12 Magical Harry Potter Experiences in England and Beyond
Updated September 24, 2019
From the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal theme parks in California and Florida (pictured) to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, the Harry Potter phenomenon has cast a spell on millions of travelers across the globe. Here's where you can experience some of the magic.
For the Harry Potter films, several exterior scenes set at Hogwarts were shot here, the second largest inhabited castle in England. Dating from 1096, the grounds of this Northumberland estate were restored by famed landscape gardener Lancelot "Capability" Brown in the 18th century. You can visit the inner courtyard where Harry first learned to fly on a broom and play his first game of Quidditch.
Filmmakers had a spire digitally attached to the towers of Durham Cathedral so that it could stand in for part of Hogwarts. The UNESCO World Heritage Site in northeast England appears in a scene where Harry's owl, Hedwig, takes off to deliver a message. At ground level, you can see hallways where the Boy Who Lived had whispered conversations with his friends. Quidditch was practiced on the lawn, and Professor McGonagall taught Transfiguration in the cathedral's Chapter House.
Long before Harry came along, lit-inclined visitors flocked to this 7th-century Benedictine abbey because another Potter—Beatrix of Peter Rabbit fame—set her children's book The Tailor of Gloucester here. The fan-vaulted cloisters also played Hogwarts corridors, where, most dramatically, mysterious graffiti written in blood warned that the Chamber of Secrets had been opened. Moaning Myrtle's toilet flooded here, and Harry and Ron hid from a troll in the cathedral's lavatorium, where monks once washed.
The site of a 13th-century nunnery east of Bath on the River Avon, Lacock Abbey is now known for things the sisters could never have imagined. Harry was selected for Gryffindor's high-flying Quidditch team in the hallways, and Professor Snape's Potions classroom can be found in the sacristy. In the Chapter House, Harry discovered the Mirror of Erised, the mysterious object that reveals the deepest desires of those who gaze into it.
It's perhaps fitting that Britain's most famous university should have a direct connection with the wizarding world's most famous school. The dining hall at Oxford's Christ Church College served as the Great Hall at Hogwarts early in the film series, before a duplicate set was constructed. Author J.K. Rowling did not attend Oxford, but one of her influences, Narnia creator C.S. Lewis, did. Another famous British fantasy novelist, J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame, attended as well. Both Lewis and Tolkien taught at Oxford, too.
While Muggles can't catch the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9¾ at London's King's Cross Station, you can take a ride on the train's movie stand-in. The Jacobite's summer service runs between Fort William and Mallaig in northwest Scotland. For Potter fans the highlight is crossing the 21-arched single-track Glenfinnan Viaduct, which gets some breathtaking screen time in the films. The train's memorable route, known as the "Iron Road to the Isles," started in 1901, and the carriages used as rolling sets for Harry and co. are among the same coaches passengers ride in today.
Built in 1926, the historic Reptile House at the London Zoo has a facade covered in animal carvings. Inside, you'll see lizards, crocodiles, tortoises, and snakes. What you won't see: a Burmese python like the one that chats up Harry Potter in the first book and film of the series.
One of the U.K.'s most popular family attractions is the clunkily named Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter (which is actually located about 20 miles north of London in Leavesden, Hertfordshire). Here, visitors get a chance to go behind-the-scenes where the iconic films were made. Feast your eyes on detailed sets, elaborate costumes, props, and some things the cameras never even showed.
Universal Orlando Resort in Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood in California both feature detailed reimaginings of Rowling's books and the movies based on them. You can ride a roller coaster through Hogwarts, throw back a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in the village of Hogsmeade, and (in Florida only) explore the magical twists and turns of Diagon Alley (pictured).
All aboard for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Acknowledging (and cashing in on) its role in the Potter mythos, the King's Cross railway station in London has put up a sign and embedded a luggage trolley in the wall at the spot where would-be wizards board the Hogwarts Express. Naturally, there's a souvenir shop nearby, too.
When Harry battles a dragon during the Triwizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire film, the scene's backdrop is Steall Falls, a waterfall at the base of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain. While we're in Scotland: The Highlands village of Glencoe was the principal location for exterior shots in Azkaban. And a tiny island in Loch Eilt, west of Fort William, was used as Dumbledore's burial site.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry takes a wild ride through London on a purple three-decker bus, which drops him at a pub, the Leaky Cauldron. If you want to discover the real street, head to London's Borough Market (just next to London Bridge), where you can get a pint or lemonade at the Market Porter pub, whose exterior was transformed into the Third Hand Book Emporium for the movie.