A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Welcome, Muggles!

By now, you’ve surely heard that the world of Harry Potter exists in Orlando, Florida. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which first opened at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure park in 2010, takes fanatics and casual readers alike into some of the most popular scenes from the books and movies that captured a generation. First came Hogsmeade, and more importantly, Hogwarts Castle. From fire-breathing dragons to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, the land realistically captured the magic of the series and served it up with a side of nostalgia.

I grew up on the Harry Potter series, and working in Hogsmeade as an adult was a literal dream come true. Where else can you sip Butterbeer while helping witches and wizards to find their first wand? Life could not be better.

Just a Couple of Nerds at the Half Blood Prince Book Release
Circa 2005. Points if you can tell who we dressed up as. I’ll give you a hint: I like a healthy breeeeze round my privates, thanks!

Then Diagon Alley was announced. An expansion of the Wizarding World; Diagon Alley is located within Universal Studios Florida, though you wouldn’t know it once you’ve crossed through the magical brick wall and marveled at the lopsided, colorful buildings and wares of the famous wizarding shopping street. It’s a little strange to watch the movies now and think, “Hey, I’ve been there!”

There are some moments in life you never forget. Your first kiss. Graduation. And for me, the first time I crossed into Diagon Alley, clutching the arm of my friends and feeling as though I’d stepped right into the movies. I could go on and on about how much I love Harry Potter, and share so many embarrassing photos (is it embarrassing if I secretly love those photos?, but let’s get to the good stuff.

First Glimpse Into Diagon Alleyat Universal Studios Florida
Enter Diagon Alley through a brick wall, just like in the books! A glimpse of what waits on the other side of the wall.

For Potter fans, casual readers, and even those who (gasp) claim never to have been fond of the boy wizard, here is your guide to visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It’s a Two-Park Experience: This is probably the most important thing to know before planning a trip to the Wizarding World. Universal Orlando is comprised of two parks. Diagon Alley is housed within Universal Studios Florida, while Hogsmeade is part of Islands of Adventure.

diagon-alley-map.jpg
This map shows the Wizarding World split between two parks: Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure, on the left, while Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida, on the right. (Image: Inside the Magic)
Hogsmeade vs Diagon Alley.jpg
Left: Hogwarts Castle and the nearby village of Hogsmeade. Right: Diagon Alley, featuring Gringotts Bank.

Entrance to Hogsmeade Station in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

To see everything, you must have a two-park ticket.The two magical lands are connected by none other than the Hogwarts Express, the iconic red steam engine that takes Harry and his classmates to and from King’s Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station. The train is a ride in itself, and it’s a little different depending on which direction you are traveling. Your two-park ticket doubles as your ticket to the Hogwarts Express, so make sure to keep it on hand throughout the day!

The Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 and 3 Quarters

Magic is Real Here: Not only can you walk in the footsteps of Harry and his friends; you can do real actual magic. At Ollivander’s Wand Shop, witness (or even participate in!) the matching of wand and wizard, and feel free to check out the wide selection of wands crafted by Mr. Ollivander himself. Ask for a wand with an RFID chip, which also comes with a collectible map showing where to put those years of Charms practice to work.

Ollivanders and Owl Post at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade

And speaking of Ollivander’s, here’s another tip: don’t wait in line at the Hogsmeade shop. Take the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley and see the wand demonstration there. They have additional showrooms, so you likely won’t have to wait long, if at all, to witness magic firsthand.

Just want to buy a wand? Gregorovitch’s is much-smaller wand shop, tucked away from the main road in Diagon Alley, and has many of the same wands available for purchase.

Visit Wands by Gregorovitch for Little to no Lines!.jpg
For context, this photo was taken over the summer, one of the park’s busiest times. Ollivander’s Wand Shop was packed, but there are just a handful of people waiting to browse the wands at Gregorovitch’s. And as a bonus, look at that cool Daily Prophet ad! This is what I mean when I say the beauty is in the details.

The Magic is in the Details: The experience of simply walking into Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley is impressive, but it’s the small details along the way that really make the Wizarding World an immersive experience. Fans of the books especially will thrill over details like Fred and George Weasley’s U-No-Poo storefront display, or the simple existence of Gillywater. One of my favorite things about Diagon Alley in particular is this attention to detail. I could spend hours roaming the small streets, just looking at all the businesses, merchandise and window displays.

