There are a lot of London Harry Potter tours to take. And the best part, they’re all free. How? Because you don’t need anyone to show you these sites, and you most certainly shouldn’t pay anyone to do so, you simply need to know where they’re located. It’s as easy as that, because it is that easy – none of them are hard to find. The only tough part is knowing where to look, otherwise you may blink and miss something. Or worse yet, forget that it was in one or more of the movies!
Before I left on my trip to London a bunch of people told me I should take the tour of the movie studio. Why? It’s a long way out of central London, it costs a lot of money, and, most importantly, it would chew up too much precious time to see it and thus miss out on other things I want in London. So I skipped it, and I’m glad I did, while still getting my fill on Harry Potter sites in London by emailing for this free PDF. I didn’t quite follow their walking tour, but instead opted to see Harry Potter sites around the other points of interest. If you’re interested in Harry Potter – or have kids who are – but are traveling with someone who isn’t, this is a great way to get your geek on while also letting them see some famous points of interest.
Using the PDF printout as a guide, here’s what I did and recommend as a separate walking tour from theirs:
My first stop was at Big Ben and Parliament. I popped out of the Westminster Tube Station and there it was, Big Ben, towering over me. The clock tower was famous long before Harry Potter. I already wrote about that. But it’s Harry Potter-famous because the Order of the Phoenix flew by it while removing Harry from his aunt and uncle’s home in the fifth movie. The story may not necessarily jive with the book, as is the case with a lot of parts of the movies, since the Order wanted to keep Harry as concealed as possible in the clouds – remember how he was really cold, freezing to his broom? – but it’s a fun stop nonetheless.
When you’re facing Big Ben and Parliament, take a right and go away from the River Thames toward a street with many names – St. Marg. Abingdon, Millbank, Parliament, and Whitehall. Here it should be Parliament, but it could already be Whitehall. Sometimes it’s hard to tell in London. Either way, cross over and hang a right on the busy street and start hoofing it north. Just up the street – and quite obvious, as it’s surrounded by security – will be Number 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s Home. For non-enthusiasts it’s fun to see what is the equivalent to the White House in the U.S., but for Harry Potter nuts like myself it is the place where the Minister of Magic came to speak with the Muggle Prime Minister from the book, The Half-Blood Prince.
Continue walking north on Whitehall and cross back over when you can, taking a right on Whitehall Place. It will be a rather non-descript alley-looking street, so make sure to pay attention here as you’re heading to the Ministry of Magic! Just a block down the street to the east is the famous entry to the Ministry of Magic where Harry and Arthur Weasley entered by the telephone booth. The booth isn’t here, though. It’s just the building. And it’s easy enough to pick out the spot when you match it up with a picture, so here you go:
From here I walked back to Whitehall and continued north, cutting through Trafalgar Square. This is where the Death Eaters pursued Harry, Hermoine, and Ron in The Half-Blood Prince. It’s not easily recognizable, so I recommend a pre-trip rescreening of the movies if you want to make sure to catch all of the little details like this, as some are only a half second long in the films. Instead of the Harry Potter sites here, I was more interested in the National Gallery – one of the world’s best art museums, housing the likes of Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and much, much more – and recommend taking a couple of hours to tour it. (More on that in another story.)
If you’re not an art lover or interested in a free touristy stop, since the museum doesn’t cost a single quid, continue on north on the right side of the square while keeping left. Go along the right side of Charing Cross Road, keeping in mind to look at all of the alleyways on your right. Cecil Court Road, as the PDF I printed out suggests, could be a model of the famous Diagon Alley. I didn’t really notice the resemblance, but it certainly looked like a good stop to hang out and do a little shopping.
While Cecil Court isn’t in the movie, the nearby Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square Tube Station was; the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was filmed here. You may recall the scene with the Death Eaters and all of the destruction. If not, as I suggested, watch the movies again before your departure to recall all of the finer points you’re hunting down.
