Harry Potter adds some magic to London visit

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The studio tour’s Hogwarts Express train.
The studio tour’s Hogwarts Express train.

A family visit to London takes on a whole new meaning once the children are of the age to enjoy the "Harry Potter" series of books and films. The bonus for parents is that they can combine regular tourist excursions with the carrot-on-a-string of film locations and book inspirations to make sightseeing more fun for the whole family.



The double-decker Big Bus and Original Bus tours were the perfect mode of transport for this mission. The buses are fun, contained and safe for kids, and you can get on and off at many stops around the city. Ask about the Harry Potter-themed tours on the Big Bus or design your own.

Our base of operations was the centrally located Athenaeum Hotel & Residences on Piccadilly, across from Green Park. The family-friendly and family-owned hotel has a knowledgeable children's concierge who can help with all things kid-related.

To get in the mood, we walked and window-shopped down Piccadilly to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, home to the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child." The eighth installment in the series picks up with Harry's son Albus at Hogwarts. Finding tickets for the sold-out show does take some conjuring: Say a spell and try for the Friday Forty ticket release at 1 p.m. every Friday.

A re-creation of Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden.
A re-creation of Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden.

The next destination is Platform 9 3/4, where young wizards pass through a brick wall to catch the Hogwarts Express.

Hopping on the northbound Original Tour Blue Route at Piccadilly Circus, we snagged the front window seat on the second level for the guided tour of London landmarks and disembarked at Russell Square. From there, it's a 15- to 20-minute walk or a six-minute tube ride to King's Cross Underground station and Platform 9 3/4. The Big Bus Green Line also goes directly there.

Expect long lines to get a photo holding the handle of the trolley placed in the brick wall. Half the fun for kids is being there with the enthusiastic crowd, and there's the Harry Potter Shop for all manner of magical memorabilia.

The Millennium Bridge is recognizable to kids from its destruction in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
The Millennium Bridge is recognizable to kids from its destruction in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

After taking the Blue Route back to Piccadilly Circus, we transferred to the Red Line toward the Tower of London. The ride crosses both London Bridge and the Tower Bridge, recognizable from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," when Harry flies along the Thames on his broom. We disembarked at the Tower of London, home to the Queen's crown jewels and the rooms of Edward I.

From there it's about a 10-minute walk to Leadenhall Market, the location used in most movies for the wizard marketplace Diagon Alley. Look for the blue-doored optical shop in Bull's Head Passage that served as the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron.

We opted for a bird's-eye perspective of our expeditions from the nearby Sky Garden at the top of the walkie-talkie-shaped building at 20 Fenchurch. 

Booking ahead provides a free elevator ride up 38 stories to a 360-degree view that's comparable to the Shard and the London Eye. We explored the multilevel exotic gardens and had lunch at the Sky Pod Bar.

The Original Tour bus goes to the Tower Bridge. Harry Potter flew past the bridge in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
The Original Tour bus goes to the Tower Bridge. Harry Potter flew past the bridge in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

Next we walked to Tower Pier below the Tower of London and used our Original Tour tickets for a complimentary river cruise on the Thames. The guide pointed out landmarks including the Millennium Bridge, the pedestrian-only walkway that connects St. Paul's Cathedral on one side of the river and the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe theater on the other. The kids recognized it as the bridge destroyed by Death Eaters in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." The boat ride disembarks at Westminster Pier. From there, we took the Original Tour bus back to our hotel on Piccadilly.

After our self-guided tour of town, we were ready for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden. It's about an hour from Victoria Station by train and bus, but you'll want a full day to view the collection of original sets, Hogwarts and Platform 9 3/4 replicas, props, costumes and animatronic creatures from the films.

When on a tour of London, the Harry Potter choices are endless. And as Dumbledore said, "It's our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

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