naming Ceremony”. It can only be requested by the new Pygmy Puff’ parent. So, be sure to tell the wizard ringing you up that you want to do this.
Top Tip: Look up! Some of the best-decorated spaces in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter loom literally over your head. You will miss so much if you don’t look up! Each shop has an elaborately themed second story or high ceiling just like in the movies. While you can’t climb the stairs for a closer look, you will spot some rich details from the ground level. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the merchandise leaves off and the decorations begin! My favorites include the fireworks on the ceiling and Professor Umbridge on her unicycle at Weasley’s.
10. Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions
Pop into this shop to find everything you need for your very own Hogwarts uniform as well as formal attire like Hermione’s Yule ball gown. The raised area with dresses and outfits on display adds to the elegant ambiance. Inside you will also find a fashionably sensitive mirror in the middle of the store that doesn’t hesitate to speak its mind. It will give you advice when you stand in front of it to try things on. Ask a witch or wizard working in Madame Malkin’s about the items in the case to the left of the cash-register (as you are facing it). You might find some intriguing pieces with a tale of their own.
11. Borgin and Burkes
Inside Borgin and Bourkes in Knockturn Alley you’ll find tons of props from the Potter movies like the decrepit hand that grabs at guests as well as Deatheater masks on display . In the far back you will find a vanishing cabinet used by Malfoy to sneak Deatheaters into Hogwarts castle. If you put your ear up to the cabinet you can hear the canary he first used for testing, chirping inside. The hat rack that you can see in the window of the store in the movies can also be found in the shop and a Boggart trying to escape its locked chest also adds to the eerie shopping excursion.
12. Gringotts Money Exchange
Right next to Gringotts bank is the Gringotts Money Exchange where you can exchange your Muggle money (in $10 or $20 denominations) for Gringotts Bank Notes. These notes can be used to purchase items throughout Universal Orlando parks. However the fun bank notes aren’t the only reason to head into this store. The goblin banker will answer any questions you ask accordingly. Though be forewarned, he’s a bit of a grump and doesn’t always like to be interrupted.
13. The Owl Post
Here you can buy and send Hogwarts stationary as well as ‘Howlers’. What’s even cooler is that that you can send your mail from here and it will arrive at its destination postmarked from Hogsmeade. Just be sure to bring postage with you. You’ll want to catch the cook-coo clock outside for a fun surprise too.
14. Quality Qudditch Supplies
Immediately inside the entrance of Diagon Alley you’ll find Quality Quidditch Supplies the one stop shop for merchandise related to the Wizarding World’s favorite sport. The trophies on the tops of the shelves are props from the actual Harry Potter movies!
15. Wiseacres Wizarding Supplies and Scribulus
All kinds of Wizarding wares can be found at Wiseacres. It’s veritable one-stop-sorcery shop from crystal balls, and binoculars to purses and apparel. Pay attention to the amazing telescopes and globes overhead. Muggles looking to follow in J.K. Rowling’s footsteps should also shop at the connected store Scribbulus for quills, journals and stationary.
16. All the Shop Windows and Facades
I mention this separately because each of the shop windows is really a treasure. They are highly themed to the stores inside and often loaded with animation such as the self knitting needles and screaming Mandrakes. Many of the storefront facades don’t lead into an actual shop but are worth taking in too, like the House Elf House Placement Agency, Flourish and Blotts and my favorite the The Daily Prophet where you can hear the wizard reporters inside working away. There are also a few fun Easter eggs to be found. For example— the area that is now Diagon Alley occupies what was once the ride Jaws. In the window at Mr. Mullpepper’s Apothecary, you’ll find a set of sharks teeth in tribute to the retired ride.
Top Tip: Even if you’ve shopped till your galleons are gone you don’t have to carry all that magical merchandise around the parks with you. You can ask the wizards working at the registers to send your purchases to the park entrance where you can collect them at the end of the day.
Food and Refreshments
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has several great choices for food and drinks.
