This is all you need to know to plan an epic Harry Potter London vacation.
My daughter is a Harry Potter superfan. She talks about the books and the movies nonstop. She reads blogs and watches videos that dissect certain theories and dive deeper into HP topics. And, she did most of the research for this Harry Potter London family vacation. Admittedly, I was hesitant but…
It was awesome. And, following the suggestions below will also allow you to see London’s major sights along the way.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
If there is one Harry Potter London activity that you add to your itinerary, make it this. In fact, I totally believe that even people who are not Harry Potter fans will appreciate it. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is where the actors and crew spent 10 years filming scenes from the various Harry Potter movies. You’ll learn a ton about what went into make the films from how special effects were created to how the animal actors were trained. It’s amazing to see costumes and sets. Of course, it’s a place to try buttterbeer and butterbeer ice cream and shop for great Harry Potter souvenirs.
Tips: I recommend buying tickets directly through the studio in advance and going there on your own by train or driver. However, if the tour is sold out or you would like the convenience of hopping on an organized bus, search for Warner Bros. Studio Tour London on Viator (this is what we did). Or tour allowed for three hours to explore the studio but we could have easily used five.
Tours for Muggles London Walking Tour
This is by far the best way to see some major and a handful of minor, out-of-the-way Harry Potter London spots that are either where the movies were filmed or served as J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for what she wanted the sets to look like. I lived in London for two years so thought I could easily take my daughter around to find some of these sights. It is SO MUCH EASIER and way more fun to go with Tours for Muggles. They are the only company that is wholly dedicated to Harry Potter tours. And, they are a wealth of enthusiasm and knowledge.
This is a London walking tour that a non-HP fan could easily enjoy as it takes you will walk a little along the Thames, see the bridges, walk through Borough Market (one of my favorite markets in the city) and more.
Tip: Be sure to book Tours for Muggles in advance. It is popular and much easier than trying to map out these sites on your own.
If you don’t take a walking tour, you could seek out the below Harry Potter London sights on your own.
One of the best things to do in London whether a resident or a tourist is to visit Borough Market, one of the largest and oldest food markets in the city. It is a fantastic place to shop, grab a drink with friends or have a meal. You’ve likely seen it in several movies including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and Bridget Jones’s Diary) where the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron is now the taco shop pictured above.
Tip: If you choose to take a Harry Potter London walking tour, note that they may take you to Borough Market where the stalls are closed on Sundays (this happened to us but it was by no means the end of the world.)
Scotland Place and Great Scotland Yard
This might be a bit tricky to find on your own. You will need to walk inland from the New Scotland Yard sign that is visible from Victoria Embankment, right on the Thames River. What you are actually looking for is where Scotland Place (the road pictured above) and Great Scotland Yard intersect. While this arched walkway is easily recognizable in the movies, the latter street is where Harry and Ron step into a phone booth in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to get into the Ministry of Magic. The phone booth was a prop so doesn’t really exist, sadly.
Westminster Tube Station
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Mr. Weasley has trouble using the exit turnstiles at the Westminster Tube station. We learned on our tour that they shut down the station for an entire day to film this scene. As many members of Parliament use the station on a daily basis (Houses of Parliament is right here) they had to actually vote on whether to allow the closure.
Tips: Exit the station to enjoy Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, view of the Thames and Houses of Parliament. Bring your camera!
This famous intersection is most notable as the place where Harry, Ron, and Hermione apparate to after the deatheaters invade Ron’s older brother Bill’s wedding. In fact, Hermione is seen running along Shaftsbury Avenue (you can see the street sign in the movie) which is the street by the TDK sign (pictured above) that heads away from the Eros statue. If you kept following Shaftsbury Avenue for a few blocks, you’d run into the Palace Theater that currently hosts Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The cafe in which they order cappuccinos in this scene is fictional.
Tip: You are likely going to see Piccadilly Circus anyway while sightseeing in London as it is near the theatre district, famous department stores like Fortnum and Mason and more.
We didn’t make it to Australia House, but Gringotts Bank scenes from the movies were filmed inside.
A pedestrian street located off Charing Cross Road called Cecil Court is famous for really cool bookshops and for inspiring Diagon Alley. It is where our Tours for Muggles tour ended and we did spend a decent amount of time browsing the shops here.
The Bridges (Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Lambeth Bridge)
A Thames River cruise or ride on the Thames Clipper ferry should take you past the bridges and you’ll see them during general sightseeing.
Tower Bridge: Harry and others fly over it on broomsticks en route to 12 Grimauld Place in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Millennium Bridge: The opening to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince features a cool scene where the Millennium Bridge dramatically collapses.
Lambeth Bridge: This is where the Knight Bus squeezes between two regular buses in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (We learned on our tour that the two other buses were there to keep the Knight Bus from toppling over because it was so top heavy.)
St. Paul’s Cathedral StaircaseIf you’re looking for an excuse to get your Harry Potter fan into St. Paul’s Cathedral, this is it. The self-supporting staircase is the Divination Stairwell in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry Potter aside, the Cathedral is famous for its dome and truly spectacular art and decor inside. Also make a point of visiting the Whispering Gallery where if you whisper against the wall on one side, it’s audible on the other side. Visitors spend an average of two hours here.
Leadenhall Market is a really cool destination in its own right as one of London’s oldest markets (dating back to the 14th century) located in what was the center of Roman London. My husband’s office used to be around the corner from here and we’d often come here for drinks after work. Diagon Alley scenes were filmed here.
The original entrance to The Leaky Cauldron is actually on the side of the market on a small street called Bull’s Passage. It’s really an optician shop called The Glass House. It has a blue exterior.
