Britain’s 13 Most Magical Harry Potter Sites

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The U.K (and especially London) is full of magical spots that featured heavily in the Harry Potter books and films. From the rocky shores of Scotland to Oxford University, here are 13 places in Britain where Harry Potter comes to life.—Ellin Stein

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Scottish Highlands

A number of locations in the beautiful but rugged Scottish Highlands were used in several Potter films for the area around Hogwarts. Quidditch matches in the first two films were shot against the backdrop of Ben Nevis near Fort William, while the dramatic Steall Waterfall at its base was the setting for Harry’s battle with a dragon during the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire. Many of the exterior locations in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were filmed near Glencoe, notably the remote hillside where Hagrid’s hut is perched. No fewer than four lochs (or lakes)—Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt, Loch Morar, and Loch Arkaig, near the Glenfinnan viaduct—portrayed Hogwarts Lake in the same film, although the huge number of gnats proved too much for the actors and meant some scenes had to be relocated to the considerably less rugged Virginia Water lake in suburban Surrey.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Scotland Guide

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Goathland Station, Yorkshire

This small station in the beautiful, remote North Moors Yorkshire National Park found fame as Hogsmeade station in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The picturesque village of Goathland is a short walk from the station while a brisk walk will take you to the Mallyan Spout Waterfall. You can reach the Victorian-era station via the volunteer-run North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which offers wood-paneled carriages pulled by steam engines for a Hogwarts Express–like experience.

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Alnwick Castle

A fortress-like castle that dates back to the 12th century and the second-largest inhabited castle in England, Alnwick is the seat of the Dukes of Northumberland. The castle provided both interior and exterior locations for Hogwarts in several Harry Potter movies, most notably the grounds where Harry first learns how to ride a flying broomstick in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The castle even offers daily (in summer) free “broomstick training” lessons, so you can recreate the scene. Other attractions include special exhibitions in the castle itself and a 42-acre garden with spectacular fountains, one of the world’s largest treehouses, and an area devoted to poisonous plants.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct

This Victorian railway bridge spanning a 1,000-foot gap in the Scottish Highlands was the dramatic landing spot for Ron Weasley’s airborne Ford Anglia in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, which also showed the Hogwarts Express chugging across the viaduct on a track 100 feet above the ground. It appeared again in The Goblet of Fire when Dementors stall the train and torture Harry. If you want to cross the bridge somewhat less eventfully in a train pulled by a similarly nostalgic steam-powered locomotive, West Coast Railways operates the scenic Jacobite Steam Train service, an 84-mile round trip between Fort William and Mallaig, during the summer.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Scotland Guide

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Harrow School, Harrow-on-the-Hill

Harrow is one of Britain’s great public (i.e. private) schools, with alums ranging from Benedict Cumberbatch and James Blunt to Lord Byron and Winston Churchill. The school lent its Fourth Form Room, which dates back to 1615, to serve as the classroom where Charms instructor Professor Flitwick teaches Hermione how to levitate a feather in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harrow is towards the northern end of London Metropolitan Tube line and you can join a tour by writing to the school in advance.

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Malham Cove, North Yorkshire

Located in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Malham Cove is a geological curiosity: an amphitheater-shaped limestone cliff rising 260 feet high. On top of the cliff is a limestone pavement, where erosion has created an unusual pattern rarely seen in England. Both the cove and the limestone pavement turn up in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 when Harry and Hermione set up camp on the rocky plateau during their search for Voldemort’s horcruxes. You won’t find any horcruxes but there are outstanding views over the dales toward the village of Malham.

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Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester

The Cloister of Gloucester Cathedral, finished in 1412, is famous for its magnificent fan vaulting, possibly the earliest example of the form in England. The cloister was originally built to house the resident Benedictine monks and incorporates 20 niches that would have contained the monks’ desks. Harry and Ron hide from a troll in the cloisters in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone while in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a red door at the northeast corner leads to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. The message written in blood appears on a wall next to this door in the same film, while a door at the end of the cloister’s West Walk, hidden behind the Fat Lady’s portrait, served as the entrance to the Griffyndor common room in the first movie.

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Durham Cathedral, County Durham

Dating back to the 11th century and one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Britain,this UNESCO World Heritage site provided the setting for interior and exterior of shots of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The cathedral’s cloister became the snow-covered Hogwarts quadrangle where Harry walks with his white owl Hedwig and where Ron is forced to eat slugs in the second film, while the cathedral’s chapter house turns up as the classroom where Professor McGonnegal teaches Transfiguration.

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Freshwater West, Castlemartin, Wales

This surfing beach in southwest Wales was the location for Bill and Fleur's Shell Cottage (its roof was made from large scallop shells) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2. The cottage’s garden was the setting for Dobby’s funeral, which was also shot here. You can visit the unspoiled beach, which is part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, but the cottage itself, situated at the foot of the dunes, was only a set so don’t spend time looking for it.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Wales Guide

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Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Another cloister that impersonated Hogwarts’ quad in both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is situated in this 13th-century former nunnery. Its sacristy was the setting for Professor Snape’s Potions classroom while the warming room, which came complete with its own historic cauldron, was the classroom where Professor Quirrell taught Defense Against the Dark Arts. The abbey’s chapter house housed the Mirror of Erised. After the Reformation, the abbey became a private house and today houses a small museum devoted to a 19th-century resident and photography pioneer, Henry Fox Talbot. In fact, what is considered to be the earliest (1835) surviving photographic negative made using a camera shows a view of one of the abbey’s oriel windows.

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Christchurch, Oxford University

The first year students’ arrival at Hogwarts and their greeting by Professor McGonegall in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was filmed on the college’s grand stone staircase, which dates back to the 16th century. It is here that Harry encounters Filch and the younger Dumbledore and Tom Riddle when he enters the Tom’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Hogwart’s Great Hall is actually a set built at the Leavesden studio, but it is modeled on the college’s spectacular Great Hall with its Tudor hammerbeam ceiling constructed by Henry VIII’s carpenter (it also provided the model for the dining halls of the University of Chicago and Cornell). Christ Church is open to the public but it is still a working college.

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Bodelian Library, Oxford University

The Bodelian, Oxford’s main research library and one of the oldest libraries in Europe, dates back to 1602. It has appeared in no fewer than three Potter films. The Divinity School, with its superb perpendicular Gothic fan-vaulting, portrayed Hogwart’s hospital wing where Harry wakes up in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and where Ron recuperates in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It also provided the backdrop for Professor McGonagall’s dancing lessons for Gryffindor students prior to the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Another section of the Bodelian, the medieval Duke Humfrey's Library (named after a son of Henry IV and dating back to 1480), was used as Hogwarts’ library throughout the series. The structure over the library’s main entrance is known as the Tower of the Five Orders, which sounds like something J.K. Rowling invented but is in fact its real name.

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Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

Warner Bros. Studio, Leavesden

You won’t see the studio as such in any of the Potter movies, but this former aircraft factory on the outskirts of London is where all the 588 major permanent sets for the films were built. Though the soundstages are now given over to other productions, it still hosts a Potter-themed attraction: a studio tour that takes a somewhat more grown-up approach than the Harry Potter theme park, taking in props, costumes, and sets actually used in the movies. These include the Great Hall, Dumbledore's office, Diagon Alley, the Ministry of Magic, Gryffindor Common Room, Hagrid's Hut, the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, and a superb scale model of Hogwarts Castle. You can also see some of the films’ animatronic creatures and plenty of “making of” exhibits. Potterheads will love this, but be warned: prices are on the high side.

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