17. Butterbeer! Butterbeer! And more Butterbeer!
If our family had to pick our single favorite thing about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I really have no doubt that the winner would be Butterbeer. You may have heard of this heavenly concoction but did you know it can be enjoyed in multiples ways? There is cold butterbeer, hot butterbeer, frozen butter, butterbeer ice cream, butterbeer potted cream and even butterbeer fudge! We love them all, though I’d say if pressed to picked just one, Frozen Butterbeer is the best.
You’ll find the shortest lines for libations at The Fountain or Fair Fortune and the Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley and at The Hogs Head in Hogsmeade. Butterbeer icecream can be found at Florean Fortescue’s. Butterbeer fudge can be found at Honeydukes and Sugarplums. The potted cream version can be found at the Leaky Cauldron. Also note that certain mug shapes for Butterbeer are unique to different locations.
18. Other Fun Refreshments
There are other beverages besides Butterbeer that you won’t want to miss. Stop by Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment stand and mix your very own option using Gilly Water and the additive of your choice. Choose from Fire Protection Potion, Babbling Beverage, Elixir to Induce Euphoria, and Draught of Peace. While the potions don’t fizz or bubble as one might hope, they still offer a fun way to mix up a flavored beverage, and the tiny potion bottles make great souvenirs. Pumpkin Juice which comes either bottled or on tap tastes like Fall in a bottle. There’s also a carbonated version called “Pumpkin Fizz” that’s refreshing. Other beverages include the Tongue Tying Lemon Squash, Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice and the Fishy Green Ale, a delightfully minty beverage with fun blueberry bubbles on the bottom.
Top Tip: For the hard stuff you’ll want to head to Hogs Head. The “Hog’s Head Brew” a classic red Irish ale is made exclusively for Universal and can only be found that can only be in Hogsmeade so be sure to try it while you can.
19. The Leaky Cauldron
Butterbeer is indeed divine but it’s not lunch! When you need to take a break to get some grub The Leaky Cauldron is a great choice. This dimply-lit tavern serves traditional pub food with a whopping side of atmosphere. There are over 80 pieces of artwork on the walls that are exact replicas of the art from the films. Plus, the luggage placed around the tavern is straight from the set of the Potter movies!
Top Tip: Try to dine at off peak times for a much less crowded and enjoyable experience.
20. The Three Broomsticks
For a hearty meal in Hogsmeade step inside the rustic-looking Three Broomsticks Pub. Here you can dine on fish ‘n chips, macaroni and cheese, spare ribs, turkey legs and bangers and mash. Our family favorite (and a great value for the money) is the “Great Feast”. Be sure to look around for the many magical touches. You’ll notice, for instance, that the hog head on the wall above the “Hogs Head” bar section of the restaurant actually breathes and moves. You can also see silhouettes of owls being cast across the ceiling.
21. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor
In the summer before his third year at Hogwarts, Harry spent several weeks staying at the Leaky Cauldron. Florian Fortescue would give Harry ice cream sundaes while he studied and you can get one too. There are many fun flavors like orange marmalade, peanut butter and jelly and Earl Grey tea with lavender but I think the Butterbeer ice cream here can’t be beat.
For even more fun food choices check out my guide to all the best food and drinks at Universal Orlando!
Other Fun Stuff
22. Interactive Wands
Both sides of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter have an awesome interactive element that allows you to practice some magic of your very own. Purchase an interactive wand and you can try out your spells throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Interactive wands come with a map showing 34 marked locations where you can cast spells. You can also find them just by looking for the gold medallions on the ground. Each area where you can perform magic is marked with a medallion, indicating both the wand motion and the word needed to cast the particular spell. You can make a display window move, a fountain turn on and even make thunder and rain from an umbrella.
Top Tip: The wand maps have a little something extra on them for wizards and witches who know where to go. Head over to Knockturn Alley and look for a black light shining down to the right of the moving skeleton. Put your map underneath and the shapes of the spells that are written in “invisible ink” will appear! There are two additional locations not indicated on the map. You want to look for the tell tale red dot light. If you can’t find the extra magical spots, ask an Ollivander’s witch or wizard for a hint. They are also happy to help at any interactive spot if your spell casting form needs a little refinement.
