Even though the last of the Harry Potter films has long been out of theaters, there are still plenty of fans – both kids and adults – who just can’t say goodbye to the young wizard and his friends. If you’re still looking for the Harry Potter “castle” (aka Hogwarts), you’ll have to travel a bit. It’s made up of bits and pieces of castles, cathedrals and university dining halls all over Britain. Why not plan an itinerary around the Harry Potter film locations in England and Scotland to re-immerse yourselves in Harry’s magical world.
01. Travel to Hogwarts over the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West Highlands Railway
Harry Potter regularly traveled across the dark forboding hills of the Western Highlands of Scotland on the way to Hogwards. The 42 mile stretch of rail, between Fort William and Mallaig, passes through much of the scenery seen in the films, including Ben Nevis-the highest mountain in Britain,Loch Shieland Glen Nevis – backdrop for the Quidditch scenes. The journey takes about an hour and twenty minutes and costs (in 2017 prices – if booked well in advance) £7 each way.
Of course, without special film effects, it’s a lot less menacing but the area has its own dark history. It was from Glenfinnan, about midway on the journey, that Bonnie Prince Charlie launched the ill-fated Jacobite Revolt in an attempt to put his father on the throne as James III. Few of the men who marched on London from here ever returned.
The impressive Glenfinnan viaduct that you travel over on this journey, crossing about 1,000 feet of the valley on 21 arches, reaching a height of about 100 feet, was the backdrop for the flying car sequence in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”
Getting there: If you travel by train from Glasgow Queen Street to Mallaig, an advanced ticket costs about £15.50 each way and the trip takes about five hours and twenty mintues. At the end of it, you won’t find Hogwarts though. Mallaig is a busy fishing and ferry port, the gateway to Skye and the Smaller Isles. A better option is to travel first to Fort William, at the base of Ben Nevis, stay over and then get a fresh start to enjoy the “Harry Potter” stretch of the journey.
02. Walk the Corridors of Hogwarts at Gloucester Cathedral
Gloucester Cathedral has some of the finest cloisters in England with fan vaulting that rivals the naves of many other churches. They stood in for the corridors and other settings in “Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone”, “Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets”, and Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince”.
If you plan to join the Harry Potter fans from all over the world who have visited here, spend some time exploring this magnificent cathedral. Parts of it have been a place of worship for 1,300 years, since being founded as an Anglo Saxon religious community in the 7th century. There’s a whispering gallery that the children will love and Cathedral guides (available Mon-Sat 10:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. and Sun noon to 2:30 p.m.) can show you where different scenes were filmed.
Getting there: Great Western Trains from London Paddington leave regularly. The journey takes between two and two and a half hours and costs about £36 (in 2017) when booked well in advance as two one-way tickets. Most journeys involve changing trains at Swindon Station.
03. Harry Potter at Oxford
Oxford, the oldest university in the English speaking world and the second oldest surviving university in the world, has the looks that make it a natural backdrop for Harry Potter and friends. And, in fact, many Oxford locations were used in the film. Duke Humphrey’s Library in the Radcliffe Camera of the Bodleian Library was the Library at Hogwarts and the English Gothic Room of the Divinity School – built in 1488 and the oldest teaching room at the University – stood in for Hogwarts’ sanatarium.
But the most famous setting of all, the Great Dining Hall of Christ Church College, was not actually used as a set, but was copied, pretty much line for line, in one of the films most impressive sets.
You can visit the actual Great Hall set during the WB Studio Tour, The Making of Harry Potter (see item 5). But, you can visit the fabulous hall that inspired it and wander around the grounds of the college looking for more Harry Potter locales. One that you won’t want to miss, is the impressive 16th century staircase leading into the Great Hall. It’s where Professor McGonagall greeted Harry and the other first-year students as they arrived at Hogwarts. And the staircase was actually filmed for that scene.
Christ Church College is open to the public, though as a working academic institution and Cathedral the hours are limited and some areas may be closed from time to time. The Great Hall itself is usually closed from noon to 2:30 p.m. Expect to pay an admission charge of about £7 and to stand in a long queue.
04. Learn to Fly from Harry’s Professors at Alnwick Castle
The second largest inhabited castle in England (pronouned An-nick, by the way), stood in for so many scenes from the Potter films that you might as well call it Hogwarts. Home of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, for more than 700 years, the castle is open to the public between April and October. Look around for scenes from “Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets” and “Harry Potter & The Philosopher Stone”, both filmed here.
By the way, the special effects team went to town on this place, so you may have to stretch your imagination a bit to see the “real” castle through your Muggles eyes.
Getting There: Almouth railway station is 15 minutes away and served by an hourly bus service. Taxi’s are also available at the railway station.
05. Stalk a Villain at Hardwick Hall
The much-married Bess of Hardwick who, after Queen Elizabeth I, was the biggest celebrity of the Elizabethan Age, built herself a remarkable house in the Peak District. It has so many windows and so much extraordinary glass that, that soon after it was built the rhyme, “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall,” was often said. At night, with all its rooms blazing with candles, it was said to look like a magic lantern on a hill.
But on wintry mornings, surrounded by mist, the house takes on a decidedly more mysterious look; which is probably why it was chosen as the scene of considerably darker doings for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. In the film, Hardwick Hall’s exteriors were the sinister stand-ins for grim Malfoy Manor.
Owned by the National Trust, Hardwick Hall is considered the most complete Elizabethan house in Britain. It’s open to the public and hosts a raft of family-oriented events in the holiday and school vacation seasons. While you’re there, visit the Chamber of Magic and become Harry Potter or Hermione with the hall’s own wizard wands and capes.
06. Go Behind the Scenes with the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour London
WB Studios Leavesden, about 20 miles northwest of London, is where much of the films and most of the special effects were created. Since 2012, visitors have been able to explore the real sets.
A special attraction is the giant model of Hogwarts – the Harry Potter castle – actually used in the film. It’s a model – so you can’t stroll through it of course, but you can wander around these extraordinary sets:
The Great Hall
The cobbles of Diagon Alley with the shop fronts of Ollivanders wand shop, Flourish and Blotts, the Weasleys’ Wizard
Wheezes, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Eeylops Owl Emporium.
The Gryffindor common room
The boys’ dormitory
Professor Umbridge’s office at the Ministry of Magic.
The tour reveals all sorts of behind-the-scenes filmakers’ secrets about special effects prop making and more. And unlike Harry Potter theme park attractions being created elsewhere, this is the real McCoy – the actual film sets, assembled in the actual studios where the films were made.
Family tickets £126 (in 2017) for four people (two adults and two children or one adult and three children). Individual and group tickets are also available.
Getting there: The nearest station is Watford Junction (20 minutes from London Euston or an hour from Birmingham New Street). A shuttle bus for ticket holders operate between the station and the studio.