'Sup! Tad here. As a huge "Harry Potter" nerd and a proud Ravenclaw, it's practically my duty to share all my knowledge about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. With not just one but TWO immersive lands, we have a lot of ground to cover! I'll be breaking down this guide by park, as I share fun facts and secrets while giving an overview of each land.
Additionally, the entire Frog Fam has helped out with covering some topics — such as entertainment, dining, shopping and interactive wands — with more detail in separate posts. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, don't fret! This guide has all the essential information you need to navigate Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley successfully.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Universal packs A LOT of magic inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. The land has five distinct areas, so I’ve divided up everything you need to know based on where you can find the rides, entertainment, shops and restaurants … plus tips and tid-ribbits.
I recommend starting your wizarding adventures at Universal Studios Florida, so you’re introduced to the Wizarding World via Diagon Alley, just like Harry Potter himself. After walking past either the San Francisco or World Expo areas, you’ll reach the London waterfront, which truly makes you feel like you’ve apparated across the pond. Take some time here because this is where you’ll find the Knight Bus, Kreacher in the window of 12 Grimmauld Place and the visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic (aka the red telephone booth). Also, food tip: The cart across from Grimmauld Place offers a delicious (and cheap!) variety of jacket potatoes. We’ll come back to King Cross Station later ...
What I love most about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley is that it’s completely hidden from view behind the London facade. The muggles may walk straight past it, but we wizards and witches are not fooled. You know that brick wall next to the Leicester Square Station? Around that corner is a sight you’ll never froget.
I’ll confess that my eyes got a little watery (toadally blaming our pond water) when I first saw the familiar wizarding shops along the cobblestone street and the fire-breathing dragon perched atop Gringotts Wizarding Bank. By the way, the Ukrainian Ironbelly growls before it spits out fire, so have your camera ready once you start to hear it. As the Frog Family’s videographer, I think the best way to capture the moment is off to either side, instead of facing directly in front.
You can visit the majority of the shops, as well as The Leaky Cauldron, along the main pathway in Diagon Alley. Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and Quality Quidditch Supplies are on your immediate right when you walk in. Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions, Shutterbutton's Photography Studio and Ollivanders make up the remainder of the Diagon Alley shops that you can physically enter. But you can peer through the windows of Flourish and Blotts, Slug and Jiggers Apothecary and Mr. Mulpepper’s Apothecary, or pose in front of the Daily Prophet. Mommy Frog has all the deets about shopping in the Wizarding World.
Stop by The Leaky Cauldron for a traditional English pub experience with a magical twist, of course. It is a counter-service restaurant, but you will be seated with a special candlestick that helps servers deliver your food. Order a British dish, such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash (which is my personal favorite). At the corner of Diagon Alley and Horizont Alley, visit Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour for a sweet treat. Butterbeer ice cream is #goals, just saying. But it also has some unique ice cream flavors, such as earl grey and lavender or chocolate chili. There are more food deets in our guide to dining in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando.
I swear I’m a Ravenclaw, but I have to admit, Knockturn Alley is pretty rad. If you’re standing in front of The Leaky Cauldron, there’s a dark pathway on the right that seemingly leads to nowhere. Follow it anyway, and you’ll enter the shady and sinister section of the Wizarding World. The creepy atmosphere is felt inside Borgin and Burkes, which is a store full of dark artifacts. The interactive spell locations also require you to perform questionable hexes, such as “Mimblewimble,” the Tongue-Tying curse. But not to worry, there is nothing as intense as the three Unforgivable Curses.
Even though it’s dark (literally and figuratively), keep a sharp eye out for small details, such as moving wanted posters for Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback. Also, the shrunken heads hanging in the store window of Noggin and Bonce like to sing. If you stick around long enough, they will serenade you with “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” which is a tribute to the former Jaws attraction that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley replaced. You can exit Knockturn Alley the same way that you entered, or take the other pathway by Borgin and Burkes out to Horizont Alley.
By now, you might have noticed that the three alley names all originate from word play: diagonally, nocturnally and horizontally. If not, the more you know! (Aaaand this is why I’m a Ravenclaw.) Many of the interactive spell locations can be found along Horizont Alley. Wait, you can cast spells?! Learn all about the interactive wands with tips on how and where to use them in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando. Horizont Alley is also where you can grab a cold Butterbeer from The Fountain of Fair Fortune, which usually doesn’t have a long line, or adopt a furry or feathery friend from Magical Menagerie.
Gringotts Wizarding Bank is at the center of where Horizont Alley and Diagon Alley meet, and serves as the main entrance to the queue for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a hybrid roller coaster and dark ride. Travel through the bank's grand marble lobby with its enormous crystal chandeliers and past the goblins who run the bank. A bumpy "elevator" takes you some nine miles down below. From there, it's a short walk up winding stairs to the loading platform and a ride car that takes you deeper and deeper underground through the bank's vaults. You experience the moment when Harry, Ron and Hermione break into the bank to retrieve a magical object known as a horcrux to help defeat Lord Voldemort. Along the way, you come face to face with Bellatrix Lestrange and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in this multi-sensory, 3D experience.
Carkitt Market is the entertainment hub of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. There’s a stage where Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform several times throughout the day. She sings some of her greatest hits that have charmed fans around the world, including Molly Weasley! Dramatic retellings of two “Tales of Beedle the Bard” stories alternate on the stage as well. If you know the plot of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” you’ll recognize “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”
You can also stop by the Gringotts Money Exchange, Globus Mundi, The Hopping Pot, The Owl Post window and Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop. There are a few more interactive spell locations, including one of my favorites at the Mermaid Fountain, where water spouts out of a frog’s mouth. In need of a laugh? Peer through the window of the Museum of Muggle Curiosities to see muggle electronics on display.
