Today, it is unlikely someone hasn’t heard of Harry Potter, the boy who lived. His eight-part series has sold 500 million copies worldwide, making it the world’s best-selling book series ever. Perhaps, the movies are even more famous: a total of HUF 365 billion was spent on filming the series, which returned almost eight times in revenue to the filmmakers. Possibly we can even risk the statement that the English Wizard is the most famous fictional character in world literature.
No wonder, we stumble into Harry Potter every turn wandering around the UK – from the south of England to the Scottish Highlands, from London to Edinburgh. From the abundance of these locations, we selected the most interesting ones, which are worth visiting even for those who are not that much into wizarding. It was double the pleasure for us.
If you’re staying in Edinburgh or Glasgow, it’s definitely worth taking the A82 road to Fort William, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. You’ll find yourself taking a panoramic journey across the fabulous Loch Lomond National Park and the breathtaking Glen Coe Valley. Drive time is 2.5 hours, but you’re likely to arrive back at your accommodation at night because you’ll stop to walk and take photos at many places, because every inch you pass is stunning, and there are great fish restaurants in Fort William that have fresh catch every day.
The area has featured in every Harry Potter movie, including Hagrid’s real hut and the Hogwarts bridge.
Glen Coe has also been a filming location for a number of other high-budget films, including a James Bond movie.
It is the steam locomotive that departs from Fort William that takes Harry to Hogwarts every year (at least when he doesn’t miss it), blowing white clouds as it glides through fabulous landscapes. The valley bridge in the film, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, is about 10 minutes drive from Fort William, and if you are time your visit well, you can also see the steam locomotive. In case you have more time here, you may also travel by the steam locomotive, which can be an interesting experience as well.
In the immediate vicinity of the viaduct, St. Mary and St. Finnan Gothic Church offers spectacular views of Loch Shiel from its garden.
Although Edinburgh was not a filming location, it is well known that JK Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books while sitting in a local café. Walking through the streets of the historic city, one can easily imagine where the writer drew her inspiration from.
Victoria Street near downtown is referred to by Potter fans only as the true Diagon Alley. Colourful, narrow but surprisingly tall buildings, old-style boutiques on a cobblestone street. It’s no surprise that the UK’s best Harry Potter store opened here; it’s like a museum, but with the option of buying exhibits on display. There are Firebolts, various potions, magic books and a collection of impressively realistic magic wands.
The ancient Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetery is some distance from the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s main street. It is definitely worth the walk, not only because it is related to the Harry Potter books, but also for the ancient legends that surround the city’s oldest cemetery. Strolling through the graveyard we find the graves of Tom Riddell, Sirius Black, McGonagall and the Potter family, as Rowling drew inspiration from these graves when he created the character of Harry Potter.
We heard about the ancient legends of the city on a “Ghost Tour”, but I recommend joining any of the many free walking tours in Edinburgh because of the concentrated history and mysticism the city has to offer. There are a number of Harry Potter tours in which the guide usually carries a magic wand while wearing a wizarding robe and hat with a large pointed brim.
Castle Alnwick is over 950 years old and has housed the Percy family for 700 of those years. Located on the boundary between Scotland and England, Alnwick Castle is a pride of the British nobility. The building is decorated with exquisite tapestries, magnificent frescoes, intricate carvings, and valuable paintings. Alnwick Gardens is also a stand-alone tourist attraction. The multi-award-winning garden is spread over 12 hectares and includes rose gardens, woods, lakes and even a poison garden.
Those familiar with Quidditch will recognize the exterior of this building since Harry learned to fly here, and the rest of the building often features as Hogwarts’ outer grounds.
There is no doubt that Oxford is most associated with its long-established university, which is indeed a defining element of the city, yet there are numerous other notable sights here. It’s worth spending a day in this historically vibrant, rich and beautiful city.
With the UK’s largest scientific collection and Gothic hall, the Bodleian Library, which was built more than 400 years ago, has been used repeatedly as a filming location for the Potter team: Hogwarts’ infirmary and the magical library are located here.
Many outdoor Hogwarts scenes feature the University of Oxford.
Of course, London cannot be left out of this list, here we stumble upon a shooting scene at almost every turn: we watched a broom chase at Millennium Bridge, the Great Scotland Yard served as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic and who wouldn’t remember the 9¾ platform at King’s Cross Station.
At the train station, we can take photos with a suitcase that has already been pushed halfway through the wall and we can even get dressed if we have the patience to stand in the endless line.
For fans, the icing on the cake is the Harry Potter Studio on one of London’s outskirts, Watford. Walking among the grandiose scenery is an amazing experience! It is guaranteed that even those who don’t like the film will be amazed by how much effort, material, and intellectual resources went into making this series of films.
Because the creators of the movie worked with child actors, they created the magical locations instead of using digital tricks to see the actors’ faces glimmer with real joy on the big screen. The same look of childish awe probably showed on our faces during the tour.
The Great Hall, where the opening and Christmas feasts take place, is really built as you saw in the movie, only the magical ceiling was digitally created. You can walk in the huge marble hall of Gringotts Bank, or even wander through the Forbidden Forest with its mighty centaurs and giant spiders. In Diagon Alley, every detail of the shop windows was created in meticulous detail.
Certainly, the tour is very long if you want to fully enjoy it, but that’s not a problem because you can refresh with a Butter Beer halfway through. Unfortunately, there’s nothing magical about the rest of the buffet: burgers and hot dogs, kind of Muggle-style.
The tour ends at Olivander’s wand shop. This room is filled from top to bottom with wand boxes, each featuring the names of the hundreds and hundreds of make-up artists, engineers, animators, filmmakers and actors who contributed to the filming.