13 Places Every Harry Potter Fan MUST Visit in the UK
When I planned my recent trip to the UK, you can bet your broomstick I had several Harry Potter travel spots on the itinerary. To give you an idea of how much is possible in a limited amount of time for a devoted fan, here are the Potter-inspired places I prioritized on a two-week vacation spent mostly in England and Scotland. Whether you're walking in the footsteps of Jo Rowling herself in Edinburgh or visiting the actual film set locations in Oxford, here's how you can live out your Harry Potter fantasies on your next vacation. I promise you'll come home believing in the magic of the series in a whole new way.
Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, England
This was the highlight of my trip, and I can't stress enough how impressive the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is for fans and non-fans alike. The tickets are pretty pricey (around $65 for an adult ticket with souvenir and digital headset guide), but so worth it. I'd recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time to make sure you get the day and time you want and to avoid lines. And give yourself several hours to enjoy it — we were there close to five hours and I could have stayed all day because there's so much to see.
One other pro tip: it's quite a distance outside of the city and requires a train and shuttle bus (that picks up at the station), so if you're staying in London, give yourself at least two hours to get out there unless you've rented a car.
The first set you see in the tour is Hogwarts' magnificant Great Hall, a full-scale set that features real character costumes and some props like Dumbledore's owl podium.
Here's Dumbledore and his podium in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The first section will take you the longest to get through, but I also loved the outdoor area featuring the Knight Bus, 4 Privet Drive, and the Hogwarts Bridge. It's a surreal experience (and great photo op) to stand on the same bridge featured in the films.
Here's Harry and Lupin on the bridge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The tour finishes off with a bang with the awe-inspiring 360-degree Hogwarts Castle model that was built for the first film and used for photography and CGI shots. Take a seat in the benches that surround the model to watch the lighting go from day to night and back again, and with the soundtrack in the background, I dare you not to get emotional.
Bodleian Library in Oxford
Just a train ride away from London is the University of Oxford, where you can take a tour of the Bodleian Library to see the Divinity School room (pictured here) and Duke Humfrey's medieval library, two film locations used in Harry Potter films. Built between 1427 and 1483, the Divinity School was used for the Hogwarts hospital scenes and the Yule Ball dance lessons in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Here's Professor McGonagall giving Ron dance lessons in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
If you want to see Duke Humfrey's medieval library in the Bodleian Library, you'll need to purchase at least the mini tour. Photos aren't allowed, so I can't show you the reading room featured in the first two films and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but here's a part of the library.
Here's the reading room used in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Here's the scene of Harry Potter in Duke Humfrey's medieval library, aka "the restricted section" from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Because they were so valuable and in limited supply at the time (as far back as the 1600s), the ancient books are actually chained to the bookshelves, but in real life the spines are in the back with the pages facing out, so you wouldn't see the chains.
New College in Oxford
Don't let the name fool you — founded in 1379, New College is one of the very old colleges that make up the University of Oxford. The school's Harry Potter claim to fame is the tree Draco sat in right before being turned into a ferret in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Here's Draco and his Slytherin cronies in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
You can recognize New College's cloisters in several scenes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Christ Church in Oxford
While the Great Hall set is a part of the studio tour, the filmmakers were inspired by the "real" Great Hall of the beautiful Oxford college, Christ Church. An archway and the stairway that takes you to the dining room are also used in some of the film scenes.
Here's the Great Hall all decked out for Christmas in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross, London
Platform 9 3/4 is actually not located between platforms 9 and 10, but (thankfully) in an area of King's Cross Station where you don't need a ticket to enter. The long line is worth the wait, as they have two people at hand — a photographer and a scarf handler — plus four scarves for each house (I brought my own, however). The photographer directs the shots and in the Harry Potter gift shop next door, you can purchase their photo, but you don't have to. This is the photo my husband took with my phone.
Millennium Bridge in London
Don't worry, London's Millennium Bridge is still intact (and beautiful) in real life.
