If there was a leitmotif for our trip to London, it was Harry Potter. I have spent the last year reading the books to Lucas for the first time (after having read them to the older boys several years ago, and of course reading each book several times by myself) and we broke our cardinal rule of “you must finish the book before you view the movie” to watch all eight of the movies before we left, even though we’re only midway through reading The Order of the Phoenix. All that to say, we were well marinated in Harry Potter lore heading into this trip, and we all five love the books and the movies.
I have a whole separate blog post planned for our visit to the Making of Harry Potter studio tour, but even if you don’t opt for the tour, there is plenty of Harry Potter minutiae outside the Warner Bros. studio to enjoy. Here are a few of the places we enjoyed finding, either by specifically seeking them out or just recognizing them as we passed by, that have served as film locations in the eight movies of the Harry Potter franchise.
In our first day of wandering and exploring, we crossed the Millennium Bridge, otherwise known as the Wobbly Bridge, that the Death Eaters destroy at the beginning of The Half-Blood Prince, and also passed by the Lambeth Bridge, where the Knight Bus squeezes its way between oncoming double-decker buses in The Prisoner of Azkaban. And we passed both over AND under the Tower Bridge, featured in the Order of the Phoenix when Harry and the other members of the Order zoom down the Thames on broomsticks on their way to Grimmauld Place. (We never did make it to Islington to visit Clarendon Square, where the exterior scenes of Grimmauld Place were filmed.)
A few days later, we found ourselves in Picadilly Circus, which was too noisy and crowded and busy for our tastes, but you might recognize it from Deathly Hallows Part One, where Hermione brings Ron and Harry to escape the Death Eater attack on the Weasley wedding. St Pancras station was our departure point, where we caught the Eurostar train to Paris. You’ll see its neo-gothic clock tower as Harry and Ron zoom past in Mr Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia in the beginning of The Chamber of Secrets.
Diagon Alley has two muggle locations in London. The first is the Borough Market, where Harry pops off the Knight Bus in The Prisoner of Azkaban. The second is Leadenhall Market, a gorgeous set of Victorian arcades that has been a functioning market since medieval times and also happens to serve as the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in The Philosopher’s Stone. What we did not know is that Leadenhall Market, including all its cute shops AND restaurants and cafes, is closed on Sundays. It was still a fun place to explore, just not a great place to arrive hungry and hoping for a good spot for dinner on a Sunday.
And of course, there is King’s Cross Station, home of Platform 9 3/4 and one of my favourite scenes in all of the movies, where Harry and Dumbledore discuss life after death, and choices, and Voldemort. It also happens to contain two of my very favourite quotes from the movie franchises:
‘Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’
‘Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.’
Platforms 9 and 10 (and, ostensibly, 9 3/4) are behind a barrier that you can only cross if you have a valid train ticket. However, they have mocked up a more accessible Platform 9 3/4, complete with trolley passing through the brick wall and nearby gift shop, where fans can queue to have their photo taken. They even supply scarves in the Hogwarts house of your choice, and have employees standing by to manage the queue (and your scarf) and take photos. A staff member takes photos of everyone, but you are also welcome to take your own, and you are not obligated to buy the official version. We queued for nearly an hour but found the staff quite accommodating, letting us take individual photos of the boys, then a group photo of just the boys, and finally one with the boys and me in it. (Beloved preferred to remain on the safe side of the camera!) Pro tip: you can save yourself the bother of queuing up at King’s Cross if you’re planning a visit to the Warner Bros studio tour, as they have the same set-up but with poorer lighting and basically no line-ups.
And even with all of that, there are Harry Potter film locations in London that we missed. If you remember Dudley and Harry encountering the snake in The Philosopher’s Stone, you’ll find the Reptile House at the London Zoo familiar. Scotland Place stands in for the Ministry of Magic and nearby Westminster Tube station was closed for an entire day when it was used as a location during the filming of The Order of the Phoenix. Though the movie shows the Leaky Cauldron as being accessed through Leadenhall Market, the books imply access off Charing Cross Road, and of course Diagon Alley is where one would see the imposing white marble of Gringotts, the wizard bank, but is better known to muggles as Australia House, the Australian high commission.
There are, of course, no shortages of Harry Potter souvenirs available in what seemed like almost every retail establishment. We were unable to resist the attraction of wands for each boy, t-shirts and Pop figures with Harry Potter themes. And I’m positively delighted with my Marauders’ Map scarf, as I do solemnly swear that I’m up to no good. We managed to resist the full set of Professor Snape’s dress robes (Â£299!) or a life-sized Firebolt at nearly Â£500.
One of our less-traditional Harry Potter souvenirs came from a candy shop near Covent Garden where we found sherbet lemon drops.
They’re Dumbledore’s favourites, you know!
Make no mistake, we did not (entirely) reduce one of the world’s greatest cities to a giant Harry Potter scavenger hunt. We also learned about everything from Londinium to Henry VIII to the origins of Greenwich Mean Time. I have to tell you, though, nothing quite came close to the magic of London through a Harry Potter cinematic lens!