Diagon Alley is one of those fictional places that captures everyone’s imagination. Who doesn’t want to stroll into Ollivander’s to find their wand, stop by Scribbulus Writing Implements for some parchment and ink, and then pop into Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour for a delicious afternoon treat? (Of course, you’ll need to stop by Gringotts to withdraw a galleon or two before you step into Madam Malkin’s for your robes.)

“Harry wished he had eight more eyes… There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon….”

That was the world’s first introduction to the wizarding world in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A promenade overstuffed with witches and wizards of all ages getting everything they need for brewing potions, playing Quidditch, and learning new spells (not to mention picking up the latest gossip over a pint at the Leaky Cauldron). It represents the world of magic just as much as Hogwarts, and arguably even more so since this is where the wider magical community gathers, not just students and professors.

Which is why it makes perfect sense that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando chose to create an entirely new section of the park dedicated to this wonderful place. Having been thrilled with my first visit to the park back in 2011, my expectations for this new section were as high as a hippogriff in flight.

Diagon Alley

The wonderful thing about the Harry Potter fandom is that people don’t (just) want to be Harry or Hermione, they want to be wizards. They want to down a butterbeer at the Hog’s Head and buy a Skiving Snackbox at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. They want to wave a wand and make water pour from a broken fountain. They want to ride the Hogwarts Express!

That’s what’s so brilliant about the Wizarding World experience: you really feel like you’ve stepped into the pages of your favorite book. They very smartly don’t have actors dressed like Hagrid or Professor McGonagall, everyone you see is just an average witch or wizard going about their business or selling their wares. (Except for the folks hanging around near Borgin and Burkes… they’re anything but normal.)

Knockturn Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

No detail has been overlooked, everything from the laundry hanging outside the Leaky Cauldron to the muggle departures board at King’s Cross Station is insanely detailed. They’ve listed real destinations in the UK that only someone who’d spent a lot of time there would recognize; places like Hull, Hadley Wood, and Finsbury Park pop up regularly.

We took a Londoner here and I honestly think he was most impressed by how accurately the designers captured the minutiae of an English train station – right down to the 100% British snacks in the underground shop.

 

Inside Diagon Alley, the houses lean as if they’ve been there for a thousand years, the sounds of trains rattle overhead, and the shops are shaped in ways a muggle would never dream possible.

“It’s not only incredibly and precisely detailed, but because it’s set up in a way to feel like a place – like you’re actually visiting Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade… that’s a lot of fun for people.” – Abby Waysdorf, PhD candidate at Erasmus University in Rotterdam

The quote above is from a researcher I met during my trip who’s studying why nerdy attractions like the WWOHP are so beguiling. That’s right: the Wizarding World is so impressive that it’s worthy of actual academic study!

And she’s absolutely right – the details of the world have been so thoroughly fleshed out that it’s easy to forget that you’re still just a muggle in a theme park. You can stop by Gringotts and exchange your silly muggle money for Gringotts notes (although I do have to complain that they don’t give out actual Galleons, Knuts & Sickles). The employees of every establishment are dressed perfectly, from the cheerful uniforms worn by the Florean Fortescue’s staff to the drab banker attire donned by the Gringotts tellers, complete with stereotypical visors!

 

But my absolute favorite thing about Diagon Alley is, of course, something new contributed by J.K Rowling herself: a full set of songs by that musical mistress of the airwaves, Celestina Warbeck! For those of you who haven’t read the books a dozen times, Celestina is a famous songstress in the wizarding world. She’s especially popular among older witches like Molly Weasley, and her songs are occasionally mentioned in chapters that take place at the Burrow. The WWOHP has taken this tiny, seemingly insignificant detail and created an entire event centered around the singer!

A few times a day, the Wizarding Wireless Network broadcasts a live Celestina concert right from Diagon Alley. And, man, is she absolutely FABULOUS!

I caught the act a few times, and was repeatedly enchanted by the diva and her Banshees. You can find all the songs on Pottermore (or Youtube) but honestly I wish they would just release a whole album. J.K. has said that Celestina is her favorite off-screen character, so hopefully we’ll get more of her in the future.

A lot of people ask me how long you can spend at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I think that really depends on how enraptured you are with the series. I can spend days walking through the shops, riding the Hogwarts Express back and forth, and chatting with the staff. I had a great conversation with some employees at Gringotts about which items from the Black Milk Hogwarts collection were our favorites, and if you ask nicely the staff at Dervish and Banges might let you borrow one of the authentic adult-sized brooms behind the counter. But then again, I do know of some muggles for whom one day is enough. To each their own!

Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

However long you stay, make sure you bring your muggle credit cards. There is some amazing merch here, some of which I’ve never seen before. You’d have to be a hardcore fan to want a Holyhead Harpies shirt (or a very dark wizard to want some of the things on offer in Borgin & Burkes). And who doesn’t want to adopt a pygmy puff from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes?!

My favorites, though, were the odd timepieces, compasses and globes in the windows of Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, which you can buy just like any normal wizard. It’s a good thing I don’t have a permanent home or I’d be totally broke shopping here!

 

Finally, I suppose I ought to mention the rides. Yes, I know it’s a theme park, but the ambiance is so incredible that the rides are almost a footnote. The new Escape from Gringotts ride is fantastic fun, but I don’t think it can quite live up to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts Castle. That ride remains one of the coolest and most innovative experiences in the world! Even though it always makes me nauseous.

Some pro tips:

  • Both parks are even more enchanting at night. Be sure to hang around after sunset!
  • The Goblin overseeing the Gringotts annex is available to answer all your wizardly banking questions, but he’s very terse.
  • Ride the Hogwarts Express BOTH WAYS!
  • Keep an eye out for special spell-casting areas that only work with REAL wands (aka the special ones you buy at Ollivander’s).
  • Get butterbeer four ways: hot, cold, frozen and ice cream. Hot is the best.
  • Check the windows of 12 Grimmauld Place as you walk by… you never know who you might see!
  • Don’t worry too much about the length of the lines for the Hogwarts ride. The walk through the castle is so fascinating you’ll probably wish the line was longer!
  • Watch out for the Hand of Glory in Borgin and Burkes. (And the chest shaking near the back door. Just generally be careful in there.)
  • Don’t stand under the Leaky Cauldron sign… it leaks.
  • Ask a wizard when the Fountain of Fair Fortune show will be on – it’s a theatrical treat!
  • Step into the phone booth outside of King’s Cross station and dial the correct number for a special message from the Ministry of Magic.
  • Don’t miss Stan Shunpike and his shrunken head pal by the Knight Bus on your way out of King’s Cross!
  • If you want to walk through Hogwarts Castle without going on the ride, just tell one of the students at the entrance, they’ll let you in to a special line so you can wander through the rooms at your own pace.
  • You must have a park-to-park ticket to see both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, so make sure you stick to your ticket!
  • Early morning & late evening are the least crowded times. If you can, stay at one of the on-site hotels and go back for a nap midday!

We visited for Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year, and even the mad crowds couldn’t dampen my enjoyment! I would go back for a visit at any time of year (and in fact I may be back for a totally awesome Potter-themed bachelorette party in a few months). As J.K. herself stated when the final movie came out, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” I’m so glad that’s true.

I really only covered the Diagon Alley section of the park here – for more on Hogsmeade & Hogwarts check out my original post here!

Have you visited WWOHP since Diagon Alley was opened? What did you think?