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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harry Potter’s London 7.20.11

Can you believe the last movie raked in an amazing $158M in box office revenue in its very first weekend? By Friday, it had pulled in nearly $60M and half of that was in pre-sales! If only we had a cut of those earnings, we’d be able to go nearly anywhere we wanted and not have to get there on a broomstick. Although, I'm sure you helped contribute to that total, just like I did. Since there isn’t a floo network – that we know about – we still have to get places the old fashioned way: via planes, trains and automobiles. And because it’s been all Potter all the time in the news, papers and magazines, I’ve decided to dedicate this Wednesday’s post to my favorite fictional character and the Boy Who Lived’s hometown: London.


You all know my love and fascination with the metropolitan city across the pond, so it should come as no surprise to you that I plan another trip there in the coming years and will incorporate some Harry Potter goodness into my itinerary. Hey! I’ve already seen all the major tourist sites, so now’s my chance to see a totally different London – although I’ll probably still visit the zoo, which was missed on my last trip, due to the decision that we should check out something a little more unique instead and headed to Chislehurst Caves and Eltham Palace. Both totally worth the train and bus rides.  Not to mention getting to hear the train station’s lovely recording for incoming commuters – “Orpington, this is Orpinton.” – which made us feel like we were in a (classic) sci-fi movie.

So, let’s start with fun and funky Potter inspired tourism and then we’ll talk about some not-to-miss London sites as well as how to save on the outrageous ticket prices. I’ll tell you now that London is NOT a budget destination by any means, but with planning and saving, it can be done and you can still do it on about half the budget you thought, assuming you aren’t dying to eat at a variety of Michelin-starred restaurants or think you should take a black cab everywhere (or really anywhere…those things are cute to look at, but a total drain on your wallet).


First up on my list of must-dos for the Potter fanatic – you know who you are – is the as-yet-to-be-opened Warner Bros. owned Leavesden Studios. I loved, loved, loved Harry Potter: The Exhibition when I trekked up to Seattle for the weekend to see it, but nothing is going to be quite as awesome as walking the “halls” of Hogwarts and the sets from the movies. Can you beat actually standing in the Great Hall or Dumbledore’s office? I think not! Of course you’ll have to take the train out to Watford, a good 20 miles outside of London, but you can make a day of it. Doors are expected to open in Spring of 2012, so that’s about all I know.


Harry Potter Walking Tour of London is another must. I’ve wanted to do this since I heard about it. Unfortunately, when I was there, it was not on the list of tours I could take through the city. Also, we walked everywhere, so by the time we got back to the room and looked at the schedule, we basically decided to relax, go eat dinner and then come back and crash until morning. On one of our walks back from the Tube, we stopped at a place called the Italian Pizza Connection in Paddington and grabbed a pizza and some tiramisu, that turned out to be the best tiramisu we’ve ever had.

But, I digress…do you want to see the real Diagon Alley? The Leaky Cauldron? The Millennium Bridge that was destroyed by Death Eaters? Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station? Okay, while there isn’t a real platform 9 ¾, there IS a barrier between platforms 9 and 10 that you can take a picture in front of. Brush up on your Harry Potter trivia and take a walk with other fans on this magical (surely, it must be!) tour that rings in at $32 per person. While not totally cheap, it’s a great way to experience London and get some exercise while also hanging with a fun crowd and seeing amazing sites from one of your favorite series of movies.


If $32 is too steep for your budget, consider a different tour with London Walks. They are the best walking tour company anywhere (they got an award and everything!) and they offer several Potter walks. You could do two for the price of the big one above. They will have the same stops along their route(s) – if not more – as well as smaller groups for each tour. You don’t have to book ahead. You just show up with your money…so if you find you’re too tired when you planned to go, you can rearrange your plans and go the next time it’s offered.

