If you are planning a trip to Orlando to visit theme parks and you love the Harry Potter books as much as we do, be sure to include a day (or two!) at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure. These are some of our favorite things to do, eat, and see there.
Table of Contents
- Get a Park-to-Park Ticket
- Which Park Should I Start In?
- Diagon Alley
- Take Time to Appreciate the Details
- Don't Miss the Tales of Beedle the Bard
- Where and What to Eat in Diagon Alley
- Hogwarts and Hogsmeade Village
- Rides in Hogsmeade Village
- Honeydukes Candy Shop
- Foods to Try in Hogsmeade
- Other Hogsmeade Attractions
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Top Tips for Harry Potter World
- Bonus Highlight
- More Family Travel Ideas
Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books. But not many people know that the name of this site was inspired by the fifth book, "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix," where Harry learns that his godfather, Sirius, was born into "the most noble and ancient House of Black". I remember reading that with Paul (we read the books out loud together as they were published, which tells you something about how old we are, lol) and saying that "House of Nash" sounded like as good a blog name as any. The rest, as they say, is history.
Needless to say, we had a fantastic time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando and since I have quite a few recipes inspired by the Harry Potter books and parks on this site, I thought it might be fun to share some of our favorite things about the park for anyone else who might be considering going to experience the magic for yourself.
If you are planning a trip to Florida and hitting up some of the Disney parks as well, you might also like my Epcot guide.
Get a Park-to-Park Ticket
There are actually two separate parks located side-by-side at Universal Orlando, and the Harry Potter lands are split between Universal Studios (this is where Diagon Alley is) and Universal Islands of Adventure (where Hogsmeade Village is located).
One of the notable features of the Park-to-Park ticket is that it allows you to experience the Hogwarts Express, a magical train ride between the two parks. The journey offers a unique and immersive experience inspired by the Harry Potter series and it is a slightly different experience going each direction, so I recommend riding it more than once between the parks.
Sure, you could do one park on one day and the other park on your second day rather than hop between the two, but then you will miss out on the Hogwarts Express. I definitely think the park-to-park ticket is worth it.
Which Park Should I Start In?
This is totally personal preference and you should choose based on the experiences that are most important to you, but my short answer is probably Universal Studios.
If it is your first time there and you have a young witch of wizard in need of a wand and robes, I personally think that the entrance to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios is the most magical experience for first timers. You walk "through" a brick wall that opens into Diagon Alley with a massive dragon perched atop Gringott's Bank at the end of the street and it's just incredibly thrilling.
We opted to start our first of two days in the parks in the Universal Studios side at Diagon Alley.
What Should I Do First?
Again, this depends on your interests and you might be tempted to go get in line for one of the bigger rides. But everybody does that, so I actually think there's a better approach if it is your first time.
Our 4th grader just finished reading the entire book series and it was her first visit to Harry Potter World, so we took her to Madam Malkin's for her Hogwarts robes and Ollivander's to pick out her wand.
The Ollivander's wand shop has an enchanting experience where they take small groups in to meet with a wand maker who selects one person to be "fitted" for a wand. Your group is taken to a dimly lit room and wand after wand is tested on the witch or wizard until magic happens. After that you are free to enter the shop and browse through hundreds and hundreds of wand boxes to find the perfect fit.
In our experience, you get a much more personal, less harried experience in the wand store first thing in the morning before it gets more crowded later on. Plus, then you can go start practicing your wand skills at one of the many wand stations hidden around the park. Each wand comes with a map that shows you where all the spell spots are hidden.
As you stroll through Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, there are special spots marked on the ground that look kind of inconspicuous, but that's where the real magic happens! You stand on the magical marks, wave your wand, and say a spell marked on the map or plaque like "Alohomora" or "Lumos." And then things start happening: windows open, water spouts or rains down, objects move, and it's like you're a wizard-in-training!
It's not just for kids, trust me. Grown-ups (and kids at heart) have a blast too, feeling the thrill of making magic happen right in the heart of Harry Potter's world. It can take practice to get the wand movement right and make the magic happen so often there are trained wizard employees nearby these stations to offer advice.
It's a super interactive and immersive experience that adds a whole new layer of enchantment to your visit. It's like being part of the magic, and it's honestly one of the coolest things about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
But you'll notice as the day progresses that many of these spots will end up with lines of people waiting to perform the same spell and it feels slightly less magical, which is why I recommend spending some time "discovering" them for yourself earlier in the day when they aren't as crowded.
Take Time to Appreciate the Details
There was so much attention spent to each nook and cranny of these parks that it's easy to get overwhelmed and miss a lot of the fun details if you are focused just on getting on rides.
You'll want to browse store front windows and read the wizarding advertisements painted on buildings. Explore the corners and darkened passageways and you just might find yourself creeping through Knockturn Alley.
One of our favorite experiences was in the Gringott's Bank Exchange. As you approach the goblin tellers, they're not your typical chatty bank clerks. These goblins are all serious business, going about their banking duties with a no-nonsense attitude. But, here's the kicker – if you strike up a conversation with them, they might just respond! You can ask them questions or make a comment, and they'll give you some cryptic and amusing replies in that gruff goblin tone.