23. Grimauld Place
When you are in Muggle London, you can climb the steps to 12 Grimauld Place. Be sure to look up to see Kreacher, the House elf peaking out periodically through the second story window. You will see a few other house elves throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Make sure to look up in the rafters at the Three Broomsticks to find one dancing.
24. The Red Phone Booth
Along the London street façade near the entrance to Diagon Alley, you’ll find a bright red British phone booth that’s an exact match to the one used in the Order of the Phoenix. This is more than just a great place for a photo though. Step inside and dial M-A-G-I-C (962442) and it will connect you to the Ministry of Magic. If you can stop by more than once during the day, you may even get a different response.
25. Public Conveniences
I know it may seem strange to tell you not to miss the bathrooms but like everything else in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter it’s not ordinary. Here is where you can hear the cries and complaints of Moaning Myrtle as she gives up her usual haunts at Hogwarts Castle to hang out in the “public conveniences” of Hosmeade instead.
25. The Knight Bus
This purple double decker bus is parked next to the fountain along the London façade of the entrance to Diagon Alley. Stop by and have a chat with Stan Shunpike, the Knight Bus driver and snag a picture. He and his feisty shrunken head hanging from the rear view mirror are happy to talk and crack jokes with muggles who drop by to say hello. Then head around back to take a peek inside.
26. Knockturn Alley
It’s easy to walk right by Knockturn Alley but there are several surprises awaiting for those who dare to venture down this darkened corridor. You’ll notice that the temperature drops and the sky changes color to add to the ominous ambiance. Besides Bourgin and Bourkes you can also find a tattoo shop here that was built from the Harry Potter books, but it never made it into the films. In Knockturn Alley, they recreated the storefront for the tattoo parlor, featuring all of the props from the movie set—including the tattoos and artwork. Try opening the door with an eye!
28. The Dragon
It’s pretty hard to miss the giant winged dragon sitting on top of Gringotts bank. About every 15 minutes or so, the Ukrainian Ironbelly will breathe fire. The heat from it can be felt all the way down the streets of Diagon Alley. You will hear a grumble followed by a small roar before he unleashes a big fireball. So, get out your camera when you hear the rumble and be ready to snap photos.
29. The Shows
Throughout the day there are various types of shows in both the Carkitt Market section of Diagon Alley and the stage in front of Hogwarts castle. Try to catch Celestina Warbeck, one of Mrs. Weasley’s favorite singers and her banshee backup singers. You’ll notice her music has old school jazz flair with distinctly wizard-inspired lyrics. Our favorite, are the puppet shows performed by a troop of charming wizards. Their depiction of the “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (circa ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’) is so beautifully done it’s worth watching even if you are familiar with their fate. You can also catch the hopping good harmonies of the Hogwarts Frog Choir and enjoy a colorful demonstration from the capable wizards of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang as they lead the Triwizard Spirit Rally in Hogsmeade.
Top Tip: One of the first things you should do when entering the parks is grab a “Times Guide” or download the Universal Orlando app to find out the times each show is playing as it can vary from day to day.
30. Kings Cross Station
This is where you will catch the Hogwarts Express that travels between London and Hogsmeade. Like all the immersive ride ques in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter there are several cool features and fun Easter eggs to look out for. Note the giant perfume advertisement along the wall as you go through the que. The billboard is a replica of the billboard used in ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’. Further down the line you’ll find a very special illusion that makes it appear as though you really are walking right through the wall to Platform 9 and 3/4. You will need to stay about 10 feet back from your family to catch a few snapshots as when you actually walk through it doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary.
Top Tip: Shoot a video instead of taking a picture, so you can get the full effect.
Here is a video highlighting our recent trip to Universal Studios Orlando Resort.
If you decide you want to spend more time taking in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and who doesn’t?) you can upgrade your tickets in the parks any time before closing. So if you purchase a 2 day pass, but find you need another day, simply upgrade your tickets while in the resort and you will get the discounted multi-day rate.
Tip Top Tip! Save on your Hogwarts outfits by getting them ahead of time. We buy most of our Hogwarts outfits on Amazon and then pick up a couple pieces in the park.
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Have you visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Which was your favorite part?
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