Here's the bridge meeting its disastrous fate at the hand of the Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The Elephant House in Edinburgh, Scotland
Moving on to Edinburgh, Scotland, where J.K. Rowling moved with her infant daughter in 1993 following her divorce. The famed author began writing her beloved series in the coffee shop The Elephant House. She told BBC, "I went out and wrote in cafes because the way to make Jessica fall asleep was to keep her moving — in the pushchair."
Fans have completely covered every surface of The Elephant House bathrooms with messages about how Harry Potter has affected their lives and other symbols and quotes related to the series. Employees used to clean them off, but they have since given up. They do, however, have to replace the toilet seats often as they break from people trying to reach bare spots in the ceiling and walls.
Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland
Just down the street from The Elephant House is the Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard, J.K. Rowling's inspiration for Tom Riddle's graveyard in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Here's the real gravestone in Greyfriars Kirkyard for aristocrat Thomas Riddell esq. and his son, also Thomas Riddell, where fans leave flowers and notes for real-life men who inspired Voldemort's name.
Here's Harry Potter at the grave of Thomas Riddle, Voldemort's father, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
George Heriot's School in Edinburgh, Scotland
Visible from the graveyard is George Heriot's School, a Scottish independent primary and secondary school that was founded in 1628 and inspired both the look of Hogwarts and the four houses. Heriot's houses are Castle (after Edinburgh Castle), Lauriston (after the address), Raeburn (after famous student Henry Raeburn), and Greyfriars (after the graveyard), and each has a corresponding color. But I wonder if they have a sorting hat?
Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland
Also steps away from The Elephant House is the restaurant- and shop-lined Victoria Street, which inspired J.K. Rowling's Diagon Alley. In the '90s (when Rowling wrote the books), there was a bank and stationary store on the street just like Diagon Alley's Gringotts and Flourish and Blotts.
Here's Harry and Hagrid walking down Diagon Alley for the first time together in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
There's even a joke shop on Victoria Street, AHA HA HA Jokes & Novelties, that brings to mind both Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and Zonko's Joke Shop (in Hogsmeade).
Here's Zonko's joke shop in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England
Alnwick Castle (pronounced with a silent "l" and "w," rhymes with "panic") is about a two-hour drive from Edinburgh. With museums, tours, archery, cafes, and other activities, there's plenty to do there, though. Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland, and his familiy actually live here part of the year, which would be pretty crazy (and awesome). Besides having a straight-up Beauty and the Beast library, the castle and its grounds have been used for many films and TV shows like Downton Abbey and, of course, Harry Potter.
Here's Hagrid pulling the Christmas tree through the snow at Alnwick (as Hogwarts) in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
I HIGHLY recommend the film set tour at Alnwick (included in your ticket price, so "free") — it was our favorite of the trip, mostly because it was 90 percent Harry Potter related.
Here's another shot of Alnwick Castle in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
I'm not ashamed to admit I did the broomstick training class at Alnwick along with 20 or so children (and a few adults). There are several times for this throughout the day, and it's also free, but with limited availability. Grab your ticket when you first arrive if you want to run around on a broomstick where Hogwarts students took their first flying lessons from Madam Hooch in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And seriousy, who wouldn't??
Here's Neville before his broomstick takes him for a disastrous ride in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The only big changes from the real Alnwick Castle in this scene is the CGI Quidditch field they added in the background and the statue that Neville's robe gets caught on was a prop meant to replicate the real statues on the top of the castle.
The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland
Near the train station in Edinburgh, Scotland, is the beautiful and ornate Balmoral Hotel, where J.K. Rowling finished the final book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While you, like me, may not be able to afford to stay in the pricey J.K. Rowling suite (more than $1,000 a night), you can at least see where the magic happened, so to speak. You'll know you've found the right room when you see the owl knocker.
There are more than one set of the Harry Potter book series in the suite.
The Palace Theatre in London
The much-anticipated Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, opened July 30, but if you can't snag tickets you can at least stop by the Palace Theatre in London to ooh and aah over the gorgeously elaborate display.