Our visit to London was very Harry Potter focused. If it wasn’t obvious with our all-day adventure to the Warner Brothers Studio to see the sets, booking a Tour for Muggles definitely gave the real motives for our visit away. I mean, can you blame us? We can never resist a little magic!
From our very first contact with the lovely people at Tour for Muggles (London’s award-winning Harry Potter tour), we were introduced to little bits of magic that put a smile on our faces. They have a wonderful, easy-to-use website with lots of fun imagery and quotes, plus they used terms like ‘e-owl’ and ‘wandly yours’ in our email exchanges. So, they had already made me a big fan before we even met our guide.
Tour for Muggles Overview
After a short train trip from where we were pet sitting, we arrived in London. I never thought I was a big city person, but wow! There was something so electric and exciting about being at the center of this bustling destination. (Even if its most well-known sight was under scaffolding during our visit).
Shortly after our arrival, we met our fun guide. Her theatre background paired with her deep knowledge of all things Potter meant we were in for an awesome time. We knew the £14 tour would take about 2.5 hours and would mostly be on foot – aside from a quick tube ride we had already bought our tickets for. Of course, we expected a glimpse into the making of our favorite film series, but we had no idea it would also give us one of the best intros to London we could have asked for!
Night Bus Shenanigans
Once everyone was at the meeting place, we headed to our first stop just outside the famous Borough Market to see the filming location for where the Kn
The most interesting part to us was that they actually had to take the bus apart to film here because the scouting crew didn’t take the overpasses above the store into account. So, the bus (which was actually two buses stacked – yet, surprisingly still drivable), had to be taken apart and reassembled. This led to a much longer filming time. Instead of finishing up in the middle of the night, they ended up going into market hours which meant angry vendors who Warner Bros. ended up having to reimburse for their loss of business due to the mistake!
Multiple bridges in London were used in the films. While standing next to the Thames, our guide pointed out where the Knight Bus squeezed through other buses on Lambeth Bridge and where the Order of the Pheonix flew over and under the other bridges. For Londoners, many of the famous flying scenes are flawed because the studio wasn’t allowed to use the famous London Eye without paying a large sum. So, edits had to be made.
We also learned of a too-ridiculous-it-has-to-be-true story about two of the famous bridges – London and Tower.
Apparently, a famous American bought London Bridge thinking it was the more picturesque Tower Bridge and had it taken apart and moved to Arizona. However, once it was built, he realized there was a huge mix up when he didn’t see those iconic towers. Face palm.
Another funny bridge story was about the Millennium Bridge. This was built to commemorate – you guessed it – the millennium. But, when it was finally revealed (late, nonetheless), it wobbled when people walked on it. So, it had to be closed and fixed. Funny enough, this is the bridge the director chose to have the Death Eaters destroy in the film – as a funny nod to its wobbly history.
Other Fun Facts
While wandering around, we also passed by ‘The Clink’ which paired with Alcatraz is thought to be the inspiration for Azkaban. Learning that people believed that in its 600-year history no one left the prison and that it was actually cursed, makes sense as to why its story made an impact on Rowling’s story.
We also learned that J.K. was inspired by Sir Francis Drake – who was hired as a privateer to steal from the Spanish ships for England. He also spent a lot of time in ‘witches country’ trying to find a way to live forever by finding the real philosopher’s stone.
He was given the nickname ‘El Draco’ by the Spanish due to his many conquests, which translates to the dragon. Quite obviously, his name was used as the inspiration for
Into the Tube & Beyond
After a short stop for coffee, we made our way to the tube. Funny enough, this was what I was most excited for. I love using public transportation in big cities. It just makes me feel like a badass. And all hopping on the tube together was extra fun – big points to our guide for not losing anyone.
After our short ride, we entered the enormous station which Warner Brothers spent £500k to film in for just one small scene! Usually, they would just film at night in a location like that, but apparently, someone decided they wanted to see the tiny bit of natural light that came in. So interesting to hear these behind-the-scenes notes.
After exiting the tube station, we wandered over to the Old Scotland Yard which was used as the Ministry of Magic. The booth is no longer there, but with some photo help we could see exactly where they entered.
We also went by Trafalgar Square where the last film premiered. People were camping for days to be there and the studio had to pay £300k to get Daniel Radcliffe out of his theatre contract.
However, the most interesting (yet, really gross) story about this place was about the lions. Apparently, the artist heard that a lion had died at a local zoo and asked to use it as a model. But, by the time he got to the paws, they had started to rot, which is why the statue paws look a little wonky.
Best for Last
Our favorite stops of the tour were at the end. We were taken down a winding alley to see where J.K. got her inspiration for Knockturn Alley. However, the real street was too narrow, so they had to recreate it in the studio for filming.
Then, we wandered over to our final stop which was her inspiration for Diagon Alley. While the Leaky Cauldron is actually a burger joint in real life, the rest of the road definitely has a magical feel – complete with a children’s fairy tale book store, unique coin store, and actual magic store. It clearly wasn’t hard to find inspiration in the city for a book about the wizarding world.
After a whirlwind tour of London and all things Harry Potter, we thanked our amazing guide and slowly wandered back to our original starting point – stopping at Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Globe Theatre, and other unique spots on our way – and seeing the city in an entirely new light.
P.S. After our tour, I received a thank you email with a link to figure out which house we were in, a Butterbeer recipe, and extra fun facts. Love love love that special touch!
Special thanks to Tour for Muggles for hosting us on their fantastic tour. As always, all opinions are our own.
Read more about our Europe travels here. And to learn how we traveled in Europe for five months on a budget by house sitting, read this guide.