A Harry Potter Family Vacation for Muggles on the Hunt
One of the most famous rags to riches stories in modern literature is the story of Harry Potter author JK Rowling, a broke divorcee living in Edinburgh, Scotland, who muscled her way through writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while she and her daughter survived on welfare.
Today, kids everywhere– including yours– will be fascinated to learn Rowling’s story and see the places that influenced Harry, Ron, Hermione and the rest of the Hogwarts gang. Wander Rowling’s world, and the world of her imagination, on this UK trek.
Start your tour where a dejected Rowling moved after her divorce: a flat on South Lorne Place in the New Town neighborhood of Leith. This is no flashy address, but rather a place to contemplate humble beginnings.
From here, move down past the Royal Mile into Old Town and find The Elephant House, a cafe themed exactly like it sounds. More than 600 elephants are littered around the casual cafe where you can eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Rowling spent many long hours writing Philosopher’s Stone in this busy hub near Edinburgh University, where students still come to study over coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.
While you’re in Old Town, stop by the Edinburgh City Chambers, where Rowling’s handprints have been taken in stone and preserved on the quad.
Rowling finished her seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series in February of 2007 at the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street, where a signed bust of Hermes still rests in the room. Super-fans spend thousands of dollars sleeping overnight in the room.
But enough about Rowling. Edinburgh also contains glimpses into Harry’s world, like the George Heriot’s School, an Old Town private school on Lauriston Place that is purported to be the primary inspiration for Hogwarts. Take a walk through the quad as you imagine the quidditch tournaments.
Behind the school is Greyfriars Kirk, a cemetery that may have inspired several of the character names in the series. Leave a candle at the tomb of Voldemort–or rather, the real-life Thomas Riddell, a gentlemen who died in 1806 without knowing his name would one day become that of a literary villain.
The poet William McGonagall, who died in 1902, is also buried in Greyfriars. You might remember a professor named after him in the series.
Rowling has acknowledged that although Harry starts his story in London, her imagination sent him to the hills of Scotland for wizarding school. Although the journey to school doesn’t take up much of the movie’s time, exploring some of the visual inspiration for Rowling’s prose is a great way to see rugged, rural Scotland.
Far from Edinburgh, Scotland’s west coast was the setting for many pieces in the Harry Potter films, as well as the narrative inspiration for Rowling’s books. Take in the region’s beauty at Glen Nevis, where dramatic waterfalls and rocky crags overlook the evergreen glen. Your kids will recognize it as the site of the Triwizard Tournament, where Harry battled a dragon.
From nearby Fort William, at the base of Glen Nevis, take your family to Hogwarts with a voyage on the Jacobite Steam Train, a seasonal summer train tour through the rolling hills and foggy lochs of western Scotland. Fans of the Potter films will recognize the Glenfinnan Viaduct, where Harry and Ron’s Ford Anglia dramatically joins up with the Hogwarts Express. The train terminates at Mallaig, with connections to the Isle of Skye if you want to further unplug into your imagination.
Roots in London
It’s London that all Harry fans, whether book purists or movie converts, know from many specifically-named locations and iconic moments. Take a photo in front of Platform 9¾ in King’s Cross Station. In muggle-world, the platform sign is actually located between platforms 4 and 5, just to keep things a little confusing. Closer to platform 10 is The Harry Potter Shop, where employees will help your kids grab onto the cart and push their way through a wall.
Make a stop at the Regent’s Park Zoo Reptile House, where Harry talks to a snake in the first book of the series. Even if you don’t find any speaking serpents in the house, your kids can still see everything reptilian, from chameleons to crocodiles.
Finally, for a real-life look into Diagon Alley, take your kids to Leadenhall Market, a covered market straight from Victorian days. Although the alley where wizards find necessary supplies and magic equipment was filmed on a stage in most of the Potter movies, the inspiration for the place, as well as its “entrance” in the Philosopher’s Stone, is here. You can even spot the blue door that leads to The Leaky Cauldron in Bull’s Head Passage.
The fun thing about visiting the Pottersphere of Rowling’s books is that it’s a magical land of the imagination. Take your kids just about anywhere and enter the world-within-a-world of your imagination, with nothing to hold you back. Whether or not these places were settings for the film, they each allow your kids to hone their most necessary creative tool: their imaginations.
Do you have some die-hard Potter fans at home? If so, when will you be taking this literary trip? Share your plans with us!Tags : travel Edinburgh Scotland London England Harry Potter