Touring the Mysteries and Magic of Oxford

Satisfy your love for classic fantasy novels with a look into the magical world of Oxford, where parts of Harry Potter movies were filmed and The Lord of the Rings was inspired.


As Harry Potter fans now know, the Christmas blockbuster Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has been pushed back to summer 2009. But never fear Hogwarts applicants, now you can plan a visit to some of the new film’s locations and immerse yourself in the magical world of Oxford, the birthplace of modern fantasy, all in one magical mystery tour.

New and Old Worlds of Wonder

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince sites include the familiar exterior shots of Gloucester Cathedral and Lacock Abbey, which serve as the outside of Hogwarts School in the film. It also includes shots of Millennium Bridge, the modern steel wonder that residents like to call “the wobbly bridge”—because when it opened to the public, it swayed in the wind as people walked across. In the new Potter film, the sway goes a bit further and the entire bridge collapses (the real one is still standing!). Other sites have been more hush-hush, but much of the shooting for the film was done in a studio near London.

From London’s “wobbly” bridge to Oxford, you can take the Oxford Tube Bus Service (, which runs 24 hours a day) to the “city of dreaming spires” which initially lured Harry Potter pilgrims when the first film debuted.

Christ Church College is the famous site of Hogwarts’ dining hall, where candles float in the air and students exchange spells and incantations. The grand staircase leading to the dining room was also used in the film. Location managers scouted the hall and then recreated an exact replica in the North London studio. Just like in the film, Oxford students wear formal school gowns on special occasions and you can sometimes see them biking from class to class with their Hogwarts-like robes flying behind them. Other scenes were filmed in the cloister area, but the whole college oozes a timeless feeling of wizardry—perhaps because one of the most famous “wizards” of fantasy, Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) taught and met his real Alice in Wonderland here.

Dodgson was teaching mathematics at Christ Church and practicing his hobby, photography, in the Deanery Garden. While he was busy setting up his camera, a small, elfin-like girl named Alice and her two sisters (all daughters of the Dean) asked to be photographed. A friendship developed and Alice became the inspiration for one of the most famous fantasy heroines of all time—Alice in Wonderland. You can find more information about Alice as well as buy souvenirs at the famous “Alice’s Shop” near Christ Church ( The charming old emporium was used by Lewis Carroll, which became the inspiration for his “sheep shop” in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Lord of the Rings, Narnia and the Golden Compass

As fantasy fans know, J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis who penned The Chronicles of Narnia, were both professors at Oxford. Phillip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials which spawned the film, The Golden Compass, also taught there.

One of the best places to see in Oxford—that inspired Tolkien and Lewis’ books—is the Eagle and Child Pub (49 St. Giles, Oxford; tel: +01-8653-0292) also called “The Bird and The Baby.” It was here—with glasses of Guinness in front of a roaring fire—that the two writers argued about life, religion and told the stories that would ultimately become their famous fantasy series. The Oxford Tolkien Society often meets here. You can sometimes hear them talking in Elvish and arguing the subtler points of Ring philosophy.

Parts of Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass were filmed in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Christ Church Meadow (where you can still see sheep grazing), Radcliffe Square, Christ Church and Exeter College. One of the most intriguing sites in the city is the Pitt Rivers Museum, which contains archeological and ethnographic objects from all over the world. It inspired Pullman when he was writing about the alternative universe featured in The Golden Compass. The collection is being reopened this spring after extensive renovation. Compass fans can see polar artifacts and other wonders which will no doubt be part of the sequels planned for the film.

After touring Oxford’s many sites connected with magic and other worlds, travelers may wonder “why here?” As one local puts it, “Oxford is a place where people spend all their time thinking and dreaming. What better place can you find as the gateway to fantasy?”

Read about additional Oxford activities in Oxford Excursion. For more information on Oxford, visit

Destinations: Oxford

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing

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