If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, over ten years since the Deathly Hallows was released, you’re probably in need of a rekindling of your love for the boy with the lightening bolt scar and broken glasses. And there’s no better place to do that than within the UK, the home of the franchise and the wizard himself.
We recently went on a road trip of sorts in the UK. A budget friendly holiday, with budget carrier fares. When sitting down to plan our itinerary, we realized how much of it, unintentionally, lent itself to a harry potter theme. So, for those with some time on their hands and a budget to work with, here’s a shoestring way to pack Harry Potter experiences into your UK holiday.
Stop 1: Platform 9 and 3/4s
Your journey to Hogwarts starts at Kings Cross station. Just like in the books, you’ll need to locate Platform 9 3/4s. Lucky for you, muggles turn a blind eye to the wizarding types these days, and you can enter the other world through an entrance positioned in the main thoroughfare. No, we’re not talking about the shop merchandise shop of the same name on the platform, rather, a cart, wands and scarves are positioned under the sign. While you do need to queue for the right to take a snap, you can get away with it for free if you’re happy with an iPhone photo.
Stop 2: The Train Ride
From Platform 9 and 3/4 we jump on the Virgin train to Edinburgh to start our road trip. While it’s certainly no Hogwarts express, the seats are comfy, the scenery is stunning and it comes complete with a trolley lady. Though, don’t expect a greeting of “anything from the trolley dears?” as we fear they’ve had that line too many time to encounter.
Cost: 55 pounds per person
Stop 3: Castle Spotting
Arriving in Edinburgh, as you’re leaving the station you can’t help but notice the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, the inspiration for Hogwarts. Make sure you take the time to visit the 12th century castle and its stunning display and grounds.
Cost: 17 pounds
Stop 4: Magical Alleys
Leaving the castle, we take the time to explore the Royal Mile. A mile, long road leading from to Holyrood Palace and the other end of town. Take the time to explore the medieval courtyards and hidden alleyways for a taste of what it must be like to wander the streets of Hogsmeade. You might even stumble into Olivanders!
Stop 5: JK Rowling’s Favorite Coffee Spot
JK Rowling lived in Edinburgh when writing the Harry Potter series, and conducted most of her work from the Elephant House in the Old Town. Stop in for a coffee, a cheap and hearty breakfast and leave a little wiser to the history of the author. You can read our review here.
Cost: Approx. 12 pound for coffee and breakfast per person
Stop 6: Wand Shopping
Down the road we stumble onto a wizarding shop full of Harry Potter merchandise, and collectibles. We’re only window shopping, but its definitely eye opening to see the money making powerhouse that is now the Harry Potter empire.
Cost: Free (though we’d recommend avoiding this if you’re likely to be tempted by a Marauderers Map or two.)
Stop 7: Hitting the Road
Leaving the city, we pick up an Enterprise rental car. Car safety standards have changed since the standard flying Ford Anglia issue, so we opt for proper muggle car—a Hyundai—and head to our next stop—Glencoe Valley and Ben Nevis. The area is steeped in history in it’s own right, but it also is home to “The Woods” where Hagrid’s Hut was located. Originally, available for tourists and Harry Potter Pilgrims as a site to visit, it was torn down in recent years. We would, however, still recommend a visit to the area where many outdoor scenes were shot. If there is any one day of our trip that stands out—this was it—and you can read about what we saw and felt here.
Stop 8: Hogwart’s Express
We head north to Fort William to take a look at the Jacobite Stream train, known to locals as the Hogwarts express. A return journey of 6 hours doesn’t lend itself to our itinerary, but we pull up before the train departs and when the general public can access the platform for a quick snap. you can feel the excitement in the air as children and Harry Potter fans delight in the start of their adventure.
Stop 9: Racing the Train
Racing the train, we head to the town of Glenfinnan, to get the iconic shot of the steam train crossing the viaduct. Unfortunately this car can’t fly and we find ourselves in a traffic jam for twenty minutes. We make it just in time and snap a photo from lower lying ground. We then take the time to hike to the peak, just behind the visitor’s center, for sweeping views of the viaduct and the immediate area. We’d definitely recommend this as a budget friendly activity for family and solo travelers alike.
Stop 10: Hanging with the Owls
Harry Potter would be nothing without Hedwig, but has anyone ever really stopped to learn about this magnificent bird of prey, what they can do and how they should be properly cared for? In an effort to do just that we took a brief foray into the art of falconry. Huntley Falconry Center offers just that, with a hands on learning approach for a minimal fee. This was a highlight of our trip and you can learn more about it here.
Cost: 7.50 pounds per adult
Total cost of suggested Harry Potter itinerary: 91.50 pounds per adult