Tip: Most recently, my daughter and I enjoyed an excellent lunch at Cheese, which retails over 200 cheeses from Britain and Europe. I took the above photo from our table. The gift store across the walkway sells a handful of Harry Potter souvenirs.
Reptile House at the London Zoo
The London Zoo is a nice way to spend a few hours on a London family vacation. It’s located in scenic Regents Park and as such it blends into the surroundings here well. The Reptile House is well marked and where the scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed where Harry learns through dialog with a Burmese Python that he can speak parseltongue.
Tip: The ticket lines here can be really long. Buy tickets in advance or save a little bit by bundling attractions with the London Pass or London Explorer Pass. (The London Explorer Pass lets you choose how many attractions you want to visit while The London Pass lets you choose how many consecutive calendar days in a row you want to sightsee.)
Platform 9 3/4 (Kings Cross/St. Pancras Stations)
Of course, the Harry Potter Platform 9 3/4 Shop inside Kings Cross station is a must-visit for Harry Potter fans. While the shop sells a myriad of Harry Potter gear (robes, wands, bags, ties, games… you name it), it’s also possible to take the obligatory push-the-cart-into-the-brick-wall photo. They’ll take a professional photo of you with the scarf in the air to buy inside the shop.
Tips: You can also buy a customized Hogwarts acceptance letter. This is a truly excellent gift idea (a really major hit with the kids we’ve given one to so far) so make sure to bring along addresses to print on the envelope and letter. The photo they take here will come out better than the photo of the cart/wall you can take at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. You HAVE only a certain amount of time to download your digital photos. Do not forget (like I did). Get there early to avoid the line for photos.
House of MinaLima
The House of MinaLima honors fifteen years of collaboration of graphic design Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima. If you love the Daily Prophet, Marauder’s maps, the Quibbler, candy boxes at Honeydukes and more this is a must-visit on a Harry Potter London vacation.
Tips: You can buy a variety of neat souvenirs here including The Case of Beasts: Explore the Film Wizardry of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The case is full of inserts, posters and other cool things that delighted my daughter to no end. And, while you can buy it elsewhere, why not buy it directly from the people who created the drawings?
Primark is an Irish retailer who specializes in incredibly-cheap fast fashion (cheaper than Target or H&M… cheap). My daughter clearly stated that we had to go to Primark. And, I wasn’t sure why until I stepped inside. Somehow, they must have managed to score rights to make Harry Potter gear because they have tons of it and every time we stepped inside the store, there was new HP gear to buy. As of a few weeks ago, they decked out part of the store to look more like a Harry Potter set.
Tips: Go to the Primark on Oxford Street East (across the street from Tottenham Court tube stop) is enormous. Check times but during our trip, they opened at 8:00 am! They also sell inexpensive suitcases in case you need more room to get your Harry Potter souvenirs home.
Hamley’s toy store first opened in 1760 and the Regent Street location is a major landmark that visitors to London seek out anyway. Find wands and Harry Potter toys, games and gear on the second floor. This is a great idea if you’re short on time and unable to make it to the studio or Platform 9 3/4.
Tip: There is a Hamley’s in every Heathrow Airport terminal where you may be able to score a duty-free price if traveling outside of the United Kingdom. However, at least in Terminal 5, we did not see any Harry Potter souvenirs.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Play
Getting tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play in London is no easy feat. It is well worth the effort and expense. The play is in two parts and we saw both in one day.
The story occurs nineteen years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and follows Harry Potter, now a Ministry of Magic employee, and his younger son Albus Severus Potter. Albus is about to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and let’s just say he gets into a bit of trouble along the way and struggles to live up to his famous father’s name. The special effects are quite amazing.
Tips: Avoid balcony seats at the Palace Theater unless you can get into the first few rows (sight lines were a bit difficult). My daughter learned through her research that actors come out from the backstage door to sign autographs so definitely buy a program, head over to the back of the theater after the last play and grab some signatures!
Stay in an Awesome Hotel
We happened to stay in two hotels who were paying attention to details. In communicating with one hotel, I did mention our Harry Potter London itinerary in advance. The other likely noticed my daughter’s daily Hufflepuff attired.
The pastry chef at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair (one of my favorite London neighborhoods) really knocked her socks off with the want, golden snitch, sorting hat, Harry Potter’s lightning bolt scar and bear with Gryffindor scarf.
And Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square sent her a Harry Potter cake that made her day! This luxury London hotel is right across from the Tower of London in a really convenient location and we were so pleased with our stay (a full review to come).
If you are passing through Heathrow Airport Terminal 5’s departure lounge, you’re in luck. The Harry Potter Shop offers a really well-rounded selection of wands and souvenirs from the Harry Potter movies in addition to souvenirs from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It is not a duty-free shop, however, it is an excellent place to spend time before a flight and pick up last-minute souvenirs.
London Pass Discount
The London Pass or London Explorer Pass are two popular sightseeing passes for the most popular London attractions. I explain the differences between the two and a list of current London Pass promo codes on the page.
Which you buy depends on which London attractions you’ll be seeing and how many in a day. It will allow you Fast Track entry into several and allow you to skip the ticket queue at the London Zoo which can be a bit long.
The Bottom Line
You can theme an entire week-long (or longer) London holiday around Harry Potter that will incorporate some of the city’s major attractions that you’d want to see anyway. We had such a great time that we’ll likely go back and do it all again next year.
But, always remember that you can buy Harry Potter gear online from the official Warner Bros. shop.
Have questions? Am I missing a Harry Potter London experience from the above list? Let us know!