“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” It was real for me when I traveled to the United Kingdom and found myself on an unplanned search for Harry Potter. I have read the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and watched all the movies multiple times. Like millions of others, I have become a huge fan of the orphaned boy who discovers he is a wizard. Under the guidance of Albus Dumbledore and the professors at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Potter grows his magical talents, gains a family in his friends and faces his biggest demon the Dark Wizard Lord Voldemort a.k.a. he- who- must- not- be -named. So as I made my way through the UK, my admiration for all things Potter led me to start a search for local movie sights and the inspiration for his stories.
The first stop in my search for Harry Potter was London's King’s Cross Station Platform 9 ¾. If you are a Potter fan you know how important Platform 9 ¾ is to every student at Hogwarts, as it is where they catch the Hogwarts express for school. Next was a visit to Leadenhall Market, a Victorian covered market in the City of London that was used as the magical shopping street, Diagon Alley, and the entrance to the wizard’s pub, the Leaky Cauldron, in the Sorcerer's Stone. My next stops in London were the Millennium Bridge, sight of the collapsing bridge inthe Half-Blood Prince death-eaters scene, and Westminster Tube Station featured in the Order of the Phoenix.
My final stop in London was the studio where all eight movies were filmed the, Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio, to explore the magic behind the world of wizards and muggles. I disappeared into Potter’s world of iconic props, such as a wall of potion jars filled with mysterious ingredients and authentic costumes, like Potter’s invisibility cloak. I walked through the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, sets constructed for the movies. My favorite part of the tour was seeing the full size creatures Aragog (Chamber of Secrets), Basilisk (Chamber of Secrets) and Buckbeak (Prisoner of Azkaban) in the studios Creature Effects exhibit. I also had fun putting on one of the school robes and flying on a broomstick over London in front of a green screen in their special effects area.
The next city I visited in the UK was Oxford. Oxford is another city full of Potter magic, so I started with a Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland Official Oxford Walking Tour. It was as if Hermione said, "Apparate," and I was teleported to the infirmary where Harry was sent to heal after his first face off with Voldemort inthe Sorcerer’s Stone and where the students learned to dance for the Yule Ball in the Goblet of Fire at Oxford's Divinity Hall in Bodleian Library. Then on to Bodleian’s Duke Humphrey’s Library that was the Hogwarts library where Potter used his invisibility cloak, also in the Sorcerer’s Stoneand several other HP movies.
Next in Oxford the tour took us to New College Cloister and the large oak tree where Malfoy was turned into a ferret inthe Goblet of Fire. My favorite stop in Oxford was Christ Church College and its dining hall that was used as inspiration for Hogwart’s Great Dining Hall. I tried to imagine myself on the set of the movie as I stood at the bottom of the long steps at the grand entrance to the dining hall where several scenes from the movies were filmed. An overnight stay at Oxford University dorms was the highlight of my stay because we got to eat breakfast in this dining hall, sitting at the long wooden tables admiring the magnificent ceiling, massive stained glass windows, and portraits of famous members of the college.
My final stop in the United Kingdom was the City of Edinburgh in Scotland and a free Sandemans New Europe walking tour. We spent quite a bit of time in Greyfiars Kirkyard looking through this historic graveyard for markers with the names of characters from the HP stories. I found Thomas Riddell, a 19th century man who died in 1806, who was the inspiration for Voldemort and the poet, William McGonagall, who may have been the inspiration for Professor McGonagall the head of Gryffindor. We peered through the gates at the back of the graveyard to see the private school, George Heriot’s, whose architecture may have inspired the design for Hogwarts. It seemed like the entire city of Edinburgh was the muse in the creation of the magical world of Harry Potter, from Edinburgh Castle perched above the city in the same way that Hogwarts is or, the way Diagon Alley resembles Edinburgh’s Victoria Street. You can almost see Harry and his friends on every corner.
Two of my favorite stops in Edinburgh were lunch at the Elephant House Cafe said to be the location where the author J.K. Rowling penned the first books. It is a cute cafe just outside of Greyfriars Kirkyard and even has themed HP graffiti in the bathrooms. Shopping on Victoria Street at the stuffed to the brims emporium Diagon House was a special treat and an hour long Potter treasure hunt of specialty items.
If you are a fan of the Harry Potter series of books then you should most definitely use a trip to the United Kingdom to search for Harry Potter. There are other places in the United Kingdom that I was not able to visit, I plan to continue my search on my next trip to the U.K.
“Let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” Albus Dumbledore
Harry Potter Experience
Platform 9 ¾ and the Souvenir shop at King’s Cross Station are a complete wizarding experience and a must visit for a wide range of Harry Potter merchandise. Take a photo where a luggage cart disappears into the wall at the platform sign outside the store.
Please note it is free to take a photo or you may purchase the one that they take using their props. Plan to wait in a long line.
Opening Hours: M-S 8am-10pm , Sun 8am-9pm
Leadenhall Market one of the oldest markets in the City of London is located on Gracechurch Street. It is home to boutique retail shops, restaurants and pubs. Leadenhall is also known for its ornate roof structure that was designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones.
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm
Millennium Bridge a 330 meter pedestrian bridge on the Thames embankment at St. Paul’s Cathedral that leads to the Tate Gallery and Shakespeare’s Globe.
Westminster Tube Station is part of the London Underground rail system located at Bridge Street and the Victoria Embankment. It is close to Westminster Abbey, House of Parliament, and the London Eye.
Warner Bros. Studio TourLocated in Leavesden
Please note: Book your ticket in advance £39 for adults and £26 for ages 5-15 with tickets for a family of 4 at £126. Other ticketing prices are available @wbstudiotour.co.uk
Oxford University Overnight Rooms are available during the Summer months.
Free Walking Tour of Oxford University I did not take this tour, but it is a free tour that also highlights Alice in Wonderland and historic Oxford University.
Tour starts at Oxfam shop No. 17 on Broad Street
Tour is free to pay as you like, at the end of the tour
Tour times: 11am and 2pm daily. Advance booking is not required but you can book @oxfordwalkingtoursoxford.com
Free Sandemans New Europe Walking Tour the 2.5 hour walking tour starts in front of Starbucks on High Street. The tour covers all the main sights of Old Town Edinburgh and highlights its history.
Elephant House Cafe was voted best coffee by The List Magazine. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. See if you can find over 600 elephants that are placed throughout the cafe.
Located at: 32 Marshall Street, just outside Greyfriars Kirkyard
Opening hours: M-Th 8am-10pm, F 8am-11pm, S 9am-11pm, Su 9am-10pm
40 Victoria Street