Come and see the places where the stories of the world’s most famous wizard were filmed. You can even walk through them. Just choose Britain for your holiday.
Did you know that…
You can study Harry Potter as an elective at university? Durham University has announced the first course of its kind.
The story of the wizarding apprentice Harry Potter has, without exaggeration, taken the world by storm. It has been a long time since 1997, when the first volume was published by the then small publisher Bloomsbury in an initial print run of 500 copies. To date, the story has been translated into 73 languages and, most importantly, made into a film. We’re currently following in the footsteps of the famous footage in the UK.
Filming took place over a long 10 years, from 2000 to 2010, and the child actors grew up with their book heroes. The author of the story, J K Rowling, kept a close eye on the filming and one of her conditions was that the actors should be British and that the locations should be in the UK.
The main location was the Warner Bros. film studios in Leavesden, near London, but real British towns and countryside were also used. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting ones…
1. Durham Cathedral
This cathedral is located in the county of the same name in the north of England. It is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture. For Harry Potter fans, however, it is the number one place to go for the real-life setting of Hogwarts Castle.
Interestingly, the Durham scenes were originally to be filmed in the much more famous Canterbury Cathedral, which is also the seat of the Archbishop. However, the Archbishop did not approve of the wizards and wizardry theme. Little did he know that Harry Potter would become a symbol of England.
Which scenes were filmed in Durham?
The cathedral and the cloister of the neighbouring monastery were mainly used in the first two films when the students were moving between classes. It was also used in the second film when Ron used the ‘eat snails’ spell on Draco Malfoy, only for it to backfire because of his broken wand.
The Chapter House was also used several times as a classroom for Transfiguration, a subject taught by Professor McGonagall. You’ll remember the scene in the second episode when the Professor tells the story of the so-called Chamber of Secrets and the whole class hangs on her every word. And what about the scene where Harry discovers that his petrified classmate Justin has seen a basilisk over the body of the ghost of Nearly Headless Nick?
But perhaps the most beautiful scene is from the first episode, when Harry walks across the cathedral courtyard in the snow and releases his owl Hedwig. As Hedwig flies, we can see the cathedral spires, for example.
2. Alnwick Castle
We’re still in the north of England, where the medieval castle we know from knightly tales stands majestically on the banks of the River Aln. It’s not surprising, then, that the filmmakers borrowed it from the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, who still live there today, as the backdrop for Hogwarts Castle. Again, this was for scenes in the first two films, when the filmmakers did not yet have the model of the castle they would later use.
At Alnwick it was more the exterior that was used for filming. For example, the scene where Harry learns to fly a broomstick for the first time and discovers his natural talent for the magical sport of Quidditch. Or when he rescues Neville’s Memory Keeper, who’s been kidnapped by Draco Malfoy. All of this takes place in the castle courtyard.
It’s here that Harry’s catching skills are discovered by Professor McGonall and the wizard is immediately placed in the Gryffindor team. When Captain Oliver Wood explains the rules of Quidditch to him, the scene takes place here again. It is also where Harry and Ron hit the willow tree with Mr Weasley’s flying car.
The main courtyard was also the setting for the scenes in the first episode where the students pass between classes and the so-called Lion’s Gate, where Harry and his friends leave the castle to visit Hagrid or go into the Forbidden Forest.
3. Gloucester Cathedral
One of Britain’s most beautiful cathedrals has a special link with Harry Potter. Author JK Rowling was born and raised in Gloucestershire. Her home town of Yate is less than an hour’s drive from Gloucester Cathedral.
The cathedral was again used as a backdrop for Hogwarts Castle in the first two films, and interestingly there were protests from some parishioners who didn’t think it was a good idea to film films about wizards in a cathedral.
Today, however, the cathedral is very proud of its cinematic past, and on a tour you will come across several information panels referring to the scenes.
Only one location was filmed in Gloucester, but it is so beautiful and has such a magical atmosphere that it was used several times. It’s the cloister again, with its magnificent Gothic ventilating ceiling.
Which scenes were filmed here?
When the new Gryffindor students, led by Ron’s brother Percy, go to the Gryffindor common room for the first time, the corridor they walk through is the very Cloister of Gloucester.
