An illuminating walking tour through Harry Potter's London

I'm an Edinburgh Harry Potter guide, I wanted a tour of London & chose Tour for Muggles because:

  1. I liked that it was 2.5 hours, a good morning out. I figured that must cover most of the sights.
  2. It seems independent, not part of some country spanning agency whose focus is on money rather than excellence.

In fact Tour for Muggles has 12 guides, so it may be a little cut throat, I suspect guides with the greatest reviews win chances to work.

The start point

From the station it was fairly easy to find the starting point, although I was a little surprised that it would be somewhere so grim.

Tour for Muggles start point opposite Southwark Cathedral
It felt like I was sucking on a petrol hookah & my body was slowly dying

so I took a stroll to London Bridge.

If you arrive more than 20 minutes early I heartily recommend a walk from London bridge toward tower bridge along the Thames. The South bank is packed with sights, HMS Belfast, the onion, home of London council, the Tower of London opposite. And more.

Harry Potter's professor Mcgonagall on London bridge

Our guide was Ellie Lovegood cousin of Luna. This was a nice bit of whimsy that had one child believing she actually was.

She arrived with a Gryffindor scarf & vital flowery rucksack so this blogger couldn’t lose her, and

Harry Potter tour guide's shoes
Ellie wore shoes. Which is good or it would have been painful

I liked her almost instantly. She arrived caring for us but also with a take away tea in her hand, I thought that’s so louche she’s the Johnny Depp of tour guides. (Or the Grindelwald perhaps).

Lovegood was highly knowledgeable, probably passed her NEWTS, but said if she didn't know anything we'd all have a collective Google.

Having built up some courage, a purple-jacketed 8 year old girl asked ‘What’s Luna’s like?’ Ellie, amusing improviser that she is, was confunded for a moment, and needed the question repeated. Having had it clarified, Ellie laughed and explained it was for fun, her favourite character is Luna.

She’s a redhead so I’d more readily think of the Weasleys, but Luna is a bit mental, and that probably resonates with actresses.

The little girl, uncomfortably embarrassed by her mistake, pointed at her Dad and blamed him, the Minister for Misinformation. Poor Goebbels.

Beware parents at the end of the tour you may need relationship counselling.

Borough market

was an interesting place in itself. Much of London is noisy multi lane streets lined by concrete building. This felt like old London,

you pass Bridget Jones’ roundhouse

head down this alley and the market is crisscrossed by rail lines, the pleasant smells of fruit and street cooking.

Harry Potter tour takes us to Borough Market

Ellie said to come for lunch if you’ve got a spare couple of hours, I guess that’s the thing, the life of markets are a lot slower, and to be savoured, I fly through the Lidl self service checkouts, to get the blogs rolling out.

El Pastor

There was a deafening BANG and Harry threw up his hands to shield his eyes against a sudden blinding light…

With a yell, he rolled back onto the pavement, just in time. A second later, a gigantic pair of wheels and headlights had screeched to a halt exactly where Harry had just been lying. They belonged, as Harry saw when he raised his head, to a triple-decker, violently purple bus, which had appeared out of thin air. Gold lettering over the windscreen spelled The Knight Bus.

For a split second, Harry wondered if he had been knocked silly by his fall.
The Knight bus, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban

In the Prisoner of Azakbahn Harry goes on the run from the Dursleys for breaking wizarding law, jumps on the Knight bus, and this is where it deposits him.

Harry Potter's Knight bus
Warner Brother's Harry Potter Knight Bus

The bus sets of a car alarm, Harry hustles into the Leaky Cauldron.

The tour takes us to where Harry Potter's Knight bus was filmed
The metal roller was redressed as the entrance to the Cauldron

It continued to be used as the entrance to the Leaky cauldron in the latter darker films.

The knight bus was a 3 storey bus you can sleep on. The production grafted on an extra level and fitted an engine powerful enough to pull two tons of lead weight, which were added to prevent the bus from tipping over when going around corners.

The bus was fitted with sliding bedsteads, a swinging chandelier, and a now-iconic talking shrunken head – an addition to the films that J.K. Rowling approved of heartily, saying: ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’

Prisoner of Azkaban, and it’s new dark vision was JK Rowling’s favourite film.

When the wobbly bus was driven here the film maker’s found the railway bridges that criss cross the area only permit 2 storey buses. The filmmaker's started frantically throwing things into a cauldon to conjure a magical solution.

