Although many spots in the wildly popular Harry Potter films are make-believe, there are plenty of real-life locations that any die-hard Potter fan will recognize and appreciate. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 opening in theaters today, Andrea Spain, editor of Britain magazine, shares with Sarah Sekula for USA TODAY locales worthy of putting on your spectacles and picking up your wand.
King's Cross Station
It's recognizable as the spot where Harry catches the train to Hogwarts. If you visit the glass-roofed train station, don't miss a photo op at Platform 9¾, otherwise known as the portal to the wizarding world. Here, wizards in training can pose with the luggage cart that seems to disappear into the wall. "The much more dramatic exterior of St Pancras International station next door, a neo-Gothic masterpiece, was used as the station exterior," Spain says. King's Cross also is known for having great shops and Europe's longest Champagne bar.
Freshwater West Beach
One of Pembrokeshire's popular coastal destinations, this remote beach is where Shell Cottage once stood. The seaside abode was built specifically for The Deathly Hallows. Take note: The consistent swell is best suited for surfers and strong swimmers. And beware of the occasional pocket of quicksand.
You may recall Alnwick Castle as the spot where Harry took his first ride on a broomstick. It's also where the Weasleys' flying car has a tussle with the Whomping Willow in film No. 2. In real life, it has been the home of the Percys, earls and dukes of Northumberland, since the 1300s. Allow time to see the spectacular Alnwick Garden next door, Spain advises. Hagrid and Dumbledore look-alikes perform magic shows in the bailey (outer courtyard) in summer.
"For most fans, just the sight of this magnificent 21-arch railway viaduct in the Scottish Highlands conjures up images of the Hogwarts Express steaming its way across," says Spain. The impressive single-track structure makes cameos in the films but most memorably in No. 3, when the dementors stop the train and give Harry some trouble. Create your own magical journey by traveling on the scenic West Highland Line between Fort William and Mallaig.
The Millennium Bridge
The Death Eaters brought the Millennium Bridge down in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but in reality, it is still standing. Fondly known as the Wobbly Bridge because of initial swaying problems, the steel-suspension footbridge serves as a crossing over the River Thames between St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tate Modern art gallery. "A mile or two west, Piccadilly Circus was used for the café attack scene from the final book," Spain adds.
University of Oxford
Known for its impressive architecture, history and culture, Oxford boasts a lot of must-dos. For one, Christ Church, with its Norman pillars and rows of tables, is the inspiration for the Great Hall, where Potter characters dine. Of course, you won't see the floating candles as in the movies, but it's still majestic.
"A fitting location for a film about wizardry, Lacock Abbey was the home of British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot," says Spain. His inventions in the early days of photography were so spectacular they must have seemed like magic at the time. Pay a visit to the quirky 13th-century nunnery-turned-home, and you'll get a peek at many of the classrooms featured in the films.
"The dramatic scenery of the U-shaped, 7-mile-long Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands was used as a backdrop in The Prisoner of Azkaban and later films," Spain says. "Three sets were built at the bottom of Clachaig Gully, including Hagrid's hut with its pumpkin patch and smoking chimney." The sets are no longer there, but it is a prime spot for a picnic.
The fan-vaulted corridors of the Gloucester Cathedral cloisters are stunning, says Spain. Designed in the early 1300s, the cathedral in southwest England is a structural gem. It's also where Harry and Ron save Hermione from a giant troll in the first film. A visit to the surrounding area offers some of England's most varied landscapes.
"An airborne film unit and a cameraman aboard a boat were used to shoot computer-enhanced sequences above and on the beautiful Loch Arkaig for The Half-Blood Prince," says Spain. Visitors will know it as the loch by the Commando Memorial, which commemorates the use of the area for commando training in World War II.