Diagon Alley Advertisement for Sleekeazy, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, and More.jpg
Fans of the books will recognize brands and products mentioned throughout the book, including some that never warranted inclusion in the movie. The overwhelming use of advertisement makes it feel like a real street, instead of a cotton candy playland.
Draughts and Potions at Eternelle's in Diagon Alley Orlando.jpg
Potions and spells turn plain old Gillywater into something more. After a day spent shoulder-to-shoulder with other park guests, we could all use the Draught of Peace.
Magical Details At Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.jpg
A few details from Fred and George’s joke shop, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

The Museum of Muggle Curiosities at Diagon Alley in Orlando

As a huge Potter fan myself, what makes this area feel real are the everyday details like an ad for magical services, or the storefront for the House Elf Placement Agency.  Many of the details around the area are interactive, or move when least expected. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say there’s a shrieking Mandrake in Hogsmeade, so cover you ears!

Hogsmeade Hogwarts Directional Sign at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

You Don’t Have to Ride a Thing: While there are several impressive rides between the two areas, they aren’t for everyone. There are two 3-D simulator rides, a kiddie coaster, and my favorite coaster in the park, Dragon Challenge (which has two different ride tracks for double the excitment). Of course, there’s also the Hogwarts Express, but you don’t even have to ride that, if you’d prefer to walk to the other park. I think the rides add to the experience, but if you don’t want to ride anything, you can still spend hours in the area and not get bored. There are plenty of entertainment, shopping, and food options available. Go check out the wand demonstration at Ollivander’s wand shop, or catch one of four shows that happen throughout the day.

Durmstrang Boys at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Triwizard Rally Show
The gentlemen of Durmstrang put on a show near Hogwarts Castle

I especially recommend The Tales of Beedle the Bard, located in Diagon Alley, which reenacts the beautifully-animated Tale of the Three Brothers as seen in part 1 of the final Harry Potter movie. Grab a Butterbeer, or an actual beer if you like, and take your time poking around the area.

The interior of Hogwarts Castle in Orlando FL features moving portraits.
Portraits inside Hogwarts Castle

BONUS: From time to time, “tours” of Hogwarts castle are available, so you can see some of the interior details that make the castle so engaging, like Dumbledore’s study. Simply ask one of the witches or wizards working at the castle for a tour. Feeling shy? Just go in through the single rider’s line, which generally is not as full. You’ll be able to see some of the gorgeous details firsthand, and exit without riding if you choose.

Beat the lines: If you do choose to ride, the single rider’s line can be a desirable alternative to waiting in an hour-plus line for popular rides such as Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, or Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s usually available in peak seasons, such as spring break, summer, or the holiday season. The catch? You will be separated from your party once you get to the front of the line. The single rider’s line helps employees to fill every seat and reduce the regular wait time, and it helps you to get on more quickly if you don’t mind riding with strangers. It’s also a good option if no one else in your party wants to ride!

The Food is Awesome: Between The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, and The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, there is plenty of tasty food for everyone in your group. The prices are reasonable, considering how much a simple burger and fries can cost in a theme park, and the seating system is wonderful. You order at the elaborately-themed counter, and an employee whisks you away to a table and later delivers your food. In other words, you won’t be circling a full dining room for ten minutes before deciding to go eat on a vacant spot of sidewalk.

The Leaky Cauldron at Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley
“The Leaky Cauldron, that’s in London.” My favorite item here is the Beef & Guinness Stew.
The Three Broomsticks Chicken and Rib Platter and Fish and Chips
Fish and chips and the chicken and rib platter at Hogsmeade’s The Three Broomsticks.

Most of the food is traditional British fare, while the beverages are taken directly from the pages of the Harry Potter books. And speaking of the drinks…

Try the Butterbeer! There are three versions of this famous beverage available, with multiple purchase locations throughout the parks. Butterbeer “cold” or “on tap” is a fizzy, cream soda-esque concoction, “frozen” is a sweet, frosty treat with a Slushee consistency, and “hot” is the best damn thing you will ever drink.

Cold and Frozen Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade
Cold and frozen Butterbeer. I prefer the cold Butterbeer because the bubbles keep that foam alive until the very end.

All versions are topped with the most delicious, thick, sweet cream, and it just takes the whole thing to another level. As if that weren’t enough, you can also get Butterbeer soft-serve ice cream. You know you want to.

But There’s More Than Just Butterbeer! I’m telling you, you have to try the other drinks and snacks in the Wizarding World. They are just *magical*. Heh. Gillywater, Fizzy Lifting Juice, Green Ale, and  Dragon Scale brew are just a few of the interesting concoctions available for purchase. I like the Green Ale, which reminds me of boba tea. And you absolutely cannot miss the ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, where Harry would sit and eat peanut butter and strawberry ice cream after running away from home in the third book.

Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor in Diagon Alley Orlando

Sorry, my nerd is showing. The “Salted Caramel Blondie” and “Earl Grey and Lavender” are my top ice cream picks.

