Can you believe it has been 23 years since we discovered all about the boy wizard in the first of JK Rowling's bestselling Harry Potter books. Before 1997, we knew nothing of how to get rid of a Boggart, cast a Patronus, send a letter by Owl post or score a goal in Quidditch; for Potter fans around the world, these things are now second nature (in theory anyway - we are Muggles after all).
Harry Potter fever is showing no signs of slowing down, so it is not surprising to know that the locations described in the seven books, eight films (more if you include Fantastic Beasts) and one play are now popular tourist destinations in their own right. The books are set in a mostly fictional Great Britain, but there are many magical spots that either inspired JK Rowling or were actual filming locations for the movies. Potter fans should check out some of my favourites listed here......
All aboard the Hogwarts Express! Well, maybe not the actual train itself, but you can certainly recreate the journey on the beautiful Jacobite Steam train, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland, crossing the stunning Glenfinnian Viaduct on route. This 18th Century engineering marvel will be a familiar site to Harry Potter fans who have watched the films and seen the good old Hogwarts Express chuff-chuffing across the Viaduct taking all the witches and wizards to Hogwarts School. If you remember the bit in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Ron and Harry nick a car and fly off in it to catch up with the train, you can see Mr Weasleys battered Ford Anglia swooping in and out of the Viaduct at speed. It is also the location of the dark Dementor scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when the train stops and Azkaban guards slither in from around the Viaduct to search for Sirius Black.....spooky...... Anyway, unlikely that will happen to you unless you are on the run from Azkaban yourself, so if you're not, make sure you book a ticket on this fantastic trip across the stunning Scottish Highlands.
Visit Durham Cathedral and take yourself right into Hogwarts! On a tour here you will be able to walk through the corridors of Hogwarts, have afternoon tea in the Chapter House (aka Professor McGonagall's classroom) and search for the entrance to Dumbledore's office.
If you thought that Bill and Fleur's beachfront seashell cottage location in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was simply too beautiful to be real, think again. And no, it's not in the Caribbean, this stunning beach is located on the Welsh coast of Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire. The house - alas - is no longer there as it was dismantled after filming, but an anonymous Dobby-lover has paid tribute to the loyal house elf; if you search you can find a tombstone rock on the beach which reads: "Here lies Dobby, a Free Elf". Sniff.
Although many different locations and buildings were used to recreate Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, one of the most familiar and easily recognisable is the quite extraordinary Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. The location team must have been patting themselves very throughly on the back on finding this wonderful place - if you had to dream up what Hogwarts might look like, this would be it....
The Lion Arch at the Castle is recognisable as the way in and out of Hogwarts (Harry and the gang go out of here to get to Hagrid's house), and the walled courtyards at Alnwick were used to film Hogwarts pupils and teachers going to and from lessons. Ron and Harry also crashed the stolen Ford Anglia here (although no sign of the Whomping Willow!)
The grassy Outer Bailey of the Castle is a very familiar sight and is where Harry began his broomstick flying career with lessons from Madame Hooch and found out all the rules of the most popular wizarding sport - Quidditch. The rather brilliant people (or Professors as they like to be called) at Alnwick Castle have decided to run with this, and provide actual broomstick training. I'll say no more, you'll have to book to find out. Just don't forget your Bludger.
Who can forget the excitement of seeing a young Harry staggering along the platforms of Kings Cross station, Snowy Owl in hand, to board the Hogwarts Express steam train for the first time? Only trouble is, the Hogwarts Express goes from Platform 9 ¾ and when you can only see Platform 9 next to Platform 10, what do you do? Well, I'll tell you. Grab Julie Walters for a bit of advice and barge into a solid brick wall at speed - trolley, suitcase and Owl first. That's what happened in Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, and young Harry and all the Weasleys managed to get safely onto the correct platform to get the train to Hogwarts School, hurrah! And no Owls were hurt in the filming of this scene.
Back in the Kings Cross station of the Muggle world, platforms 9 and 10 are separated by train tracks rather than a brick wall, so not much to see there....however, back in the station concourse you will find Platform 9 ¾ with a luggage trolley half-embedded into the wall. It's not the original filming location but is a great photo opportunity for eager Harry Potter fans (even Prince Charles has visited for a quick snap) and is next to an excellent Harry Potter store. This is no ordinary gift shop; it is set up in the style of Olivander's wand emporium and you can buy everything from Gryffindor jumpers and robes to time-turners and cuddly Dobby's.
Fun fact: the location crew didn't think that the exterior of Kings Cross itself was snazzy enough for the Harry Potter films, so they used the beautiful St Pancras station instead which sits right next door and is renowned for its glorious Victorian architecture. Only the best for the boy wizard....
The historic City of Oxford is home to many of the film locations for the Harry Potter movies and not surprisingly, most scenes are inside the University buildings. The Divinity School in Oxfords Bodleian library was used as the Hogwarts infirmary among other things, and other parts were used as the Hogwarts library restricted section. The staircase in Christ Church College features in the entrance scene when Harry meets Professor McGonagall for the first time, and the tudor dining hall here was also the inspiration for Hogwarts dining room. There's lots more too - for a full experience join one of the excellent walking tours.
The enchanting Shambles in York, with it cobbled streets and overhanging buildings is believed to have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. For this reason, this pretty street is now a real attraction for Harry Potter fans and the shopkeepers in The Shambles have reacted delightfully accordingly. There are now several magical shops to browse, including "The Shop that Must Not be Mamed", "World of Wizardry" and you can even mix your own brew at "The Potions Cauldron".
The pretty village of Laycock in Wiltshire is home to Lacock Abbey, which was a firm location favourite for the Harry Potter films; the Philosophers Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, the Half Blood Price and Fantastic Beasts all had scenes shot here. You will recognise Hogwarts corridors, the Potions classroom and The Mirror of Eisad scenes amongst many others. The village itself also has some familiar doors and houses.....make a quiz and see how many you can spot!
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