There are so many ways to explore a new city – you could cram in all the touristy spots in a day, ticking them off your list as you go through. Or you could eat your way through the city, understanding how food influences their way of life. Or you could go museum hopping, learning more about the city’s past. I had all these options buzzing through my head on my recent visit to London. Having a measly 48 hours in the city (not enough!), I decided to forego them all and do the unthinkable – explore London through the eyes of Harry Potter. The minute I read about Harry Potter walking tours being conducted across the city while I was researching a probable itinerary, I was sold – hook, line and sinker! I packed the husband off to Lord’s cricket stadium for the day, and set off for the walking tour of my dreams.
Now, I’ve read the books a million times, seen the movies a dozen times (the books are better!), blogged about my love for the Harry Potter franchise (read that here), and even contemplated signing up for a degree in ‘Harry Potter’ at Durham University. Yes, that exists. And if you share the Potter love as much as I do, here’s a step-by-step, self guided Harry Potter walking tour of London that you can do too! This features some of the landmarks that either inspired Rowling or were used as filming locations in the film series. So get on your Nimbus 2000 and fly along –
Start your walk off at Garrick Theatre located on Charing Cross Road. Hagrid and Harry walk down this very same road in the first book, on their way to a wizarding alleyway where Harry gets a taste of magic for the first time in his life – Diagon Alley. One of Rowling’s earliest jobs was just around the corner from Garrick Theatre and it is believed that this area is said to have heavily influenced Rowling’s work.
It is at Diagon Alley, that Harry first meets the wandmaker ‘Garrick’ Ollivander. Coincidence much?
A cheery alleyway located off Charing Cross Road, Flicker Alley and it’s myriad of shops is believed to have inspired Diagon Alley. There’s a subtle waft of magic all through the lane – a fortune teller sits in one of the windows, a bookstore there reminds of of Flourish & Blott’s, and there’s an art gallery with frames suspended in mid air in the window front. They even have a store that sells Harry Potter currency!
An Irish bar called ‘Greenman & French Horn’ is located right at the end of Flicker Alley with a cauldron hanging at the entrance. Now where have I seen that before? #LeakyCauldron
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“Welcome”, said Hagrid, “to Diagon Alley.”
A freakishly familiar feeling swept over me as I walked into Goodwin’s Court, previously known as Fisher Alley dating back to 1690. The tiny alleyway with it’s nondescript entrance, blackened brick walls, and Georgian window panes curved outwards is exactly what I’d imagine a modern day Knockturn Alley to look like. In fact, Warner Bros. tried an unsuccessful attempt at filming at here before deciding to create a Knockturn Alley film set keeping Goodwin’s Court in mind. Keep a lookout for Potter inspired signs in the windowfronts including a broomstick, porcelain owl and a board that says 9¾.
Original Hardy’s Sweetshop located at the end of Goodwin’s Court. Apart from the real life ‘Honeydukes’ feeling, you also get Potter inspired confectionaries including Chocolate Frogs and Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
Dumbledore smiled and put the golden-brown bean in his mouth. “Alas! Ear wax!”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Ministry of Defence
Now you can’t really go prancing around inside this top secret government building, but you can admire it from outside. The reason why it is special is that it’s structured like an iceberg – there’s more under the ground than above it. And what makes it even more special is that another top secret, government building in the wizarding world is structured like that. Modern day Ministry of Magic!
Scotland Place and Great Scotland Yard
Just around the corner from the Ministry of Defense lies the Great Scotland Yard. Apart from featured in tons of Hollywood movies, this basic looking street is popular among Potter fans because the visitor entrance to the Ministry of Magic is located here. The road has been featured both in ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ and ‘The Deathly Hallows’. I wasn’t far too excited by this location but everyone wanted to get a picture clicked in the same place where Harry Potter and Mr. Weasley were filmed walking into a red phonebooth on the day of Harry’s hearing. The phonebooth was alas, just a prop but the road with the overhead bridge stands there in all it’s glory.
(All of the above spots are within walking distance of each other, but to get to the next two you’re going to have to get onto the London underground.)
Kings Cross Station
Now don’t be silly and ask me why we are going to Kings Cross Station. To board the Hogwarts Express of course. They have constructed a fake platform between platforms 9 and 10 here, you can adorn your house robes and get a picture clicked with a trolley crashing into the wall, crammed with books, trunks and an owl cage.
The official Harry Potter merchandise store at Kings Cross Station if you’re looking at buying a wand or two.
“Don’t talk rubbish. There is no platform nine and three-quarters.”Vernon Dursley
The original Hamleys store on Regent Street should be on your London itinerary in any case, but if you can’t make it to the store on Kings Cross Station then Hamleys is your next best bet. The basement is dedicated to Harry Potter merchandise, in addition to Star Wars memorabilia. Here you can buy everything from fridge magnets, to robes, to house scarves, to parchment paper and quills. If you’re in the mood to splurge get your hands on Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem, or a Time Turner or a replica Firebolt.
If you have more time (and money) on your hands consider going for the official Warner Bros. Studio Tours on the outskirts of the city. Find more information here.