It's like a little extra dose of interactive magic and all of us were gobsmacked when the goblin was actually responding to our 4th grader, Rose, who started heckling him about being old, not realizing that he would respond right back. It really makes you feel like you're truly in the heart of the wizarding world, dealing with magical creatures just like Harry did in the books. So, don't be shy – give those goblins a friendly greeting and see what kind of magical banter you can stir up!
Don't Miss the Tales of Beedle the Bard
My favorite experience in all of Diagon Alley is this short 10 minute performance of the Tales of Beedle the Bard that is put on multiple times a day. But it's short and sort of set back in a less traveled alcove off the main alleyway, so unless you know when it is happening and that it is there, it's an easy-to-miss gem.
The performance is put on by trained Wizard puppeteers and it's incredibly well done with a combination of puppets, acting, and music telling the story of the deathly hallows. I only wish there were more performances of other wizard stories!
Where and What to Eat in Diagon Alley
We really enjoy eating at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and had breakfast there one day and lunch another day.
For breakfast, you can get a traditional Full English breakfast of baked beans, streaky bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, and breakfast potatoes (which I fell in love with on my book club trip to England back in 2022), an American breakfast of scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, crisp bacon, and sausage, or some other options like pancakes or baked oatmeal. I highly recommend the pumpkin juice, which is my personal favorite beverage in the park (sorry, butterbeer lovers).
For lunch and dinner, think traditional British pub fare like bangers & mash (our favorite), cottage pie (like shepherd's pie but made with ground beef instead of lamb), fish & chips (we actually thought the fish & chips at the Three Broomsticks in the other park was superior), and sticky toffee pudding for dessert (mine is vastly superior, imo).
For the sake of research for this blog post, we obviously also had to try the fish pie (not bad at all!) and scotch eggs. Don't knock them until you try them because they are SO GOOD. In fact, Paul walked in while I was working on this post and started asking me to make scotch eggs for the blog soon because he loved them so much.
Later in the afternoon when we were craving something sweet, we went to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor for a scoop. You can get hard or soft-serve ice cream in lots of different flavors, or order a sundae and add toppings, if you prefer.
DON'T MISS: If you spend all your time in Diagon Alley, you might miss seeing the Knight Bus, the telephone booth entrance to the Ministry of Magic, and Number 12 Grimmauld Place, all of which are just outside of Diagon Alley.
You can take a picture with Stan Shunpike at the front of the bus, but be sure to also walk around to the back of the bus where you can actually peek inside!
Watch for Kreacher to peer out the windows of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, which is the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
And try dialing M-A-G-I-C in the red telephone booth and hold the receiver up to your ear for a surprise!
Hogwarts and Hogsmeade Village
Another reason I recommend starting at Diagon Alley is that when you take the Hogwarts Express from King's Cross Station you will be heading to Hogwarts. You arrive in Hogsmeade village which is filled with crooked chimneys, snow-covered roofs, and whimsically slanted buildings. That's also where you will find that Hogwarts castle, which is impressive and beautifully done.
Rides in Hogsmeade Village
There are more rides in this park than the other, which only has the Escape from Gringott's ride. My kids love the Harry's Forbidden Journey ride, which is inside the Hogwarts castle. I've done it twice and both times it makes me super motion sick, so now I like to encourage them to ride it on their own since they are big enough and I'm perfectly content to take a little break while waiting for them without having to worry about getting sick! Their record was riding it six times in a row when there was no line and they just kept circling back and doing it over and over again.
It's worth just walking through the line at least once though just to check out the details that have been worked into the queue to make it interesting! You pass through Dumbledore's office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the Gryffindor common room, and other locations from the Harry Potter series.
But our very favorite ride out of both parks (heck, out of pretty much any theme park anywhere) is Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. It's a roller coaster, but it has a strong story element to it and you get to choose between riding on Hagrid's motorbike (the most fun, imo) or in the adjacent sidecar (if you're wearing robes, this is your only option).
The ride is set in the Forbidden Forest and it has launches, drops, twists, and turns and you will even see some magical creatures along the way! The books describe Hogwarts being enchanted to look just like the ruins of some castle to muggle (non-wizard) eyes, with warning signs to keep away, and they did a great job depicting this with this ride in addition to making the ride itself thrilling.
Keep in mind that this is the newest ride in the park and they don't take Express Passes, so the line can get brutally long. There IS a single rider line that anyone can go in, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee a shorter wait as they only take people from that line when there is an odd party getting on the ride through the regular standby line.
That said, after standing through the regular line, the kids REALLY wanted to ride this one again. So we went with the single rider line and got through in about 1 hour when the regular line was an estimated 2 hours long.
Honeydukes Candy Shop
One of our favorite stops in Hogsmeade is Honeydukes Candy Shop. The kids always want chocolate frogs, I usually grab a bag of lemon drops, and there are lots of other options like candy floss (cotton candy), chocolate wands, and Bertie Bott's every flavor beans.
When I was pulling together photos for this post I found this pic of my oldest daughter and two oldest nieces from our first trip to Harry Potter World. They grow up so fast!
