This article was originally published in February of 2020 and then underwent extensive updates and editing in September of 2023 to remain current and relevant.
Let me start by saying, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is downright magical. Whether it’s your first time visiting or your 100th, the experience of being dropped into the story of Harry Potter will give you chills (and quite a few thrills, for you roller coaster fanatics).
We don’t all get gifted Time-Turners from Professor McGonagall, though, so if you find yourself short on time and wanting to get the most out of your trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I’ve got some top tips to make sure you’re set for an incredible day. I’ll even come along with you because, let’s be honest, I could always use another day in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Just like how the wand chooses the wizard, you must choose where your adventure begins. It’s important to know there are two unique wizarding world lands that offer completely different experiences at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure.
Nestled in the heart of ‘London’ within Universal Studios Florida, Diagon Alley is home to must-see experiences like Gringotts bank, Carkitt Market, and Knockturn Alley.
This picturesque snow-capped village is located within Universal Islands of Adventure at the foot of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Starting in either park guarantees you a great day — obviously, you’re at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you really can’t go wrong — but we recommend starting at Hogsmeade, catching the train over to Diagon Alley mid-day, and then coming back to Hogsmeade to finish the night.
The day I tried this adventure, I headed straight to Hogsmeade. The best part about starting your day in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Shorter wait times because, as you’ll see on your map, it’s near the back of the park. My fellow Hogwarts students and I strolled into Hogsmeade and it only took us half the time it would have been to ride during peak park hours to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. And, bonus, since the whole ride queue is an immersive experience, the line feels shorter and the time passes itself as you try to spot all the fun, hidden gems throughout the attraction.
Shortly after you choose the sidecar or motorbike, you’ll be twisting and turning deep into the Forbidden Forest. It’s an incredible experience joining Hagrid on this all-new thrilling roller coaster ride!
Letter or not, you have been formally accepted to bask in the incredible sight of the Hogwarts castle. Seeing it in real life is incredible. I still get chills walking toward it, no matter the weather!
Once we’re inside the castle, let’s ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Yes, we really can walk inside Hogwarts, and we’re going to. See the magic come to life as you enter through the towering castle gates, experience countless relics from the story and walk past iconic classrooms, all in preparation to soar above the castle grounds on a life-changing adventure and incredible multidimensional thrill-ride.
Now we’re heading to ride Flight of the Hippogriff. This family-friendly coaster is my personal favorite since I can gather up all my “Gryffindor bravery” to conquer this ride. As you move up on this coaster track, you’ll see Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, as he bows down. When you get to the top, make sure to look around and take in the view as this ride offers unique sights of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. Before you know it, you’ll spiral past Hagrid’s hut and over the pumpkin patch. What an adventure!
If you’re anything like me and Ron Weasley, all this excitement has probably helped you work up quite an appetite. Time to grab a bite at the Three Broomsticks. Once you walk in, your nose will enjoy scents of delicious delicacies. This spot offers the chance to enjoy authentic food that your favorite characters also enjoyed. This rustic tavern serves breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s full of delicious, hearty, British food and world-famous can-not-miss Butterbeer. As I prefer sweets for breakfast, I think I’ll order the fluffy Pancake Breakfast.
“OK now that we’ve eaten, it’s time to catch the Hogwarts Express,” is just one of those casual sentences you can say when you’re at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Walk over to Hogwarts Express: Hogsmeade Station and we can head to King’s Cross Station in London, at Universal Studios Florida. This isn’t just any regular old train ride, so be prepped for an incredible experience as we ride with our friends (real and fictional) over to Diagon Alley. (Just make sure you have the park-to-park ticket!)
After you deboard the scarlet engine, you’ll find yourself on Platform 9 ¾ in the bustling Hogwarts Express: King’s Cross Station.
Time to enter Diagon Alley. Make a left from King’s Cross Station and you’ll pass through the brick archway to enter into the bustling streets of Diagon Alley. Now you’ll really want to take a second to soak it all in. The magic of the hustle and bustle is all around you. You are standing where aspiring witches and wizards begin their journey to another semester at Hogwarts.
Every witch or wizard knows you can’t start a shopping spree in Diagon Alley without a trip to Gringotts bank. Let’s stop by Gringotts Money Exchange, because, honestly, how often do you get the chance to ask a Goblin a question? Come on in and ask away! You can even exchange U.S currency for Gringotts bank notes that can be used for purchases throughout both lands.