To the west of Leicester Square is Piccadilly Circus. You can get to it by taking Cranbourn Street from Leicester Square, cut through the park, and continue on Coventry Street until you get there. Piccadilly Circus is where the scene of the escape by our heroic trio from Bill and Fleur’s wedding happened, where they were almost hit by an oncoming bus they apparated in front of. They also tried to hide from the Death Eaters here, stopping into a café for a cup of coffee. I missed my stop at Piccadilly, running out of time on my trip, and wish I would have found a way to squeeze it in simply to see it for the Harry Potter-sake of it all.
Make sure to take the time to see Piccadilly Circus and relive the moments, even if it is just in passing, because that’s it for the first leg of the Harry Potter tour. So no matter how little time you have, or how tired your feet may be from what has already been a full day of walking – and what you’ve done can and likely will have been a full day – run over and check out what has been described to me as the Times Square of London. It’ll be a priority for me on my return journey, and just one more chance for me to revel in the world of Harry Potter.
Because there is so much to see and do in London, and it is all spread out, it’s difficult to do one straight walking tour and fit in all of the Harry Potter sites. It’s quite possible, though, to see most everything in two separate tours, best done over two days. The first one, at this point, you’ve done. The second part, well, begins back where it all began, at the Westminster Tube Station.
There are a lot of River Thames cruise options outside of the tube station. Grab one that will take you from there to the Tower of London and back, if you so choose to return to that spot, that gives you an on-and-off again option. As you head up the river, look off to the right. The Millennium Wheel, also known as the London Eye, will be as obvious as obvious can be. It, too, was filmed in the flight scene in the Order of the Phoenix. Take the time to ride it, if you’re interested, by walking across the Westminster Bridge from Big Ben before getting on the river cruise, as the boat does not stop there.
After passing under the Blackfriars Bridge – make sure to snap a photo, as the Order flies under it as they escort Harry – get off at the Bankside Pier. Here, for those not interested in all of the Harry Potter goodies, are the Shakespeare Globe Theater and the Tate Modern art museum. For the Harry Potter fanatics, you’ll instantly notice the Millennium Bridge, which was attacked and destroyed by the Death Eaters. The famed St. Paul’s Cathedral is on the other side of the river.
The PDF file I mention above points out several other sites in the area that either look like places Harry Potter sites were filmed at, or ones where something was shot but it is not open to the public. It was too much walking to keep my attention for such little reward, so after having a nice lunch at one of the nearby cafes on the River Thames and seeing the Tate Modern, I continued on the river cruise to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge stop at St. Katharine’s Pier.
Just like the other bridges I have mentioned, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix fly under, or through rather, the Tower Bridge. Of course the Tower Bridge is famous for a multitude of other reasons and it is a not-to-be-missed spot when visiting London. The same is true for the Tower of London, so be sure to take plenty of time to see it. If you start your day early enough, and skip the chunk of the PDF walking tour with the stuff that’s not actually in any of the movies, you can easily fit in the Tower of London with a visit to the Tate, a walk on the Millennium Bridge, and a relaxing lunch on the river and a peek at the Globe.
There are certainly a lot of other Harry Potter sites to see in London. The crown jewel of them, the one no Harry Potter trip would not be complete without, is Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross Station. From the Tower of London you simply take the circular tube line around to the north and get off at King’s Cross St. Pancras Station. Walk up into the main part of the train station with all of the shops, oddly enough away from all of the platforms. It is here that you can take your turn, just as I did, pushing a trolley through and onto the platform to catch the Hogwarts Express.
While at King’s Cross, you can also head outside and grab shot of the building where Harry and Ron stole the Weasley Ford Anglia in the Chamber of Secrets. As the big, red building with stone trim, it’s pretty obvious. From here you can go anywhere you like, as the London Tube system is amazing. How about the London Zoo to see where Harry let Nagini loose? Or what about another Harry Potter location? Do you know of more? If so, please share them here for future enthusiast to get out and explore.