I now live in a parallel universe where the magical world of Harry Potter is alive and well. Every day is full of Quidditch matches in the yard, magical duels in the house, and an unceasing litany of preference questions regarding every last detail of the fictional world created by J.K. Rowling. Last January, as the pollution levels rose higher and higher, Momma S and I were wracking our brains to find a way for the family to survive when we were cooped up inside all day. We found the answer in Harry Potter.
The plan was simple: read a book, watch a movie, and when all seven books and eight films were done, go visit London and explore the roots and inspiration of the story and see how it all came to be on the big screen. We began the journey when Brother K was 9 and Brother M was 7. This was perfect timing for Brother K, to whom we had stopped reading to on a nightly basis so that he could have his independent reading time. While we were concerned that Brother M was a bit too young, especially as the books and movies become darker as the Potter kids grow up; in the end he was very capable of sticking with us. With book 4, The Goblet of Fire, things became increasing difficult for Brother M to follow; with more and more characters, elongated plotlines now spanning multiple books, and an increase in key events happening outside of Hogwarts and off the Quidditch field. To support him, and all of us, we would do nightly recaps and stop to answer questions as we moved on. And now, sitting mid-October, looking back at the last 10 months, it was a spectacular year for our family.
Every night, we would come together in the living room with our cozy blankets and comfy pillows and listen as Daddy D would read out loud the story to the entire family. He would do all the voices as we would make predictions about how many times he would yawn in a single chapter…the highest number was 23! During the week, Monday through Thursday, we would average one to two chapters, taking between 45 and 90 minutes. (It takes longer to read out loud!) And on the weekends, we would try to squeeze in three to four chapters a day. Friday we never read, as that is our family’s Family Night Movie Night. This became our routine, a way to connect together again as a family, and a way to keep the pollution at bay (not to mention minimize screen time).
By the end of this magical journey, we all had our favorites. Brother K loves James Sirius Potter (Harry’s son – introduced in the epilogue of the final book) and his favorite character voice as read by Daddy D is Fred and George, the Weasley twins. Brother M is a fan of Lupin, the Weasley twins, and Dumbledore, and his favorite character voice is also Fred and George. For Momma S, she really enjoyed Luna Lovegood and her favorite character voice was (surprise) Fred and George Weasley! (Yes, it seems that I make really good Fred and George voices.) For myself, I left the books with an appreciation for Dobby, and my favorite voices to create were Dobby and Dumbledore. With the books and the movies done, we were now ready for a family trip to London, England
After an unexpected, unwelcomed, and unaffordable extended stay in the Vienna airport…we arrived in London. The first full day found ourselves traversing the Underground and bus lines to make it to the Warner Brothers’ Studios. Simply Phenomenal! Dragons, Flying Motorcycles, Every Flavour Beans, The Great Hall, A Sorting Hat, Wands, Wands, Wands, and Butter Beer!! The studio tour does a really great job at capturing and bringing the magic of the movies to life. We spent hours walking through the movies we watched over the past year; and could have spent a few more hours still.
The next day, we took a walking tour of London titled: A Tour for Muggles. So much fun!! We began the day with a visit to the Borough Market, which was near our starting point. What a great place to grab some food for our tour…but what an awful place to have to make a decision on just one thing to get! Soon enough, a member of the House of Black met us and lead us on a 3hr walk through London to the very places that inspired J.K. Rowling and where the film crews toiled to create the visual experience of the films.
On our third day, Brother K insisted that we could not leave London without visiting the actual Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. So, into the tube we went once again and soon found ourselves queueing for a chance to be photographed crossing the magical barrier of our world into that of Harry Potter!
While London had much more to offer, this visit (and this blog post) is dedicated to Harry Potter; as was our past year. This was definitely a grand journey we took as a family, from book to movie to city…one of the most magical yet!
And now a note from Momma S:
While Daddy D is the elegant writer and the constant dreamer of catching dragons, I, Momma S, am the planner and organizers of small details during our travels.
Here are my 10 tips for planning a family Harry Potter journey to London.
- Buy your London Underground Osyter cards at the Heathrow airport when you arrive. It is rather easy to purchase the cards using cash or credit card. Since both of my kiddos are under the age of 11, they can travel with a paying adult for free. For our family of four, we purchased two adult tickets with 30 pounds on each Osyter card. (At the end of our journey, I returned to the same machines to get a refund for the 5 pound deposit for each card. It was an easy process, scan the card for your current amount and click on the button on the screen that says refund.)
- We tried to use public transportation during our entire trip. Our Air B&B apartment was ten-minute walk to the South Kensington stop and we walked when the weather was nice.
- All of our food was take-out. As a family on a budget, we couldn’t afford fancy restaurant meals so we would purchase sushi, burritos, burgers or sandwiches from the restaurants close to the South Kensington stop. Also, we purchased packaged meals at Sainsbury Local (a local neighborhood grocery store).
- Purchase your tickets to the WarnerBros Studio tour months in advance. Try to get tickets earlier in the morning and be prepared to buy food at the restaurants. We arrived one hour before our scheduled time and ate lunch at the café. Daddy D had fish and chips, I had a vegan burger, and the kiddos had pizzas and some of Daddy’s chips. The food was rather good and they provide free cups for water.
- Tour for Muggles was amazing. (This was a walking tour of London geared specifically for fans of Harry Potter.) Our tour guide mesmerized both of our kiddos and they would have happily taken the tour all day without complaints. Bring water and a jacket for the tour. Study up on your Harry Potter knowledge and enjoy the thrill of being with fellow fans.
- Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station is a busy place so arrive early and prepare to wait in line for a photo. We had already taken pictures at the Harry Potter Studio, but our oldest wanted to see the station. The people who help stage the photos are very energetic and supportive of you taking your own photos with a phone or camera. The items at the shop are not the same as the Studio tour so plan accordingly. (Wands were slightly cheaper, but less selection.)
- When the weather is nice, walk to Hyde Park or find a playground for the kids to play.
- Go to as many free museums as you can. We saw the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum and I would recommend both of them. When you arrive at the South Kensington stop travel down the underground tunnel connected to the museums.
- Our journey to Legoland was hard because the GreenLine Bus Company is not always on time and they reduce their schedule at the end of summer. (Our problem was that we trusted Google therefore waited at the bus station for over an hour for a bus that wasn’t going to come due to reduced services. Good news, the 9:01 bus did come and we had 49 pounds in cash for the round-trip service to Legoland.)
- Always carry a rain jacket or umbrella when you travel to London in October.