In the midst of the bustling city roads, the inexplicable queueing on concrete promenades, and the cockney English accent, life in London could be a blur. But within this cacophony thrives a mythical universe: Harry Potter in London, lying beneath the many layers of the city, camouflaged from the plain view of intrusive Muggles.
There are a few well-known spots that Londoners and fair-weather Potterheads frequent, like the 9 3/4 platform on King’s Cross, which is a major crowd puller, and the iconic Millennium Bridge, which was epitomized as the site destroyed by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Though these two locations scream ‘Harry Potter’ all over, there are a few more places around the city that have appeared on screen but have a more fleeting presence, and thus are easy to be overlooked. Apart from this, there are places that prompted, or rather, inspired, JK Rowling while she was writing the series.
As a writer, Rowling was deeply influenced by her surroundings, etching characters and picturing backdrops based on her experiences in London. And it is this idiosyncrasy of hers that lets us stumble through the city’s downtown, hunting for clues and reliving the magic that built this billion-dollar franchise.
Opposite to the towering Big Ben lies the unassuming Westminster tube station, which comes up in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as Mr. Weasley ushers Harry to the Ministry of Magic for his hearing over the illegal use of the Patronus Charm. Though the scene is not more than a minute long, the station was closed for the whole day while Harry Potter took over London, as the scene apparently required many multiple shots to get right.
The imposing building of the Ministry of Defence on Whitehall road is widely considered as Rowling’s primary inspiration behind the setting of Ministry of Magic — both in structure and soul. The Ministry of Defence looks formidable, with walls that look fortified on the veneer. And just like in the Harry Potter in London universe, people need security clearance for entering the building.
A casual glance at One Whitehall Place, with its sprawling gardens overlooking the Thames, would make it seem like any other Victorian-era building, but the key here is not to look around or look inside, but to look upwards. With its ornate cornices and cupolas, the rooftop of the building quite inexplicably resembles the roof of Hogwarts as pictured in the movie. The interiors of the building are by no means less elaborate, as it is home to many exquisite suites, with many grand weddings taking place at the venue throughout the year.
One glimpse at this building’s facade would send us back to the time Harry Potter, as a bleary-eyed London kid, is taken to the Gringotts Wizarding Bank by Hagrid to show him the fortune his parents had saved up for him before they died. The Australian High Commission has been in continuous existence at the location for many decades and is sadly not open for the public. Nonetheless, the movie was actually shot inside this building, with the winding rows of varnished wooden benches serving as the setting for the cranky goblins at the bank.
Welcome to Knockturn Alley! Though the street’s relevance in the Potterverse rhetoric has been a subject of intense debates, a walk through this boulevard is sure to create the feeling of being in a place that is not just…normal. Even though there is nothing particularly ‘off’ about the place, shops on the street resemble sophisticated flea markets, selling obscure trinkets and rare memorabilia that would be hard to source anywhere else.
The soul of Cecil street would be right at home in Knockturn Alley. A bookstore that specializes in author-signed limited edition copies. A store that sells outdated world currency (with Gringotts banknotes in them) and war badges. A store that exclusively holds the collection of artifacts and rare copies of Alice in Wonderland. A bookshop that calls itself the world’s oldest occultist and mystic store. The list is endless!
This narrow concrete aisle with exposed brick buildings and glazed windows looks to be eerily similar to the Diagon Alley cast on screen. Gas-lit street lamps are perched every few yards over pigeon-free sills adding to its magnificence and surreality. Though the street is quite a short stretch, it does make for a memorable stroll, with a lot of Potterheads believing this to be the entrance to the world of magic, serving as an actual inspiration for Rowling.
Harry Potter in a London market? Next to this market and in front of a popular florist shop lies the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, as Harry finds out after he alights from the Knight Bus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Apart from all the din around, the Borough Market also hosts some of the best bites around town — so go on, help yourself to some good food as unfortunately, the doors to the Leaky Cauldron aren’t open for us Muggles.