Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series with an immersive Harry Potter tour of some of the quintessential sites from the books and films. By Elizabeth Frels
Much of the joy of reading and watching the Harry Potter saga is to revel in the fantastical world created by J.K. Rowling. Wizards, villains, spirits, and magical beasts move through highly-detailed buildings, amazing castles, charmed forests, and maze-like rooms. Whether you are young or young at heart, pack your imagination and visit these scene-stealing locales in real life.
Jump aboard Scotland’s legendary steam train—one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world—and the route for the fictional Hogwarts Express. Coast over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, one of the most recognizable engineering marvels in the country, towering over the Loch Shiel. The gorgeous loch was also used as a stand-in for Hogwarts Lake. Here, Buckbeak dipped a toe in the water in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry and Hermione looked out across it from the Astronomy Tower at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For the ultimate muggle-friendly adventure, pair this 84-mile train journey with a cruise aboard a luxury Highlands motor cruiser. Perhaps you will catch a glimpse of one of the loch’s elusive residents: the Loch Ness Monster, or a “kelpie” (water horse), which plays a strong role in Scottish folklore, as well as Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Discover the young wizard’s London on a private tour through the city. See the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron and walk along the alleyways and medieval winding roads that were JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. Enjoy exclusive access to the visitor’s entrance and the staff entrance of the Ministry of Magic. It was here that the golden trio entered the Ministry under the influence of polyjuice potion. Make a stop at London’s King’s Cross railway station, an essential part of the pilgrimage. Have your photo taken at Platform 9 ¾ and pass the neo-gothic façade of St. Pancras International, where Harry and Ron took to the sky in the Weasley’s Ford Anglia. Later, see several of the locations where Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters wreaked havoc, including the Millennium Bridge which they destroyed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Warner Bros. Studios
True Potterites cannot visit the United Kingdom without a stop at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden just outside of London. The elaborate studios bring this intricate world to life. Explore the detailed sets, costumes, props, and animatronics. You will have the opportunity to walk the original stone floor of the iconic Hogwarts Great Hall, encounter some well-known creatures, and wander down Diagon Alley. Discover the magic behind Harry Potter and experience a ride on a broomstick, or allow a wand to choose you in Ollivander’s wand shop. In the backlot, between wandering the exterior sets, take the opportunity to enjoy a frothy Butterbeer, a non-alcoholic beverage reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch.
The Real Hogwarts
There were many sources of inspiration behind Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Outside of London, find enchantment in Oxford, famous the world over as the City of Dreaming Spires. Its captivating history is nowhere more apparent than in Christ Church College, where Harry Potter fans will undoubtedly recognize the Great Hall as the inspiration behind Hogwarts’ own Great Hall.
Visit the Gloucester Cathedral nearby. This medieval marvel was transformed into the corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Many scenes from the film were staged here, including: the troll scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the location where Moaning Myrtle flooded the girls’ bathroom in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the exact spot where the fateful words ‘the Chamber of Secrets has been opened’ appeared, and the corridor which led to the Gryffindor Common Room.
Another key Hogwarts site is Alnwick Castle, the site of Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. Channel your inner wizard, and experience life as a Hogwarts student. Join the castle’s resident wizarding professors to take part in a broomstick training session, on the very spot where Harry had his first ever lesson in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Edinburgh: Home of J.K. Rowling
See the captivating city through the brilliant author’s eyes. Stay awhile at the North British Station Hotel, where Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (she even signed a bust in the suite where she wrote it). Or sip tea at one of the two café bars that both claim to be where she wrote most of the first two Harry Potter books. Nearby, Tom Riddle’s grave is a significant site, complete with a snake and the engraving “Non Omnis Moriar” (‘Not all of me will die’)—widely speculated to be Rowling’s inspiration for Horcruxes, the objects in which the series’ dark wizards or witches hide fragments of their souls.