The Clink & Harry Potter's hand of glory
Walking towards the Clink, a medieval prison for folk who don't pay their bills at Premier Inn

The Clink

This was probably my favourite stop because it connected British medieval mythology, with Draco Malfoy’s hand of glory. For visitors speaking English as a second language however, it was a test of fire. The connection takes a bit of scene setting and establishing before it can be made, and they thought they were being cheated with history.

Insert a candle and it gives light only to the holder! Best friend of thieves and plunderers!
Borgin of Borgin & Burkes explaining the artefact’s power

You might say either ‘my uncle’s in prison’, or ‘my Uncle’s in the Clink’, it was a notorious hell.

The Clink's gibbet & Harry Potter's hand of glory
This guy is in a gibbet, it was used to display the decaying bodies of criminals so people would pass by and go ‘maybe I shan't rob my neighbour tonight’.

London bridge once had a whole load of severed limbs and gibbets hanging from one end of it. It wasn’t an easy place for criminal tourism.

From criminals like this, some enterprising folk would hack of their arm and with the help of pig fat. Well the hand of glory is a little different medieval history, if anything it’s worse, but you can clearly see what Rowling’s imagination feasted upon. Fun!

Ellie is an actress so you get all the emoting you expect of a luvvie, to giving the tour zing. I think thespians often have chips on their shoulders about their truthfulness, actors pretend all the time, consequently they spend their civvie lives compensating by spitting out ‘genuinely’ like they’re munching through a whole packet of vomit flavoured Bertie Botts.

This is especially dense and amusing when Ellie hits gruesome medieval barbarism, which is so unbelievable.

Ellie, don’t worry, you’re a Lovegood, we don’t believe anything you say anyway.

The hand of Glory in Borgin & Burkes, Knockturn Alley

Millenium Bridge

In the opening sequence of Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter tour chats about London's St Paul's Cathedral
Voldemort's Deatheaters destroy Millenium bridge

It's known locally as the wobbly bridge, but it was called this before Harry Potter. Why? Tour secret.

Like many Harry Potter tours Ellie is marrying history, the most interesting things about the scene in front of you, with Harry Potter facts and trivia.

She pointed beyond Millenium bridge to Waterloo bridge which was bombed during World War II and rebuilt in 1943 by 80% women labour. It was known as the "women's bridge".

Harry Potter tour chats about London's St Paul's Cathedral
The stairs of St Paul's lead to Trelawney's divination tower

St Paul's Cathedral

They climbed the last few steps and emerged onto a tiny landing, where most of the class was already assembled. There were no doors off this landing; Ron nudged Harry and pointed at the ceiling, where there was a circular trap door with a brass plaque on it.

‘Sybill Trelawney, Divination teacher,’ Harry read. ‘How’re we supposed to get up there?’

As though in answer to his question, the trap door suddenly opened, and a silvery ladder descended right at Harry’s feet. Everyone went quiet.

‘After you,’ said Ron, grinning, so Harry climbed the ladder first.
Harry Potter & the prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter Ravenclaw Tower is St Paul's Cathedral London
St Paul's used for filming the ascent up Ravenclaw tower, to their common room

The ascent to Dumbledore’s tower, and most fittingly to Professor Trelawney’s divination class.

Architect Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s cathedral was begun in 1675 and finally finished in 1710, but it was only 300 years later, with the filming of Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban, that it began to fulfil its original purpose.

Ellie told us she wasn’t allowed to show us photos, not even film stills, from inside St Paul's or they would fine the company.

I’m doubtful of this, inside St Paul's is majestic and I suspect they don’t want to dilute the wide eye moment of awe that renders visitors spellbound. Or perhaps the church thinks Harry Potter is wicked and sinful witchcraft.

I’m not so afraid.

The awe inspiring Dome inside St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul’s cupola, like being punched in the face by God

Inside the Dome of St Pauls

The Golden Hind

‘Can you hear something?’ said Ron suddenly.

Harry listened; a loud and oddly eerie noise was drifting towards them from out of the darkness, a muffled rumbling and sucking sound, as though an immense vacuum cleaner was moving along a river-bed ...

‘The lake!’ yelled Lee Jordan, pointing down at it. ‘Look at the lake!’

From their position at the top of the lawns overlooking the grounds, they had a clear view of the smooth black surface of the water except that the surface was suddenly not smooth at all. Some disturbance was taking place deep in the centre, great bubbles were forming on the surface, waves were now washing over the muddy banks and then, out in the very middle of the lake, a whirlpool appeared, as if a giant plug had just been pulled out of the lake’s floor ...

What seemed to be a long, black pole began to rise slowly out of the heart of the whirlpool ... and then Harry saw the rigging ...

‘It’s a mast!’ he said to Ron and Hermione.