Don’t Forget Knockturn Alley: I was one of those Slytherin kids who fangirled all over Draco Malfoy, so getting to see the dark corridor frequented by Malfoy and his family come to life is just the cherry on top of an already-incredible experience. Step into Borgin and Burkes to gape at some of the dark, unsettling displays of magical artifacts. Knockturn Alley is relatively small and dark, but take your time exploring all the dark corners and seeing what turns up.

Creepy Details at Universal Orlando's Knockturn Alley

Consider Staying at an Onsite Hotel: There are currently four hotels located on Universal Property, with one more in the works. Staying at any one of these hotels will grant you access to early park admission, in which you and your fellow hotel guests enter the park a full hour before it is scheduled to open. At this early hour, only the Wizarding World will be open. Check at the hotel to find out which of the two lands will be available during your stay. If you’re lucky, you might even get access to both parks!

Standard Bay View Room at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
I highly recommend the Loews Portofino Bay hotel, themed to look like a seaside town in Italy. Early park access, Express passes, and wine overlooking the bay!? I’m sold.

All of the current onsite hotels, excepting Cabana Bay, also grant access to the much-shorter Express lines throughout the day. It’s worth noting that the two major attractions, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, do not currently have an Express line, so expect to wait. The passes are valid at nearly every other ride, and are enormously useful in navigating the rest of the park once you’ve finished up with the Wizarding World. I always recommend staying onsite if you visit during an especially busy time, because those Express passes are like gold.

Maybe it’s because my own Harry Potter experience was spoiler-free (from books to movies to theme park visits), but you won’t find any “spots to look for” in this post. I just think it is so much more magical to discover a place and all its little quirks, without reading too much in advance and spoiling the surprise. I tell you to take your time and check out the details, but I won’t spill the beans on what exactly you should look for. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is full of clever little nods to the series, be it in window displays or via unexpected special effects. Please comment and let me know if you are interested in a follow-up post, sharing some of these “secret” spots or hidden gems within an already-magical world. I’ll give you one to get things started: that dragon on top on Gringotts breathes actual fire on the half hour.

Fire Breathing Dragon Atop Gringotts Bank at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter



29 thoughts on “A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter”

  • Urgh, I’ve been wanting to go to Harry Potter,s world for such a looong time. I just can’t wait for this day to finally arrive. I’m so happy you enjoyed it !

    • It’s such a gorgeous place and so true to the feeling of the series. Have a Butterbeer for me when you get there!

    • It’s awesome, especially if you are a Potter fan! And if not, there are plenty of rides, shows and shops to keep you entertained.

    • It’s well worth a visit, if you do come back this way in the future. The areas are so well done, you can have a good time just by walking around, poking around in the shops, and just enjoying a Butterbeer.

  • Believe it or not I have just read all the Harry Potter books for the first time ever this summer! Now I am DESPERATE to visit the studios in London now! I’m all jealous of you! xox

    • No way! Sounds like you’ve been converted then! I would love to visit the studio tour as well. It looks so immersive, and that model they have of Hogwarts Castle looks just incredible.

    • Definitely take her here if you get the chance! It’s such an immersive experience, and the spell-casting aspect is perfect for kids!

    • Thanks Maria! The place was definitely created with the fans in mind, so I’m sure she will love it!

    • Haha! Oh, I definitely have more. I just didn’t want to spoil the surprise! I’ve been thinking of doing a followup photo essay post though, so keep an eye out for that coming soon!

  • Wow I’m a Harry Potter fan, I even went to the exposition in Brussels and it was amazing really amazing. I’m so jealous that you have visited this muggle city. I wanna see this one day .

    • Ooohhh, I didn’t hear about the exposition, but I just looked it up and am super jealous! I would love to see Hagrid’s Hut and all of those beautiful costumes.

  • Am a huge fan of harry potter and i have all the books.I even have all the books
    Hopefully one day i will be able to visit that place too.Looks like you had soo much fun

    • Yes, me too! I grew up on the series and getting to see it brought to life is a literal dream come true. I hope you see it soon, and if not, there’s always the studio tour in England, traveling exhibitions, and of course, the other Universal theme parks, if there is one closer to you!

  • Wow, I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan but even I geeked out over this post. It looks and sounds so amazing and memorable. Thank you for sharing your experience!!

    • Awww that made MY day! I’m so happy you all enjoyed the post and the photos! Are you guys headed there soon?

    • There is so much to see there, and the food is actually great as well. Hope you get to visit for yourself soon!

    • Thank you! It’s such a great experience for Potter fans, and I hope you get to come visit!

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