Do your own walking tour and stop by these awesome sites for free! (unless there’s an admission price)
·    London Zoo – When Harry is introduced to us in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he visits the zoo with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley and fids out he can communicate with snakes, when he lets loose a large Brazilian python and traps Dudley in the snake exhibit.
·    King’s Cross Station – Take a picture of you and/or your travel companions in front of the famed barrier on the platform between 9 and 10. You won’t be able to board the Hogwart’s Express like Harry and his school friends, but you WILL be able to stand where they stood.
·    Millennium Bridge – You can cross this one without fear of it snapping in half and sending you hurtling into the Thames. It is nicknamed the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge, though, for the sway and give it has during windy days.
·    Picadilly Circus – Go here by night for the full effect, then maybe take in a show or get something to eat. I’d recommend that sad little diner the trio ducked into, if I knew what it was called.
·    Australia House – Home of the marble-floored exhibition hall of the Australian Embassy, but known better as the wizarding bank Gringott’s.
·    Borough Street Market – Remember the knight bus in The Prizoner of Azkaban? Harry wishes he couldn’t, but you can visit the end point of his journey – The Leaky Cauldron – in Borough Street Market on Stoney Street near the Market Porter Pub.
·    London Eye – One of the awesome sites that whizzed by during Order of the Phoenix’s getaway broom ride. You can see all of London from the rotating pods and get some excellent pictures of the city and the river.
·    Big Ben – Another site seen from Harry’s broom. A visit to London just isn’t complete without a photo of it.
·    Buckingham Palace – Yet another London staple shown during the opening scenes of Order of the Phoenix.
·    Leadenhall Market – You probably can’t buy an owl or school robes or a Quick Quotes Quill there, but it is still the setting for Diagon Alley in the Sorcerer’s Stone. You can take home your own finds from here, to remind you of your trip.
·    Phone booth to enter the Ministry of Magic – Still cool, though it doesn’t take you anywhere, you can find this red telephone box where the Strand, Agar St and William IV St meet near Charing Cross Station.

There are probably loads more places to visit on your trip to soak up the history of Harry Potter, but that ought to keep you busy for a day or more. When you’re ready to do some other cool sightseeing, check out these awesome sites that I highly recommend:


Thames River Cruise – If you have a London Pass, the cruise to Greenwich is included on your card. If not, you can view the different cruises and pricing here. Greenwich was definitely a cool place to visit, plus you can stand at 0° longitude, or what is known as the Prime Meridian. Home of Greenwich Mean Time, which is the worldwide time reference. Of course, you can also see the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum, Old Royal Naval College, University of Greenwich and whole mess of other cool stuff. I highly recommend a trip into the Queen’s House. It will be host to some of 2012’s Olympic games, and while we were there we experienced an amazing photo exhibit of Princess Diana.

Hyde Park – A great freebie for those wanting to take a stroll, people watch or have a picnic lunch. The park is massive and you can easily spend the whole day just wandering around the place. Hit up Kensington Palace where you can see where many royalty have lived, the royal wedding dress collection and more.  We really enjoyed our tour through the palace, and if you are smart enough to go earlier in the day, you can have lunch or tea at The Orangery. Keep an eye out for the oversized squirrels frolicking on the lawns, if only to marvel at their size in comparison to normal squirrels.


Victoria & Albert Museum – Another free activity, V&A claims to be the “World’s Greatest Museum of Art and Design”. My trip was so packed full of stuff, I never made it here, but it’s certainly on my list for my next visit. View clothing and architecture, jewelry, paintings, prints, furniture and quite a bit more. Some special exhibits have an admission fee, but otherwise, you can walk right in and spend as much time as you want without ever opening your wallet.

OXO Tower – Want to see all of London from the top? The OXO Tower viewing platform has an awesome 8th floor gallery to see across the Thames. If you’re feeling splurge-y, make a reservation at one of their restaurants and take in the view while having a fantastic meal.


Do you want to pack a lot of sightseeing into your trip? Consider a London Pass. It works just like CityPASS and gets you into a multitude of attractions, as well as giving you discounts to dining, shops and other touristy stuff. If you don’t plan on walking everywhere – which you probably could do if you were very ambitious – you can also add transportation to your pass and jump on tubes, busses and trains with a swipe of your card. We took advantage of the London Pass while we were in the city and saved gobs of money, because it enabled us to do much more than we even planned to do, including the Aquarium, Sherlock Holmes’ house and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We were always busy doing something and had a great time.


Dining on a budget is super easy in the city. Use TopTable to make restaurant reservations and get deals like 50% off, 2-for-1 dining and special prix fixe menus. You can also eat in cafes, split entrees or stay where you have a kitchen(ette) and make some of your own meals. There are groceries all over, so picking up some food stuffs is relatively easy and usually on your way back to where you are staying.


For more London tips on saving and what to do, you can check out these other posts I did on Jetsetera and My Itchy Travel Feet. Even in the absence of Harry Potter it can be a magical place to visit. We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back. You’re probably lucky I didn’t try to fit in more photos. It’s hard to choose favorites when you come back with hundreds!


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