Now we can head deep into the vaults at Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Walk through the bank’s grand marble lobby, then journey through underground passageways as we experience a multi-dimensional thrill ride. If you’re like me and love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but maybe your Gryffindor bravery stops at roller coasters, you can still walk the queue with your thrill-seeking friends. I definitely recommend doing this, as walking these lines feels like you’ve jumped straight into the story.
Next, head to Ollivanders and experience how a wand chooses its wizard… you may even be selected to be paired with a wand of your own to purchase and take home! As you walk through the shop you can also browse an array of wands stacked floor-to-ceiling by the thousands. We recommend getting the interactive wand for next-level wizarding fun….
While I know it’s hard to stop yourself from looking up at all the details around you, try not to miss the details at your own feet. You may notice gold medallions placed throughout the streets. These help indicate where you can practice your hand at casting spells with your interactive wand. Every interactive wand comes with a map that marks these spell-locations throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. All you’ll need is a gentle flick of the wrist, the right incantation, and your interactive wand to create your own magical experiences.
Visit the shops and build your wizarding wardrobe at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. Whether you’re Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, or Ravenclaw, this is a great spot to find the gear to proudly represent your House colors. Shoutout to all those rocking the red and gold.
Hungry again? Me. Too. Let’s grab a bite in the Leaky Cauldron. This is an iconic eatery of the wizarding world, so let’s take a break from all that wandwork and enjoy some authentic British cuisine! Might I suggest the Ploughman’s Platter?
Is there a better way to pass the time while our food settles than watching some wizarding world entertainment? There are two incredible shows at Diagon Alley’s Carkitt Market, so we recommend sticking around for both.
The Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees show is a bewitching live performance with sweet, smooth melodies by this wizarding world sensation (she’s also Molly Weasley’s favorite singer).
The Tales of Beedle and the Bard is a show presented by the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts, retelling two famous 15th-century stories from wizarding fairytales, including The Fountain of Fair Fortune and The Tale of the Three Brothers. Be sure to stick around for the end of this show in particular — the ending blew my mind the first time I saw it!
OK, who’s ready for dessert? Let’s make a stop at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. If you thought you liked Butterbeer, wait until you try it in ice-cream form. Here you can taste a variety of unique flavored soft-serve ice-cream including Chocolate Chili, Salted Caramel Blondie, and Earl Grey and Lavender. They’re all excellent, but my favorite is the chocolate raspberry with vanilla bean in a waffle cone and topped with sprinkles.
If you’re a Gryffindor like me, you may be more suspicious of the Dark Arts. But let’s explore the Darker side magic in Knockturn Alley and visit Borgin and Burkes, known for inviting shady patrons, including Draco Malfoy. While this place literally gives me the chills, here you can explore malevolent relics, items of Dark Arts, and other oddities. Don’t be surprised if your Slytherin friends drag you to this side of Diagon Alley. Not only will you be able to shop unique merchandise only found in this dark alley, but you’ll also be able to cast special incantations and find hidden gems here.
Outside of Diagon Alley in London, we can talk with the Knight Bus Conductor. Passers-by like us can look inside the purple, three-storied Knight Bus and hear chatter from the talkative shrunken head hanging over the steering wheel.
One of the lesser-known must-dos in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a stop at the Magical Telephone Booth. At first glance, it might seem like an ordinary booth, but you’re with me and I just so happen to know how to use the right “M-A-G-I-C”.
All right, time to catch the train again. Let’s walk to the station where you can walk through a solid brick wall onto Platform 9¾ — Hogwarts Express: King’s Cross Station. On this train ride, we can enjoy the urban outskirts of London into the British countryside while we catch up on all the fun we’ve already had and deliciousness we’ve already eaten.
Back in Hogsmeade, let’s take a break at the Hog’s Head. After back-to-back thrilling rides, shopping, and casting spells, relaxing inside this pub located behind Three Broomsticks sounds perfect. We can even enjoy traditional drinks, as well as Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice, and Gillywater.
Before you leave, it’s time to stock up on delicious delectables at Honeydukes. This delightful shop has legendary wizarding world sweets including Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, and Exploding Bonbons.
WHAT a day! Of course just one day in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not nearly enough to experience all the magic it has to offer! We’ll see you at the Three Broomsticks tomorrow morning.