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The tale of the world’s most famous boy wizard is set in a fantastical reimagining of Britain, where enchanted cars streak through the London airspace and Animagi wander the streets disguised as cats. However, many of the magical places featured in the beloved Harry Potter books and films are based on real-life locations across the UK and Europe, from balmy Portugal to the Scottish Highlands. Here are some of the best.
Perhaps one of the most iconic locations in both the Harry Potter books and movies is the Great Hall where students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry gather for meals, announcements, and—most importantly—to be divided into houses by the Sorting Hat. This soaring hall is inspired by the Tudor Great Hall at Christ Church College at Oxford University, which fans (and architect buffs) can visit as part of a guided tour.
J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the 1990s and was reportedly a frequent customer at the city’s most dazzling landmark bookstore. A jewel of neo-Gothic architecture, Livraria Lello is believed to have inspired the author’s vision of the magical Flourish and Blotts bookshop on Diagon Alley where Hogwarts students stock up textbooks and supplies at the beginning of each school year. Today, the real bookshop is one of Porto's busiest tourist attractions, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance to skip past the queue.
Diagon Alley is another theatrical setting in the series of books and movies, which many believe was inspired by winding, shop-lined Victoria Street in the British city of Edinburgh. Visit on a Harry Potter–themed walking tour, or stop by some of the other Muggle high streets which were said to have influenced Diagon Alley—York’s The Shambles and Exeter’s Gandy Street. However, what is certain is that many scenes set along Diagon Alley in the movies were filmed in London’s Leadenhall Market.
Related article: The Marauder's Map of Harry Potter Filming Locations in the UK
The invisible Platform 9 and ¾ where the Hogwarts Express departs at 11am sharp to take new and returning students to Hogsmeade each September is located in London’s 19th-century King’s Cross Station. Platform 9 and ¾ doesn’t exist in real life—or does it?—but the station has half a baggage trolley sticking out of the brick wall, which makes for a great photo op.
Though the Hogwarts Express was beset by the chilling Dementors in the Harry Potter series, in real life this vintage rail line stuns passengers with its spectacular views. Known as The Jacobite, Scotland’s most scenic steam train runs between Fort William and Mallaig, passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct that’s also featured in the movies. Potterheads will definitely want to hop aboard for a magical ride through the lochs and glens of the Scottish Highlands.
Looming over Diagon Alley, Gringotts Wizarding Bank is stronghold to magical fortunes, treasures, and the odd Horcrux. Scenes in this goblin-run bank were filmed in Australia House, the home of the Australian High Commission in London. Since it’s a diplomatic mission, the building is not open to the public (unless, of course, you’re a citizen of Australia) but many Harry Potter tours of London make a brief stop so you can admire the landmark building’s exteriors.
Harry’s first flight on Buckbeak is one of the most unforgettable scenes of all eight movies, and the lake the hippogriff majestically skims is Scotland’s Loch Shiel, a stand-in for Hogwarts’ Great Lake. Located near the famed Glenfinnan Viaduct, this deep loch is considered one of the most beautiful in the Scottish Highlands and was also the background of the final shot of Harry and Hermione gazing across the landscape from the astronomy tower at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Harry Potter fans dream of being able to visit the real setting for Hogwarts, but the magical school was based on a number of different historic castles and cathedrals. One of the major inspirations was Durham Castle—an 11th-century architectural gem, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and part of Durham University. Take a self-led audio tour of the city and visit castle highlights, including the Great Hall, 17th-century Black Staircase, and Bishop’s Rooms.
Sections of the 11th-century Norman Alnwick Castle were also used as a setting for Hogwarts, especially outdoor scenes in the first two movies when Harry and his classmates learn to fly broomsticks and Harry makes his Quidditch debut. Home to the Duke of Northumberland (it’s the second largest inhabited castle in England), Alnwick castle is open to the public in the summer and is an easy day trip from Edinburgh.
Another architectural inspiration for Hogwarts, Gloucester’s historic cathedral cloisters were transformed into the school corridors in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Potter stans will also recognize the Lavatorium where Harry and Ron hid from the troll, the West Slype door used as the entrance to the Gryffindor common room, and the red Dark Entry doorway that played the girls’ lavatory door in the movies.