To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the beloved Harry Potter books, Chris Beanland takes a tour of some of the Harry Potter filming locations in the UK; the real-life places that inspired the books and featured on film
Harry Potter filming locations in the UK
Harry Potter’s wizarding world has inspired children, and adults, around the globe for 25 years. The books are among the biggest selling in children’s literature history, and the resulting films catapulted Harry, Hermione, Ron, all their friends, and enemies, into the public eye.
Around the world, Harry Potter is synonymous with Britain, and tourists arrive in their thousands to revel in the locations that inspired JK Rowling to write the original books, and those that were made famous on the silver screen, when Harry launched from the page to the cinema.
Rowling endured difficult marriages and economic uncertainty living in London and Edinburgh in the 1990s. She has said that the idea for Harry Potter came to her on the train from Manchester to London, and that the book first began life when she lived in Clapham, south London.
Harry Potter Edinburgh filming locations
However, things really went into overdrive when she arrived in Edinburgh and began writing on a more full-time basis. Rowling famously spent her time in cafes due to a shortage of cash, writing in places like The Elephant House on Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge, which has a plaque outside the building commemorating her time writing there.
The café is being restored after suffering a fire in August 2021, but the table on which Rowling wrote was rescued from the charred rubble and is being carefully recovered by the cafe’s owners. Rowling often walked the Edinburgh streets, and although she is loath to attribute places she passed to actual locations in the wizarding world, there’s no doubt that the dour architecture and gloomy gothic grandeur of the Scottish capital inspired the feel of Harry Potter.
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is a spooky location Rowling passed many times, one where you feel ghosts could easily lurk. The grave of Thomas Riddle – yes, Lord Voldemort himself – is located here.
The 1628 George Heriot School on Lauriston Place is a sprawling and unmissable sight on the Edinburgh skyline, and could easily have galvanised the feel of how Hogwarts might look. It is split into four houses, which compete with each other, just like at Hogwarts.
Victoria Street is an atmospheric thoroughfare that curves uphill and is lined with shops, its hustle and bustle is said to have inspired Rowling’s hidden wizarding street in London, Diagon Alley.
When Rowling started writing she was not wealthy but, thanks to the success of the books, became very rich, finishing her final book in the series, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, in the splendour of the Victorian Balmoral Hotel at the top of Princes Street. The room in which she wrote – 552 – has been rechristened the JK Rowling Suite. Visitors can stay here, and wannabe writers can put pen to paper on the actual desk on which Rowling wrote.
Harry Potter Scotland filming locations
Travel out towards the West Highlands and you can see the mighty Glenfinnan Viaduct marching across the moors. This stupendous feat of Victorian railway engineering, completed in 1901, carries the West Highland Line between Fort William and Mallaig through some of Scotland’s most dramatic hills and seascapes. This is where the Hogwarts Express powers over the valley in the films. The heritage train, known as the Jacobite, still plies this route to keep fans happy. The puffing steam service travels from Fort William to Mallaig daily in spring and summer.
There are also regular rail services (scotrail.co.uk) several times a day which travel over the viaduct in case you miss the steam service. It’s worth walking the valley from Glenfinnan to see the viaduct from the surrounding hills, especially to watch the steam trains crossing – there are spectacular photo opportunities to be had.
Alnwick Castle Harry Potter filming locations
Leaving Scotland and travelling south across the English border, Alnwick Castle is set in the picturesque Northumberland market town of Alnwick. The tiny town is a maze of small streets and independent stores, with the castle at its heart, overlooking the River Aln. The castle has been home to the Percy family for over 700 years, and the 12th Duke and Duchess live here with their children today.
In 2000, the castle was the location for the filming of large parts of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, released the following year. In 2001, the production team returned to film Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. The Lion Arch is the entry point to the castle, leading out to the Forbidden Forest and Hagrid’s Hut.
The Outer Bailey of the castle will be instantly recognisable to fans as the place where Madam Hooch teaches Harry and the rest of his classmates how to fly on their broomsticks and where Harry learns to play Quidditch. The Inner Bailey is, of course, the location where Harry and Ron crash the Weasley’s flying car.
Oxford Harry Potter filming locations
Down in the handsome university city of Oxford, several university buildings provided locations for Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, including Christ Church College.
The college dates from 1546 and is part of Oxford University. In the historic hallways, Hermione shows Harry the Quidditch trophy won by his father, and the staircase is where Professor McGonagall meets Harry and the other first years on their very first day at Hogwarts.
The production team made the most of Oxford’s old buildings and filming also took place in the famous Bodleian Library complex of the university, where Duke Humfrey’s Library stands in for the Hogwarts Library.
New College Oxford also features – the large oak in its cloisters is where Harry has a face off with Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Harry Potter London filming locations
One final stop on the itinerary must be King’s Cross Station, where Rowling used to catch her train from London to Edinburgh. This must have inspired the Hogwarts Express, which, as we all know, travels from the very secret Platform 9 and 3/4 at the station.
Don’t bother looking for that unless you can whip out your magic wand, but follow the throngs of visitors and you’ll find a luggage trolley embedded into the wall next to Platform 9, and next to it a Harry Potter-themed giftshop. Here you can get have your photo taken at the place where the young wizards would use their magic to walk through the wall and on to the secret platform – a spell which the many London commuters passing through the station probably wished they knew too.
This is an extract. You can read the full feature in our April/May 2022 issue of Discover Britain. Available to buy here.