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Harry Potter's: Great Britain

by Julia Elzie, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 06-05-2011

PassPorter.com > Articles > U.S. Travel > Traveling  

Many people have been swept away by the magical stories of Harry Potter and his friends, Hermione and Ron. We stay up all night reading the latest book and cry at the loss of a member of the Hogwarts family. In the midst of it all, is England, the mystical home of Harry Potter.

So, you have read all of the books and seen all the movies? You can never get enough Harry Potter? While Harry’s world doesn’t REALLY exist, it is possible to peer down Diagon Alley and maybe even catch a whiff of ButterBeer or see the steam of the Hogwarts Express as it heads off to school.

The British are famous for their respect for their history and tradition. These lovely British traits can be found throughout the Harry Potter books within countless references to the history of Hogwarts, generations of Hogwarts graduates or the annual tradition of the Sorting Hat. Tradition and heritage are very important parts of Harry Potter's British Adventure and there are many different ways to catch a glimpse of the ends of Harry's Hogwarts robes.

J.K. Rowling's imagination created the magical Hogwarts, but after extensive research, the producers of the Harry Potter movies discovered Hogwarts in Northumbria, England! Actually, it is Alnwick Castle (pronounced Annick). The castle was used for the outdoor scenes of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but it is actually the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. During your visit, admire the spectacular fountains and the magnificent waterfalls of the estate. Be sure to stop at the green at the castle to see if anyone is attending Quidditch practice.

Oxford University, just outside of London, provided the setting for the school scenes. Oxford's Christ Church houses the staircase where Professor McGonagall greets the children, while the Great Hall is where Hogwarts students eat their meals. (By the way, for those who are fans of the Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were on the faculty of Magdalen College at Oxford in the mid-1900s.)

Moaning Myrtle can be found at the Cathedral of Gloucester, which originated with the Normans and has been a place of worship for more than 1300 years. Most of the ghost scenes, talking pictures scenes, and the mysterious red writing on the wall were filmed at the Cathedral of Gloucester. Tour guides lead groups to see the towers and crypts grounds of the cathedral and they will also point out various Harry Potter scenes were filmed. The Cathedral's Lacock Abbey was also used for school scenes in the movies.

Train travel is very common in Europe because it is cost-efficient and affordable. The students of Hogwarts take the Hogwarts Express to school. The Hogwarts Express departs from Platform 9 ¾ at the Kings' Cross Station in London -- of course, Muggles cannot see the train or the platform, but you might catch a glimpse of the steam as it departs the station. Be sure to have your picture taken with the baggage cart that British Rail cut in half and attached to the wall between platforms - just for Muggles! The Hogwarts Express ends its journey at Hogsmeade Station, which is also known as Goathland Station in the Yorkshire Moors. The station house opened in 1865 and has not been changed since its opening. The surrounding countryside is a classic English pastoral setting with lovely green valleys, rugged landscapes, and the 70 foot Mallyan Spout waterfall.

London itself provided many locations for the Harry Potter movies. Harry learned to communicate with snakes at the London Zoo. After some snake communication of your own, be sure to spend some time watching the herons and wildfowl at the lake, play on the playgrounds or enjoy some outdoor performances at Regent's Park. A city tour will offer the best glimpses of other Harry Potter film locations, including Big Ben, the River Thames and Parliament Square. Leadenhall Market in London doubled as Diagon Alley where Hagrid and Harry did Harry's school shopping for his first term at Hogwarts. Australia's High Commission welcomed Harry into the spectacular Exhibition Hall at Australia House and provided the location for Gringotts Bank, run by goblins, in the first Harry Potter movie. Since the Australia High Commission conducts business in the hall, take a quick peek from the outside on Melbourne Place.

If your Harry Potter British Adventure is your first trip to Europe, Great Britain is a great place to start! We speak the same language and the culture is very similar to our American culture, yet the ambiance of the country is very different from the United States. Staying in bed-and-breakfast inns (called B&Bs) is a marvelous value for your money and an excellent glimpse into the unique British life. In different locations, you may stay in a private home, a country cottage, a manor house or an ancient castle. B&B's are not as fancy as hotels and while many will have a bathroom in your room, some will offer a bathroom near to your room. Breakfast will be very large, so much so that lunch may not be necessary--expect typical breakfast fare along with regional favorites such as soda bread, smoked haddock or kippers. In any case, you will get to know the British people and they will give you insights into their daily lives and backdoor advice on local sights and attractions. You can choose to pre-book your accommodations and an experienced travel agent can assist you in assessing B&Bs, manor houses or castles, along with making reservations and planning your itinerary. It is recommended that you make reservations ahead of time if you plan to travel in July or August, because those months are prime Europe vacation travel times.

Of course, car rental is always an option (make your car rental reservations before leaving home), but remember, the British drive on the "wrong" side of the road! London probably isn't the best place to learn to drive on the other side of the road! As in the rest of Europe, train travel in Great Britain is efficient, affordable and comfortable and allows you to travel between large cities and small towns in first class or second class sections.

With a bit of help from sympathetic Muggles, it is possible to catch a glimpse of Harry Potter and the other students of Hogwarts, hear the flutter of the wings of Hedwig and the other owls or a puff of steam from the Hogwarts Express throughout Great Britain. Along the way, it is a great opportunity to get to know the wonderful British people and experience their lovely way of life.

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