The Hogwarts Express - Kings Cross and Hogsmeade Stations
The Hogwarts Express transports Hogwarts students between Hogsmeade and Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station in London. As a theme park ride, The Hogwarts Express is unique because it can take you back and forth between Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Each direction has a different storyline during the journey, so you’ll want to ride it twice! In order to ride it, you must have a Park-to-Park ticket. If you have a regular Express Pass, you are able to ride it both ways, as each direction counts as its own separate ride.
King's Cross Station
Access the King's Cross station from the London waterfront area. Have your park tickets out and ready because they will need to be scanned. If you ask one of the King's Cross employees where to find Platform 9 ¾, you might get some funny looks in response. As you walk through the train station, eagle-eyed Harry Potter fans will recognize the perfume ad from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” movie. Also, I love this queue because you can get a bag of crisps in the middle of it. Once you walk up the stairs, you’ll see the brick wall between Platforms 9 and 10. Like magic, you’ll be able to see the people ahead in line walk through the wall! The first look at the Hogwarts Express, combined with John Williams’ score in the background and Hedwig sitting in her cage, will give you hoppy chills.
The train departs, and the busy London streets quickly turn into the idyllic British countryside. Catch a glimpse of Malfoy Manor before Harry, Ron and Hermione fend off a dementor lurking on the train. Hagrid flies by on his motorbike as Hogwarts comes into view in the background. Don't be surprised if you're as filled with nerves and anticipation as Harry was on his first trip!
The Hogsmeade Station is located right outside the entrance to Hogsmeade that’s closest to the Lost Continent. Generally, this direction has a shorter line than the Kings Cross Station. (Not too surprising since it’s bittersweet to leave Hogwarts!) But it’s still toadally worth the ride back to London so you can experience the journey home to the muggle world. Hagrid waves goodbye on the platform as the train departs. Then, Buckbeak soars over the Great Lake and centaurs gallop next to you until the edge of the forest. Before Hogwarts goes out of view, the Weasley twins fly by on brooms to advertise their joke shop in Diagon Alley. Once you return to London, the Knight Bus zooms in and out of traffic, and Mad Eye Moody greets you at the station.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade
Now that you’ve gone shopping for school supplies in Diagon Alley and hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express, it’s time to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade! The layout of this land is pretty straightforward, as you’ve got the snowy rooftops of Hogsmeade Village and the majestic Hogwarts Castle. At the end of a long day touring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando, I love watching the sunset behind Hogwarts!
In the “Harry Potter” series, Hogsmeade is the only all-wizarding British village that Hogwarts students can visit during the weekends, starting their third year. Many of the village’s restaurants, pubs and shops are located along High Street, which is brought to life at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The snow-capped village features both faux storefronts and physical places you can enter, such as Honeydukes, The Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head, Ollivanders and Dervish and Banges. Many of the interactive spell locations can be found in the faux store windows of Zonko’s Joke Shop, Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, Spintwitches Sporting Needs and more. Rest underneath on the Owlery, where you can actually send mail with a special Hogsmeade postmark! Across from Honeydukes, pose next to the Hogwarts Express with the train conductor. He is happy to share his own favorite tips and suggestions on things to do in Hogsmeade.
Between the Hogwarts Express and the Owlery is the entrance to the newest ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. In the queue, you’ll stroll past Hagrid’s hut before reaching abandoned ruins where Hagrid cares for his creatures in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. During this thrilling high-speed roller coaster, it feels like you’re flying deeper into the forest, as you zoom past a blast-ended skrewt and escape from devil’s snare. Ride it twice to experience different views from the motorcycle (which is slightly more intense!) and the sidecar.
Right outside of Hogsmeade and on the way to Hogwarts, there’s a small stage area where you can watch the Hogwarts’ Frog Choir perform or the Triwizard Spirit Rally, featuring students from Hogwarts, Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and Durmstrang Institute. These short shows hoppen throughout the day and alternate. Stick around afterwards to get a photo with the performers!
The towering Hogwarts Castle dominates the skyline. I get goosebumps just thinking about the first time I crossed the bridge from Jurassic Park and it came into full view! For the first time, Hogwarts is opening its doors to muggles — the exterior and interior of the castle acts as the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I ranked this queue as the best in all of the Universal Orlando theme parks because you get to step inside Dumbledore’s Office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and see familiar faces, such as Professor Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione. I could stand all day in the Portrait Room listening to the moving portraits talk to each other!
The ride itself is a dark ride with motion-simulating projection screens. I’ll start by saying that Mommy Frog is prone to motion sickness, and she usually has to prepare by taking Dramamine before riding. But it’s toadally worth it. During Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you soar above the castle grounds with Harry and his classmates, join a Quidditch match, dodge the Whomping Willow and encounter giant spiders and dementors in the Forbidden Forest. With every twist and turn, expect surprises around every corner.
Directly across from the entrance of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, tadpoles can take on a family-friendly roller coaster, Flight of the Hippogriff. Hagrid gives young wizards and witches instructions on how to approach and fly on a hippogriff. Proper etiquette is needed to avoid any danger, so don’t froget to bow your head in front of Buckbeak! The coaster swoops and spirals around the pumpkin patch, providing incredible views of the castle and Hogsmeade below.
At the end of the day, you’ll want to stick around for the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle show once the sun goes down. On select nights, the castle transforms as the background for a magical projection show that showcases the Hogwarts houses (Ravenclaw pride!). The show itself lasts about five minutes, but it plays every 20 minutes or so, starting after dusk until the park closes. Depending on the season, there are different versions, including The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle in November and December and Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle, which debuted last year in September just in time for Halloween.
So fellow Ravenclaws — OK, Gryffindors, Slytherins and Hufflepuffs too — what are you most excited to experience in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando? What questions do you have? Share in the comments below!