We met our guide Dewi on a chilly Saturday morning at Westminster underground station. He was easy to spot, wearing a Gryffindor scarf and matching burgundy hat. These might not be his everyday winter accessories but they were absolutely perfect for our private Harry Potter Walking Tour of London.
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We had been invited to take a tour with ToursByLocals, a company that connects visitors with experienced local guides. They offer a huge variety of tours in cities around the world, all led by knowledgeable tour guides. We had a choice of tours but Harry Potter was the obvious one for us. After all, who doesn’t want to receive a letter from Hogwarts?!
Our Harry Potter walk
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Our tour started straight away, Westminster tube station being the filming location for the scene in The Order of the Phoenix when Harry and Mr Weasley are on their way to the Ministry of Magic. Dewi had a mini iPad with him, which meant he could show us film clips right there and then. This was especially handy for those of us who haven’t seen all of the Harry Potter movies!
As a family we’re at various stages of our Harry Potter journey. I devoured the books when they were first released but haven’t watched all the films. My eldest, Alfie, spent a good many years being obsessed with all things magical thanks to the boy wizard and my daughter, Tess, is about half-way through the series.
The youngest, Sam aged 5, has yet to be introduced to the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter. I’m excited about this as it means I’ll be able to revisit the books with him.
From the station we wandered along to Westminster Bridge from where we could see Lambeth Bridge, the setting for the knight bus scene in The Prisoner of Azkaban. What was wonderful about Dewi is that he knew so much more than just Harry Potter filming locations and facts. Thanks to him we now know that Jackie Chan’s movie The Foreigner, is the reason pyrotechnics are no longer allowed when filming in central London!
Our next stop was Downing Street, one of London’s most famous streets. The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes place in the Prime Minister’s office, when the Minister of Magic arrives via the Floo Network.
Dewi then led us along Whitehall and past Horse Guards Parade. Here he pointed out the black mark on the clock face at 2pm that commemorates the time that King Charles I was executed. He also pointed out where public toilets had been erected for filming Deathly Hallows I – and how this resulted in numerous tourists asking if they could use them.
It’s this mixture of quirky boy wizard facts and historical knowledge that really bring this Harry Potter walking tour to life. Dewi, a trained performer, was consistently engaging and did a wonderful job of keeping the kids entertained throughout.
Great Scotland Yard
Next on our tour was Great Scotland Yard Street, the setting for many a film shot in London. For Harry Potter it was used to film the visitors entrance to the Ministry of Magic. After Dewi had shown us several film clips, he pulled out his wizarding robe and wand and it was time for a Harry Potter photo shoot, which the kids loved.
We then wandered past Trafalgar Square – where Harry Potter fans camped out for days before the premiere of The Deathly Hallows II – and then towards Cecil Court. Many wizarding fans believe that this street, lined with bookshops and antiquarian storefronts, inspired JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley. Dewi, however, is certain that the cobblestone wizarding alley was based upon the Grassmarket in Edinburgh.
Regardless, there’s definitely something magical about Cecil Court and its specialist bookshops that house many a first edition book. This post lists some of our favourite children’s bookstores in London.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Several hot chocolates later (it’s worth popping into The Theatre Cafe near Cecil Court – both for drinks and to see stage banners from The Cursed Child) we hopped on a bus. En route to St Paul’s Cathedral we passed Australia House, the filming location for Gringotts Bank, as well as The Savoy where Professor Albus Dumbledore – otherwise known as the actor Richard Harris – lived when not at Hogwarts.
Although we couldn’t go inside St Paul’s, Dewi pointed out the Dean’s Stair, the spiral Geometric Staircase that appeared in The Prisoner of Azkaban.
From the cathedral it’s a short walk to Millennium Bridge. Along the way we passed the City of London school, where Daniel Radcliffe attended and learned why Harry has green eyes in JK Rowling’s books but blue eyes in the films (spoiler: it’s to do with a contact lens allergy!).
Once safely across the river Dewi pulled out his iPad and showed the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince where the death eaters destroy Millennium Bridge.
Borough Market & Leadenhall Market
The next two stops on our walking tour were the setting for the Leaky Cauldron, Borough Market and Leadenhall Market. By this time we were flagging a little. If you do take this Harry Potter tour with little kids then you might want to skip Leadenhall Market. It’s a beautiful spot, but with little legs it did mean that our tour was longer than usual.
The final stop could only be Kings Cross Station. This famous train station plays a key role in all Harry Potter stories so it seemed only right that we finished with a photo in front of Platform 9 ¾. Although, for some reason the trolley didn’t go all the way through onto the platform? Perhaps the kids need to wait for their letters from Hogwarts to arrive.