Slowly, magnificently, the ship rose out of the water, gleaming in the moonlight. It had a strangely skeletal look about it, as though it was a resurrected wreck, and the dim, misty lights shimmering at its portholes looked like ghostly eyes. Finally, with a great sloshing noise, the ship emerged entirely, bobbing on the turbulent water, and began to glide towards the bank.
Pottermore, Durmstrang arrives

It’s like injecting wonder isn’t it? Your heart just expands.

The Golden Hind is the model for the submersible Durmstrang ship

Sir Francis Drake was it’s captain, one of the most successful pirates ever, you can see a gold lion beneath the aft balcony. Queen Elizabeth wanted in and in exchange for 50% of the plunder he was licensed by Royalty. He was a very cool cat.

Although Ellie says his name produces groans amongst Spanish Potter fans.

In 1568 an early loss of most of Drake’s pirate fleet in an Mexican port gave Drake a seething hatred of the Spanish and their King. So he set about raiding and pillaging them everywhere. He actually circumnavigated the globe and returned as the world’s richest pirate.

Furious, King Philip of Spain placed a bounty of 20,000 ducats for Drake’s head—the equivalent of several million pounds today.

In 1587 Drake sailed into the Spanish port of Cadiz, burned 40 Spanish ships set to invade England, and proceeded to harass the whole Portuguese coastline. The Spanish nicknamed him “El Draque” - “The Dragon”.

And Drake boasted he had "singed the King of Spain's beard".

Francis Drake, Witch of the seas, knighted by Queen Elizabeth
Francis Drake, the Queen's pirate, Knighted by Queen Elizabeth

The Spanish strike back

In 1588 Drake helped save England from the invasion of King Philip’s Spanish armada.

Now a successful mayor of Navy port town Plymouth, Drake was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. On being warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet, he remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards.

And he did both.

Harry Potter Ravenclaw Tower is St Paul's Cathedral London

Drake was so capable and feared as a naval commander his enemies began to be suspect him of witchcraft. Spanish sailors returning from the Armada’s defeat were saying Drake “was a devil, and no man!”

On the tour Ellie expanded on Drake’s interest in the occult and his last adventure, a pursuit of Harry Potter’s Philosopher’s Stone.

Professor Mcgonagall points the way to Westminster tube station
We needed to be on the other side of the river. Witches and wizards would do the tour by broomstick, but Muggles take the underground

Westminster underground station

Harry Potter Ravenclaw Tower is St Paul's Cathedral London
Westminster station is 99m beneath the ground, one of the deepest on the network, natural light is scarce

So the Brothers Warner decided to film here during the day. At a cost of £500,000 per hour to compensate commuters. Rather than at night when it’s shut.

Shooting took 5 hours. A small shaft of natural light is passed by Arthur Weasley during filming as he finishes descending some steps. It was cut from the final film.

Ellie suggested that we “pass through it and feel the money shining down upon us”.

Arthur Weasley, the MOM's Muggle expert, is befuddled by the tube ticket machines

Ellie Lovegood Shines

Waxing lyrical about the origin of aspects of the Potterverse purple girl asked her where caretaker Filch got his name?

Harry Potter tour in front of the London Eye

Ellie: Argus Filch comes from Argus, an all seeing ancient Greek giant. You might remember the racing pulses as he strolled the corridors with Mrs Norris, his beloved assistant and cat.

While Filch, comes from filching, petty thieving, conjuring up the pickpockets of Oliver Twist. So Filch confiscated, didn't steal. But you can imagine students grumping in their common room...

What happened to your vomiting snackbox?
Argus Filched it.

Downing Street

Ellie has a joke for every stop and at this one...

Our Harry Potter tour takes us to Downing Street London
Headmistress Mcgonagall has been visiting to confiscate Theresa May’s blood quills

Actors, what can you expect?

To be fair: Theresa May, much like Labour's Gordon Brown, is the child of a Church vicar. So ethical, but not the best to leave your children with.

Quick fact: when our last female prime minster Margaret Thatcher was visited by the then minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, Floo powdering into her fireplace, she thought it was an opposition plot to make her look mad and hurled him out the window. She wasn't called the Iron Lady for nothing.

Old Scotland Yard conceals the MOM

London's Scotland Yard sits above Harry Potter's Ministry of Magic

The golden trio plucked ministry of magic employees of their hair here, to form polyjuice potion, for their daring visit. They also used the visitor's entrance inside a phone box. Dialing 62442, the text numbers for magic.

