More than two decades since Harry Potter made his literary debut, countless readers and moviegoers are still in love with JK Rowling’s boy wizard. So it’s not so riddikulus to imagine that the locations described and depicted in the seven books, ten films and one stage play, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ (now a fixture in London, New York and Melbourne) have become tourist destinations in their own right.
For our tour of Harry’s wizarding world, we’ve picked 16 magical places around the globe that not only include filming locations and the places that inspired Rowling, but also spots that are so enchanting that they bring magic into the Muggle world. So grab your broomstick and get ready to fly: here are the most magical places in the world for Harry Potter fans to visit.
16 destinations that no Harry Potter fan should miss
Just north of Watford, you’ll find the very warehouses and movie studios that were used in the making of the massively successful film franchise. Given the sheer volume of Potter nerds, Warner Bros decided to leave everything where it was, expand the studios and let Muggles take a look at the props, sets, costumes, workshops and storerooms that were used for the series, as well as a few all-new additions. Fans will be in heaven here: where else can you step into Hogwarts’ Great Hall and feel as skittish as a first-year student about to face the Sorting Hat?
Venture towards the Scottish Highlands and you may spy a familiar sight over Loch Shiel: the Glenfinnan Viaduct, known to Potter fans as the route of the Hogwarts Express. There are two ways to view this striking 21-arched viaduct: you can hop on The Jacobite, a steam train that operates along the line in summer (‘Anything from the trolley, dear?’) or park your car in the valley below and see this impressive bridge up close.
This cocktail and snacks bar in Toronto (there’s a second branch in Montreal) manages to sell the illusion of Potter without explicitly saying so. The name is a nod to the boastful charlatan wizard Gilderoy Lockhart (played in the films by Kenneth Branagh), and the centrepiece neon sign reads ‘all was well’: the final three words of the last book. Add to that regular trivia nights, hidden Deathly Hallows symbols, sly cocktail tributes (the Shacklebolt, the Better Beer, the Gin Weasley and Ludo’s Debt) and bar décor that looks straight out of Snape’s potions room, and you’ve got yourself a Hagrid-sized night out.
JK Rowling spent a good chunk of time teaching English in Porto in the ’90s. This 100-year-old bookstore in Portugal’s second city is a true art nouveau pearl: its central red staircase is said to have inspired the moving staircases in Hogwarts, and its magnificent stained-glass ceiling has been newly restored. It costs €4 to enter, though you can then deduct this from any book purchase.
Universal Studios’ Wizarding World in Florida isn’t just a nice nod to Harry – it’s a physical and tangible extension of the magical universe. This place is two huge theme parks in one: Diagon Alley on one side and Hogsmeade on the other, with a full-scale Hogwarts Express to shuttle you between the two. You can explore Ollivander’s, Honeydukes, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and the Three Broomsticks and come face-to-face with dragons and Dementors on five rides. Can’t make it to Orlando? You’ll find smaller versions at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan.
Let’s be Sirius: there’s not a Harry Potter fan out there who hasn’t dreamt of stepping inside the Leaky Cauldron pub. Probably the closest that you’ll get is at the Cauldron, a fantasy-themed bar ‘experience’ in New York (there’s also a version in London). First, pick a wand – it’s your bar tab for the night – and use it to pour a beer from the Tree of Life. Then follow up with enchanting cocktails (cue lots of theatrical smoke) and spellbinding, stomach-lining snacks.
Venue says The Cauldron has opened its American Flagship in NYC! Potions Classes extended plus come experience our Apothecary bar & gastropub.
This narrow, winding street in the historical quarter of northern English city York might look a little familiar to Potter fans: it’s a dead ringer for Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. Many buildings in this street date back to the fourteenth century, when it was mostly occupied by butchers’ shops (in fact, ‘shambles’ is an old word for ‘slaughterhouse’). Have a browse past all the wonky, top-heavy timber-framed buildings and imagine spying an owl or a brand-new Nimbus 2000 in a shop front. Oh, and stop in at The Shop That Must Not Be Named if you fancy a Potter-themed souvenir.
This country park right next to London’s Pinewood Studios has been featured as an outdoor location for the James Bond, Monty Python and Captain America movies – as well as the Potter films, where it made a perfect stand-in for the spooky Forbidden Forest. It’s a lovely place for a wander with outstanding biodiversity – though you’re unlikely to come across any centaurs, thestrals or acromantulas, at least before sunset.
The folk at Wynott’s Wands (located in Massachusetts’s most historic witching destination) take their magic seriously: they pride themselves on providing ‘the finest in magical tools for witches and wizards’. Each wand is hand-turned in the basement and some supposedly have magical cores. And if you’re looking to buy, remember: the wand chooses the wizard.
These zoological gardens have been entertaining visitors of all ages since the reign of Queen Victoria. In the first Potter film, the London Zoo Reptile House stood in for the fictional ‘Surrey Zoo’, and it’s here that a ten-year-old Harry accidentally sets a giant python loose. Just be careful practising your Parseltongue here: you never know who might be listening.
The story goes that when JK Rowling was writing ‘Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone’ in Edinburgh, she found solace in cafés as they were quiet enough for her daughter Jessica to fall asleep in. That’s how she found herself spending a lot of time at Elephant House, which now proclaims itself ‘the birthplace of Harry Potter’. We’ll leave that for you to decide – but Rowling would apparently sit on the third floor of the café and stare out the window at two very conspicuous landmarks…
This famous Edinburgh graveyard left such an impression on Rowling that she named characters in her books after gravestones she found there. Take a stroll and you’ll find the graves of Robert Potter, Elizabeth Moodie, Margaret Louisa Scrymgeour Wedderburn, Thomas Riddell and the famous(ly terrible) poet William McGonagall, near the gates that lead to…
Many see this place as the chief inspiration for Hogwarts. Like the famous wizarding school, the building is grand and features far too many towers and turrets to count. And like many pupils at old-fashioned British schools, students at George Heriot’s wear a uniform and are sorted into houses – though we’re pretty sure there’s no talking hat involved. You can look inside George Heriot’s School during Scotland’s annual Doors Open Days in September. The rest of the time, take a peek from the outside and be sensitive – it’s a working school, after all.
JK Rowling has said she picked King’s Cross station as the London terminus for the Hogwarts Express because her parents had met on a train departing from the station, and every aspiring wizard has imagined what it would be like to pass through the barrier between Platforms 9 and 10 at King’s Cross – which is why there’s usually a queue of Potter fans waiting to take a photo (or get a professional shot taken for £9.50 a pop), pushing a trolley that seems to be passing through the brick on to the magical Platform 9¾. Muggles, eh?
For ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, the production crew recreated New York in the 1920s with some incredible sets at the Warner Bros Studios (plus a sprinkle of CGI magic). One set they didn’t have to build was St George’s Hall: a grand neoclassical building in Liverpool that stands in (decked out in red, white and blue bunting) for the real City Hall in Manhattan, where an American senator’s fundraising dinner turns deadly after a visit from an Obscurus.
You’ll need a lot more than ‘alohomora’ to get out of this Harry Potter-inspired escape room in Melbourne. The goal of the ‘Alchemy’ room is to find the mythical Philosopher’s Stone. Inside, you’ll be able to practise spells and enchantments, and test magical skills to try to solve the mystery before the time runs out. Don’t worry: Trapt has listed the difficulty level of this room at ‘beginner’, so we reckon even Hufflepuffs will be able to beat the clock.