For someone born in the ‘90s, I somehow missed the Harry Potter train until my sophomore year of college. I blame it on my childhood hipster taste in books.
But my late start hasn’t derailed the number of Harry Potter sights I’ve visited. If I, a rather mediocre fan, feel a fluttering of nerdiness at these places, I can guarantee they will reduce the True Fans to Tears of Fandom.
England is filled to the brim with sights of Harry Potter inspiration, filming locations, and opportunities to get you wizard on. Here are 10 of the hottest places to see.
1. King’s Cross
Once a simple half-cart was glued to a brick wall on Platform 9, a trend very quickly followed. Over the years, the cart has been shifted around the station (notably situated a creepy construction zone in Spring ‘12), but has finally found its home in a relatively out of the way spot by the Waterstones and the Platform 9 ¾ store. But more of that in a sec.
To get an all-the-rage shot of you mid-jump/mid-going-through-the-wall, you’ll need to wait in the carefully organized queue. This can take as little as 5 minutes, but has been known to take a good half hour, depending on the time of day and the amount of tourists passing through, so keep an eye on the time if you are at King’s Cross to catch a train.
Once you reach the front of the line, a friendly staff worker will offer you a choice of scarves. Pick your house (Hufflepuff for the win!) and assume your position. These scarves are made extra long so that said staff worker can throw it dramatically at just the right time to make it look like it’s waving in the air. Yes, there are professional scarf-throwers. Yes, it is hilarious.
Another staff member will be there with a nice camera to take the shot, which you can buy a print of in the shop. You’re also welcome to have a friend take one for you with your own camera/phone.
Definitely stop by the store before you leave the area, even if you don’t want an expensive print. Inside, you’ll find a plethora of Platform 9 ¾ merchandize. My favorite are the mugs and the shiny Hogwarts Express tickets. These make great wedding presents, by the way, so stock up for your fellow-fans!
2. Jacobite Train
Speaking of tickets and trains, let’s talk about the Jacobite. Far, far north of London, this steam engine runs the route between Fort William and Mallaig in Scotland. This line was used in the Harry Potter films whenever the kiddos are heading to Hogwarts. It also happens to be one of the acclaimed best scenic train routes in all of Europe.
Though you can take a normal, boring train on the same journey for around £12, it’s worth the extra money to take the steam engine if you can spare it. The slow pace of this train really lets you enjoy the wonders of the Highland landscape. You’ll probably be surrounded by other fans, who might just pop a bottle of something bubbly and toast, “T’ ’Arry!”
If you’re on a budget, you can take the Jacobite to the first stop, which will get you past the famous aqueduct where Harry and Ron almost died in the car misadventure. Or, take it all the way to Mallaig before catching an inexpensive Muggle train back.
Pro tip: Sit on the left-hand side on the way to Mallaig for the best views.
3. Edinburgh. Just. All of it.
Edinburgh is a hive of Harry Potter places, because J.K. Rowling drafted part of the novels here. The Elephant Cafe is one of the most famous spots that J.K. frequented while she wrote — and the time you’ll spend waiting for a table attests to that. From the windows of this café, you can see two other notable locals: Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Tom Riddle’s grave lies, and George Heriot’s School, which is known to be a possible inspiration for Hogwarts.
To get the most out of all Edinburgh has to offer, I recommend the SANDEMANs walking tour. It’s lead by local experts, incredibly fun, and free (sans-tip, so more like £5- £10 depending on your generosity). They’ll point out all the Harry Potter hotspots, especially if you make it clear you’re a big fan.