The minister of magic's Rolls Royce outside the ministry
The Rolls purrs while the Minister for Magic bosses his ministry

You might also recognise this street from Doctor Strange, where Cate Blanchett begins to fold the buildings like Origami.

St Martin’s Lane, London

Harry Potter's Burke of Borgin & Burkes, manages a barrel on a rooftop

Quick fact: Burke was an Irish man who murdered prostitutes and those who wouldn't be missed in Edinburgh, those who wouldn’t be missed. He stuffed their corpses in barrels and rolled them across the city, selling them to Robert Knox to dissect. Knox was a surgeon, who taught students of the finest medical school in Europe.

It’s almost like I write Harry Potter tours isn’t it?

Next we’re visiting the home of Borgin and Burkes.

Goodwin's Court

Harry Potter tour takes us to Knockturn Alley London Clutching his broken glasses to his face he stared around. He had emerged into a dingy alleyway that seemed to be made up entirely of shops devoted to the Dark Arts. The one he’d just left, Borgin and Burkes, looked like the largest, but opposite was a nasty window display of shrunken heads, and two doors down, a large cage was alive with gigantic black spiders. Two shabby-looking wizards were watching him from the shadow of a doorway, muttering to each other.

Feeling jumpy, Harry set off, trying to hold his glasses on straight and hoping against hope he’d be able to find a way out of there.

An old wooden street sign hanging over a shop selling poisonous candles told him he was in Knockturn Alley.

This dark alley was originally inhabited by Fishers of the nearby Thames, in 1690 it became Goodwin’s Court. It survived the fire of London and a world War. It’s what London used to look like everywhere. And the lamps are actually working gas lamps, if Dumbledore uses his putter-outer here, his fingers may be scorched as the flames shoot into it.

The alley is like stepping into a Tardis. The Georgian bowed windows were once the frontage of cloth shops crowded with eye catching displays, they actually had wooden shutters secured over them at night.

Larger streets nearby drew the shoppers and it gave way to theatre agents, their brass name plates, and knockers now gentrify the quiet street. Dawn Sedgwick at number 3 represents Simon ‘Scottie’ Pegg and Doctor Who companion Catherine Tate.

Warner Brothers asked JK Rowling what Knockturn Alley looks like and she said ‘I can show you…’.

And that’s how it began. There’s of course more to it than that.

Is Cecil's Court Diagon Alley?

It's old, laid out like this in 1894, still owned by the same Cecil family, who rent the shops...

  1. Alice through the Looking Glass sold replica gold Galleons, now official Warner Brothers gold Galleons (they're a lot smaller).
  2. While Watkins sells books on runes, mythology, star reading,

Harry Potter's Diagon Alley palm reading in Watkins occult books
Here’s a guy in the window having his palm read
Cecil's Court London aka booksellers row
The bold purple girl pointed & asked ‘Is that Flourish & Blotts then?’

To which Ellie replied ‘it could be, but we have lots of bookshops on this street’. It's actually nicknamed "Booksellers' Row".

Ms Lovegood asserts this is Diagon alley. It’s narrow, 5 storey buildings and it’s geographic proximity to Knockturn alley does make it, it’s twin. But where’s the diagonal my dear?

There’s neary a bend. And it all looks so neat and orderly, and 1894? That's saying it wasn't built till Dumbledore was in his second year at Hogwarts, that when Newt Scamander was born Diagon Alley was only 3 years old. Please.

Victoria Street in Edinburgh, where I just happen to run Harry Potter tours, might beat it on commonalities. But I do admit I dig Cecil Street’s lamps.

Ellie concluded
that she didn’t have a leaky Cauldon to show us but the Byron would welcome a leak.

Well done Ms Lovegood.

And then it was the end. 'Genuinely’.

Ellie then gave us directions to the Harry Potter design exhibition MinaLima, 5 minutes walk away behind the Cursed Child theatre. With their experiential events, if you're with kids, or passionate about design, this is not to be missed.

Is this Harry Potter's Diagon Alley London?
Watkins sells books on the occult. Farewell Ellie Lovegood

Good tour

I’ve no idea what the other London Harry Potter tours are like, but I was amply happy with Ellie. I liked her lyricism in Westminster underground station and I admired her flexibility to talk on any topic, She’s seen Cursed Child three times! It’s also amusing listening to her spit balling with child-of-Goebbels. Although you may not have her on your tour.

I imagine I will in future be on other Harry Potter tours in London, now just taking a professional interest, but I don’t expect Tour For Muggles to be easily beat.

Book Tour for Muggles

But don't forget me!


Warner Brothers for various movie clips.
JK Rowling for some books, that are, you know, allright.