Last summer my family toured Europe and since we were traveling with teenagers it may come as no surprise that we had to hit every Harry Potter site imaginable. I already documented our tour of Harry Potter's Scotland in another post, so this post is dedicated to not-to-be-missed Harry Potter's London.
This was one of our first stops in London and a low key way to start our visit. Our self-guided tour took us over the glass floor, which was a favorite photo spot for my daughter. The engine room was a highlight for my husband. We also had a fabulous view of Tower Bridge (and The Tower of London) from our vacation apartment, which was a short walk away from the Tower. Harry Potter fans will remember the boy wizard flying over the tower in Order of the Phoenix.
The advantages of having a tour guide, is that you stumble across places you may not have ever found on your own. Our tour guide, Glen Portch (Gren Tours), drove us by the beautiful, Victorian Leadenhall Market, and we were so enchanted by its appearance, that we went back the next day for lunch. This covered market, featured in several of the films, has a lot of shops, bars, and eateries, and while it does get crowded at times, the architecture is charming and reminiscent of Diagon Alley. Harry Potter fans should also be on the hunt for the entrance to The Leaky Cauldron which is also located here.
J.K. Rowling's latest installment of the boy wizard's saga comes alive on stage at the beautifully renovated Palace Theater. My husband and son did get a chance to check out the play during previews last summer and enjoyed earning their "keep the secrets" badge. The play is run over two days or nights, so if you are planning a short trip to London like we did, be aware that two of your evenings or afternoons will be spent at the theater. My daughter has no interest in Harry Potter, so we planned two fabulous alternate activities, including seeing Matilda in The West End and taking part in The Ceremony of the Keys at The Tower of London.
Beautiful and rich in history, Christ Church in Oxford served as the inspiration for several of the film's iconic sets, including the stone staircase and dining hall. It is a short drive from London and on the way to Warner Bros. Studios. I will say that Oxford, while beautiful, is a little bit boring for kids. During our visit, several of the iconic locations Potter fans might want to see (including the dining hall) were closed to the public. Still, for literary lovers, Oxford is pretty amazing. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis were professors here. Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson (aka Lewis Carroll) was a student here and got much of his inspiration for Alice in Wonderland here. For us, Oxford could have been the low point of our trip, especially for our kids, but our tour guide, Glen (Gren Tours) made it truly memorable. Ipad in hand, Glen would show our kids a clip of a movie scene that was filmed here and then a few steps later, we were standing in that movie location. For families, Glen's humor and multimedia tour approach, can't be beat and I can't recommend him highly enough.
So, I saved the best for last. The Warner Bros. Studios Tour celebrates the artistry of the Harry Potter film franchise. Here, visitors can tour the sets and literally, step into the world of Harry Potter, including on Platform 9 3/4. Of course you can visit Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross in London, but you won't find The Hogwart's Express there. Visitors should plan to spend at least a half a day at the studios, which includes two soundstages and a backlot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures and breathtaking special effects. The studio is about a one hour drive from London and can be reached by rail (London Euston to Watford Junction) and shuttle bus or by car.
Other London Trip Tips:
Walking Tours - Fun London Tours - Our family enjoyed seeing The Changing of the Guard on this brisk walking tour of the ceremony from different vantage points. This is a fast paced tour that is certainly not for everyone, but my family enjoyed seeing the various stages of this time honored tradition.
Private Tours - Gren Tours - Glen is funny and knowledgeable and hands down our family's favorite tour guide. Glen planned our "Making of Harry Potter" tour, which included our visit to Oxford and The Warner Bros. Studios. He also has Rock and Roll tours and Beatles tour itineraries. I can't recommend Glen highly enough.
Vacation Apartment Rental - Trinity Square Penthouse A Apartment - Somewhat off the beaten path, across from The Tower of London and a two minute walk from the Tower Hill Tube Station, this vacation apartment was perfect for our family of four, and our host, Irene, couldn't have been more accommodating.
The London Pass - We used our pass to gain fast pass access to The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, The Churchill War Rooms, and The Thames River Cruise. I would not recommend purchasing the Oyster Card (Travel Card) with The London Pass, but The London Pass itself proved to be a convenient way to see some of London's busiest attractions.
And what better accessory to take on your Harry Potter trip of London than my Boy Wizard Clutch, large enough to carry all your essentials but small enough to slip into your carry on or computer bag.