The store is absolutely adorable inside, but it can get crammed with people looking for licorice ropes and sugar quills on busy days. If you are planning on taking candy home for souvenirs rather than eating it right away, I recommend waiting until late in the day before making your purchases.
PRO TIP: There is a small alley BEHIND the Honeydukes shop near the Three Broomsticks that is almost always empty, even on the busiest days, so if you are looking for a cute photo op without all the people, that's a great option.
Foods to Try in Hogsmeade
You can get regular butterbeer, hot butterbeer, or frozen butterbeer in both parks, but Hogsmeade has the Three Broomsticks, Hogs Head Pub, and multiple street carts and butterbeer stands, so it feels like it's practically on every corner. It a sweet, cold drink that is perfect when the weather is hot, as it so often is in Florida. I even have a homemade butterbeer recipe on here that you can make when you aren't visiting the parks!
Another classic wizard treat to try is the pumpkin pasty or the cauldron cakes. Honestly, I think both are pretty lackluster and need to work on a homemade version of my own, since I think they could be so much better!
The Three Broomsticks
The main restaurant in Hogsmeade is the Three Broomsticks, which is designed to replicate the charm and coziness of a rustic, timber-framed building. The warm lighting and magical decor make you feel like you've stepped into a pub straight out of the Harry Potter books.
We really enjoyed the food at the Three Broomsticks also, and appreciated the variety between what was offered here and at the Leaky Cauldron in the other park. The rotisserie smoked chicken and fish & chips were my favorites, although the kids liked the spareribs with corn on the cob. We didn't try the beef pasty or mushroom pie this time but they both looked good!
Keep in mind that the line to get a table can get long and you can't make reservations ahead of time, so it can be a bit of a wait during the busiest hours.
Other Hogsmeade Attractions
Everywhere you look there is something fun and interesting to discover here, just like in Diagon Alley. There are multiple daily performances by the Hogwarts Frog Choir and the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students that are fun to watch and a great break from doing rides.
We also love the details in the lines for rides, which is really part of the attraction. Hagrid's Hut with the pumpkin patch out back is really fun to see, as are the rooms in the Hagrid's Motorbike ride where you can examine dragon eggs and castle ruins.
Just like in Diagon Alley, there are hidden spots all around (but mostly in front of shop windows) where you can use your wands to cast spells that make objects move or magical things happen.
And there are plenty of stores to purchase all kinds of Hogwarts memorabilia, whether you are a Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin.
Frequently Asked Questions
Universal Orlando Resort offers an Express Pass for certain attractions, including some (but not all) of the rides in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Express Pass allows you to skip regular lines and access shorter lines for participating rides and attractions.
That includes all of the Harry Potter rides EXCEPT for our favorite ride, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which gets brutally long lines that were 3+ hours long when we were there in December. Oh, and even if you have early entry to the park by staying at a Universal resort, the Express Pass doesn't work until 9:00 (so after you have already been there for 1 hour), so use that hour wisely before the Express Pass kicks in by queuing for Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure or by taking advantage of the much less crowded areas of the park for photos early on before the rest of the crowds arrive and fill in every possible space.
Whether you need an Express Pass depends on your preferences and the time of your visit. If you want to minimize wait times and have a more convenient experience, the Express Pass can be beneficial. However, it comes at an additional cost and it's definitely not cheap. In fact, depending on the time of year and the estimated crowds, the Express Pass can double or triple the cost of your ticket into the park!
Top Tips for Harry Potter World
- Do your shopping last. Or at least wait to make purchases until the end of the day before leaving the park. Most of the coasters at Universal require you to store any bags or backpacks (even cell phones!) in lockers rather than taking them on the rides. The lockers are small and it's annoying to deal with having to squash larger purchased items in them, in addition to having to carry them around all day.
- Ride the Hogwarts Express both ways. The experience is a little different depending on the direction you are going.
- Go with a redhead. The first time I went we had my niece with us and she has very red hair. Everywhere we went the employees would stop us and say that she must be a Weasley. It might get old if you are an actual redhead, but it was hilarious for the rest of us.
- Dress appropriately. This might sound basic, but when we went in December I didn't realize how cold it might actually be! It was quite breezy and in the high 50's/low 60's and we were cold! Thankfully we had light jackets for our second day.
If you have made it this far, I'm impressed! One last thing to know is that the Harry Potter areas are really just a small part of everything offered in the Universal Orlando Parks, which have a bunch of other lands, restaurants, and rides. We really didn't spend much time at all in the rest of either park, other than to ride the Velocicoaster in the Jurassic Park area of Universal Islands of Adventure.
If you want a fast, intense, truly scary roller coaster, go on that one. Our thrill-seeking kiddos LOVED it and we used our Express Passes to ride it multiple times. I was pretty sure we would die every time. Consider yourself warned.
And that was our Wizard World of Harry Potter experience! Now it's your turn! I would love to hear from you what you love about Harry Potter World and if you have any tips to share with other readers who are planning their Orlando trip. Please leave a comment below and let me know if there is anything I missed that should be included in this guide!
And be sure to check out our Epcot Guide if you are planning on visiting some of the Disney parks as well.