In the second episode, when a sign appears on the wall of one of the corridors of Hogwarts Castle stating that the secret room has been opened, it is again the same location. Don’t worry though, the inscription did not destroy the historic walls of the cathedral, they were covered up for the filming with a temporary artificial wall on which the inscription was drawn.
We stay for the second part. The scene where Harry and Ron are walking down the stairs, talking about Hermione, who is in hospital because she drank several potions laced with cat hair. Suddenly they see one of the corridors flooded with water. They go to find out where the water is coming from and end up in Ursula the Whiny’s toilets. The flooded corridor is again the one we know from Gloucester Cathedral.
This is also the scene where the teachers discuss what to do when Ginny Weasley is dragged into the Chamber of Secrets and Goldilocks Lockhart appears, claiming to know where it is and to save the student.
The crew returned to the cathedral later in the sixth episode, when a scene with Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape was filmed in the same corridor, and Harry overhears them discussing the mysterious task Draco has been given and the Unbreakable Vow.
4. Seven Sisters Nature Reserve
The Seven Sisters cliffs and surrounding area in the south of England are magical in their natural beauty, even without the Harry Potter connection. So it’s no surprise that the crew chose this location for one of the scenes in the fourth instalment involving the Goblet of Fire.
The story begins with the World Quidditch Championships being hosted by England, and Harry and his friends, Mr Weasley and others, travel there. But they don’t travel like Muggles. They use an old shoe, which acts as a porter, to transport them to the site of the Quidditch final. And it’s nowhere else but on a green meadow next to chalk-white cliffs that plunge perpendicularly into the sea.
5. Goathland train station
From the south of England we return to the north, where a fairytale railway station stands amidst the moors and heaths of York National Park. The Victorian station looks like something out of a time machine and is the perfect location for the Hogwarts Express station.
Remember the final scene in the first episode, when Harry and his friends board the Hogwarts Express on their way back to London to spend the holidays with his aunt and uncle? That very scene was filmed in Goathland. It was also the first scene ever filmed! Harry is given a photo album of his parents by Hagrid to mark the occasion.
Did you know that Hagrid was played by former rugby player Robbie Coltrane, who wore a fake head to make him look more like a half giant? You can still see the head today at the Leavesden studios, where they’ll even show you how it worked.
6. Hardwick Hall
This majestic palace from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I is located in central England, close to cities such as Sheffield and Liverpool. The palace was built by a lady known as Bess of Hardwick, who was one of the richest and most influential women of her time, outliving all 4 of her husbands. The mansion she built was designed to make all this clear.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that the filmmakers took inspiration from the Malfoy family mansion, one of the oldest, most influential and wealthiest wizarding families. Remember the dark scene at the beginning of the first Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? There we see the dark silhouettes of the ancient castle where the Death Eaters go to meet Voldemort.
We follow Professor Snape as he enters the castle with a straight face. The film’s effects department tweaked the resulting shots to make the castle look really dark and mysterious.
If you visit Hardwick Hall, the main room may look familiar. Although the scene where Voldemort and the Death Eaters sit around the table and torture the Muggle Studies teacher was filmed at Leavesden Studios, the set was built to look exactly like Hardwick Hall.
7. Lacock Abbey
Not far from the historic city of Bath lies a quaint little English village, one of the oldest in England. Time seems to have stood still here, so it’s no wonder that it has become a favourite haunt of the Harry Potter filmmakers. Scenes from the first two films were filmed here, perhaps using the exteriors the most, but the filmmakers also returned for The Half-Blood Prince.
For example, Harry’s family home is in the village. The scene from the first film where Hagrid explains to Harry what really happened that fateful night when Harry came to his scar was filmed here. The cloisters of the abbey of the same name in the village were again used as the corridors of Hogwarts Castle. Specifically in the first episode in the scene where Professor Snape threatens Professor Quirrell and Harry, hiding under his invisibility cloak, witnesses it.
In the second episode, when Harry hears the snake-speak of the basilisk moving behind the wall, the same corridor was used again.
The attic of the Abbey also contains the classrooms of the two insidious subjects. They were Quirrel’s Defence Against the Dark Arts and, coincidentally, Snape’s Potions. And let’s stick with the first volume. Remember the magical Mirror of Erised, which reflects your most secret dreams and desires? This scene was also filmed here.