updated 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/14/2002 AT 01:00 AM EST
Harry takes his first spin on a broomstick and later stars in a spirited game of Quidditch (think airborne rugby) outside the 140-room Alnwick Castle, home to the family of Ralph Percy, 43, the 12th Duke of Northumberland. Located near the Scottish border, the fortress dates back to 1134; the Percys moved in around 1309. While no interiors were filmed at Alnwick, the castle, which has a bloody history (300 Scots were murdered there in a 16th-century battle), radiates a certain Hogwarts-style spookiness. "There's something that wanders down the portrait gallery," says Percy spokesman Philip Gregory. "We don't know who it is, but the guides often get a feeling that something's there."
Widely considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England, the 912-year-old Anglican church located in Gloucestershire, 114 miles west of London, was used as the entrance to Gryffindor Hall, Harry's dormitory, The church's cameo in Potter upset a few Christians on both sides of the Pond, who complained that the building—which also houses King Edward II's tomb—should not be used to glorify "witchcraft." (One Evangelical group threatened to disrupt filming but ultimately backed down.) The cathedral's dean, the Very Rev. Nicholas Bury, wasn't concerned. "The book is about love, not magic," he says. "It is a very good modern morality tale."
Located 100 miles west of London, the former medieval nunnery (now a private home and photo museum) served as the sinister Prof. Severus Snape's dungeon classroom.
King's Cross Station
Fans visiting the 150-year-old London rail station have found that Platform 9¾ is as elusive to them as it was to a bewildered Harry, who was instructed to catch the train to Hog warts there. (Platforms 9 and 10 do not border each other at King's Cross; the movie scene was shot on Platform 4.) Still, new signs—No Spells on Platforms; No Broom Parking; Owls Must Be Caged at All Times—direct visitors to the perfect photo op. "I usually avoid all things hype," says one vacationing Potter Ian, Chicagoan Anna Batcke, 26. "But now I'm addicted."
Christ Church College
Potter's elaborate banquet scenes, with their floating candles and soaring owls, were filmed on a soundstage just north of London, but the sets were an exact replica of the Great Hall of Oxford University's largest college, founded in 1525 and located approximately 50 miles northwest of the capital. The 1,400-sq.-ft. hall—still serving its original function as the college's dining room—is lined with artwork, including portraits of oft-married Henry VIII and six of the 13 British prime ministers who graduated from Christ Church. Another famous alumnus: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, a mathematics don (professor) there in the 19th century.
London Zoo Reptile House
When Harry met Slimy: Early in the film, the boy wizard has a lengthy encounter with a boa constrictor at the 150-year-old Reptile House. It's not the first time the zoo has provided literary inspiration. More than 85 years ago the author A.A. Milne took his son Christopher Robin to see the Canadian black bear Winnipeg, who became the namesake of Winnie the Pooh. During Potter's week-long shoot at the zoo, located in London's Regent's Park, there was "a great buzz," says spokeswoman Debbie Curtis. Lots of hissing too.
Australia's Beaux Arts-style embassy, built in London in 1918, underwent a reverse face-lift—including draping cobwebs over the exhibition hall's glittering chandeliers—to become the dusty, goblin-staffed Gringotts Bank. For real-life staffers the transformation was a welcome distraction. "For a working mission to become part of a Hollywood-style film set was exciting, and the guardedness and secrecy [of the shoot] compounded the sense of how big it would be," says Australia House's Ann Harrap, who watched the crew prepare. Fans seeking Harry's fortune are out of luck: Citing post-Sept. 11 security concerns, the embassy stopped conducting tours in the fall and has no plans to resume them.