The Harry Potter series is one of the most popular of all time, and many children and adults alike come to London hoping to get a taste of Harry Potter’s unique brand of magic.
Unlike most of the stories featured here, Harry Potter’s London is one that is well-documented in tours, websites and videos. So rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll try to highlight some of the best resources for you to explore, as well as some of the scenes from the movies that will help make your trip to London a bit more magical!
If you’re looking to do a self-guided walking tour, you can use the map below – or for a more detailed tour with many additional tidbits of interesting information and trivia, I recommend Richard Jones’ Free Harry Potter London Tour. Or you can also piece together your own tour using the official Visit Britain website which lists the Top 10 Harry Potter Sights in London!
For a guided tour, our friends at Touriocity have put together a private guided Harry Potter tour that’s specifically designed for families with kids! Check it out here. Or, if you’d prefer to save some pounds and don’t mind a group tour, here’s one that looks like fun!
In the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, we meet Harry and along with him, begin to learn that he’s not quite like most other boys. Harry accompanies his adopted family on a trip to the London Zoo, where he realizes that the Burmese Python on display in the Reptile House is speaking to him! On a visit to the Zoo today, you and your children can see a similar Python, as well as a small display commemorating the filming location. You’ll recognize the entrance to the Reptile House as well, which was also used in the film.
Once Harry is finally free of the Dursley home, he sets off for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His friend and guardian, Hagrid, presents him with his ticket for the Hogwarts express. The train leaves from Kings Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾. The heroes visit this location in every film when headed to Hogwarts and kids can make this leap themselves (at least in their imagination) if they visit the station.
There are a few things to be aware of if you’d like to pay a visit to the famous platform on your trip to London. The first is that the actual scene was filmed between platforms 4 and 5. This area of the station is only accessible if you have a ticket. Many trains headed North from London, including to places like Cambridge, or Edinburgh, leave from King’s Cross – so if you’re taking one of these trains, you should leave yourself and your Harry Potter fans some time to visit the site of the filming if your train departs from Platforms 0-8. Do keep in mind however that the platforms are separated – with Platforms 0-8 on one side, and platforms 9-11 on the other. So be careful when going through the ticket barriers to make sure that you’re in the right place.
You can find a map of the station here
Even if you’re not taking a train, you can still visit a special Platform 9 ¾ that has been installed at Kings Cross in a publicly accessible area for tourists.
Sometimes you’ll find it with just the luggage trolley passing through the wall. In this case you’ll often be able to check it out and take a picture with no line. Other times it’s staffed by attendants from the nearby Harry Potter shop, who will help to give you a more enhanced experience. At peak times when the station is crowded, there’s often a lengthy queue.
Learn more about JK Rowling’s thoughts on King’s Cross here.
In the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Ron have some trouble accessing the platform, so they decide instead to take Ron’s family’s car – a flying Ford Anglia. During this scene, we see the exterior of the station – which isn’t actually Kings Cross but the adjacent St. Pancras. A beautiful station both inside and out, St. Pancras is probably best known as the London endpoint for the Eurostar train to Paris.
Continuing with the movies in order, the next one is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is where things start to get a bit darker. In one of the most memorable scenes from this film, Harry takes a magic night bus on a harrowing journey to the Leaky Cauldron. The bus manages to squeeze between two red double-decker busses on Lambeth Bridge. This bridge crosses the Thames just south of Westminster Bridge and Big Ben.
And speaking of the Leaky Cauldron, the bus drops Harry at one of two London locations which served as the site for this magical watering hole. Each is located near one of London’s charming covered markets. The first is just across from Borough Market, at 7 Stoney Street – which at the time of this writing is occupied by a florist shop called Chez Michele.
Another location served as the setting for the leaky cauldron in the first film. This one is located in the beautiful Leadenhall market in London City. You can find what is now an optometrist’s office, at 41 Bull’s Head Passage in Leadenhall Market.
Skipping to the sixth film, things have gotten quite dark. The opening scene provides a whirlwind tour of London. Guiding this tour are none other than the infamous Death Eaters! The start of the scene features a meeting in an office building with angled windows. As one of the office workers looks out, over his cup of tea, he sees some ominous black figures flying across the London skyline. From his window he gazes across the river at a London skyscraper known as the “Gherkin”, due to it’s resemblance to a pickle. Though we don’t actually see the exterior in the shot, we can tell from his vantage point and the distinctive slanting windows, that he’s inside the uniquely designed City Hall building on the banks of the Thames.
The Death Eaters swoop down just above the Golden Jubilee Bridge – which is a train bridge that leads from Waterloo Station and the Southbank Centre on the south side of the river to Embankment and Charing Cross Station on the north side of the river. From there they descend just east of Trafalgar Square and head up Charing Cross Road. If you walk from Trafalgar Square to the Leicester Square Tube Station, you’ll follow this same route. From Leicester Square Station, the Death Eaters duck down an alley and through a magical wall that is unfortunately inaccessible to either Muggle pedestrians, or to Google Maps Street View (do you think that wizards have their own version of Google maps??). Here they arrive at a shop on Diagon Alley, where they abduct an unsuspecting patron. Once they have captured their target, it’s back to the Thames. This time they cross over the Millennium footbridge which crosses from St. Paul’s Cathedral on the north side of the river, to the Tate Modern Museum on the south side. Sadly for the pedestrians on the bridge, it buckles and falls into the river. Luckily for tourists however, it seems to have been fully repaired! As the bridge is under assault, we get a nice view looking northwest on the Thames across the Millenium Bridge to London and Tower Bridges in the distance. And as the Death Eaters ascend to leave the Capital, we see the 300 ft chimney of the Tate Modern – on the site of the former Bankside Power Station.
The last film in the series is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II. This movie sees our heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione, transport themselves into Central London, where they appear in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. With its glaring video screens, this London hub is hard to miss – and is London’s slightly understated answer to Times Square in New York. Much like many a starry eyed tourist, the three characters narrowly avoid a collision with a red double-decker bus, and then walk from Piccadilly Circus up Shaftsbury Avenue (Hermione identifies street by name if you have any doubts!) towards Denman St. You can easily retrace their steps, and you’ll see the distinctive columns, towering over coffee shops and souvenir stands.
For particularly enthusiastic Harry Potter fans, there is much more to see at the Warner Bros Studio in Leavesden. It’s about 20 miles northwest of London – and makes for a great day-trip! For directions, check here. The Studio is accessible via train + a shuttle, but it will likely take over an hour or more each way from Central London, and you may be better off renting a car. Note however that to visit you must book a specific time, and slots fill up in advance. So if you’re sure that you’ll want to go, plan ahead and book your time well in advance of your visit. If you can go on a weekday it may be easier to get a time that works well with your schedule. Once there, you’ll be amazed at what’s on display – from the real set used for the Great Hall, to Diagon Alley, the Knight Bus, and even 4 Privet Drive! Take note, however, that this isn’t a theme park (like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida), Instead it’s a working movie studio (used for other films as well as the Harry Potter series), and most of the exhibits on display focus on the making of the movies. There are many sets, props and costumes that serious Harry Potter fans will enjoy – but it’s not necessarily suited as well for young kids. I found some of the creature masks to be the most impressive. There’s so much to see, and you get the sense of being truly immersed in the world of Harry Potter!
Access this map via Google Maps here