Planning a vacation and traveling is a very exciting time; especially if you are planning to see sites that feed your fandom. Over the past few years, I have had the amazing opportunity to travel globally and see filming locations, monuments, props, and replicas of many of my favourite movie franchises. In addition to my Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trip to New Zealand (see previous posts), some of the most memorable vacations were themed around the Harry Potter franchise. This post summarizes my top three favourite Potter locations around the world. So whether you speak fluent Parseltongue or have Quidditch listed as your favourite sport on your Facebook page, you would be ill-fated to miss out on traveling to these destinations:
3. London, England
London offers multiple tube and walking tours for a minimal fee to visit some of the filming locations around the city. You can also choose to do a free, self-guided tour to many of the same locations. These walking tours also provide a list of shops that feature Harry Potter merchandise, candy, and other such curios. The walking tour takes about six hours, and has many different start and end points. My favourite stop along the tour is to Kings Cross Station where you can see Platform 9 ¾. Although it does not look like the platform from the movies, it is a free attraction that garners a lot of attention. Visitors have the chance to pose for a picture pushing a cart through the imaginary invisible entrance to the platform. Staff at this attraction provide you with props to wear for your photo, including your choice in house scarf. After the photo is taken, you can visit a cute little shop that sells some unique Harry Potter souvenirs.
For those who want to spend a little more money, you can visit the Warner Bros. studio located about 30 kilometers outside of London. A studio tour and transfer costs about $125 CAD per person and runs for approximately 7 hours from pick-up to drop-off. Although the journey is long with all of the pick-ups and drop-offs, visitors get to enjoy watching the first Harry Potter movie on the journey to and from the studios. Some of the things on the tour include stepping inside the actual Great Hall, a visit to Dumbledore’s office, exploration of the shop fronts of Diagon Alley, and seeing iconic props, animatronics, models, and other sets from the films. Although I have not taken this tour personally, a friend of mine had amazing things to say about it.
2. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida
Fans of the movies will undoubtedly peg The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks as the best place to visit. Having visited twice myself, I still count down the days until I can return. This theme park is so well put together, you will feel like you are inside the movies. The Islands of Adventure theme park has the Hogsmeade section of the Wizarding World. Using forced perspective, visitors will walk in the shadow of Hogwarts castle while visiting all the snow covered shops in Hogsmeade. Eating at the Three Broomsticks, sipping on a Butterbeer, or riding one of the three amazing rides is a great way to spend the first part of the day. Once you are ready to move on, take the interactive Hogwarts Express to the Universal theme park and spend the afternoon in Diagon Alley (make sure to purchase a park hopper pass so you can visit both parks in the same day). You can also enter Diagon Alley from the main Universal park by walking through the Leaky Cauldron and bypassing muggles along the way. Outside of Diagon Alley you will also see #12 Grimmauld Place, with Kreacher peering through the curtains, as well as the famous Knight Bus. Diagon Alley is the newer of the two parks, and has my favourite ride, The Escape from Gringotts coaster. Another favourite of mine is visiting Knockturn alley, which is hidden away behind some of the store fronts. It is amazing how many little secrets you can look for in all of the alleyways and windows in this section of the park. Finally, the best part of the whole experience is purchasing an interactive wand from Ollivanders and using it to activate little spells around both parks. A handy map is provided with the wand so you don’t miss out on any secret spells. Over-all, I cannot get enough of these parks, and despite being a huge Disney fan, I may even be bold enough to say they are my favourite theme parks of all time.
1. Edinburgh, Scotland
Although I absolutely love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, its focus is on the movies. Edinburgh, on the other hand, is the birth place of the Harry Potter books. It is for that reason I am choosing this destination as my number one spot. Although not as well known to some fans, The Elephant House café is the exact location where JK Rowling wrote the first books of the series. She sat at the back of the café for hours and looked out at three iconic landscapes that drove many plot lines in her stories. First, Edinburgh Castle looms on top of a cliff off to the right; to the left, George Harriot’s school with its medieval-like architecture. Both, of course, combining to become the inspiration behind Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Right underneath the windows, located behind the café, lies a very old cemetery which provided inspiration for names of many of the characters. You could spend hours walking through it and trying to find the grave stones for “Tom Riddle”, “McGonagall”, and “Black”. It’s easy to see why graveyards play such a big role in the books. Inside the café you can purchase a couple Harry Potter inspired souvenirs, as well as add a comment on the wall of the bathroom about what Harry Potter has meant to you. My favourite moment was enjoying a latte in the same spot that Rowling sat, looking out at the iconic landscape before me. It was an amazing moment that every Potter fan should enjoy.
Ultimately, Potter fans are lucky to have so many places to visit and geek out over. Whether you are a book fan, a movie fan, or obsess over both, you will not be disappointed in a vacation to any of these places. Both Potterheads and muggles alike will love these vacation spots, so start saving up your Galleons now! Please feel free to shoot me an owl if you have any questions. Thanks for stopping by!
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