Stonehenge has one serious challenger for most popular tourist attraction of England: Harry Potter, boy wizard, and all the locations he has fictionally touched.
Britain is an island steeped in thousands of years of history, but more and more people at drawn by J.K. Rowling’s children’s books about the magical world of wizards.
Visitors can tour Christ College, the film inspiration for the Great Hall; Leadenhall Market, also known as Diagon Alley; and the London Zoo, where Harry Potter accidentally frees a snake in the first film. They can also visit Oxford and Gloucester, whose cathedral serves as a hallway of Hogwarts.
“We do a lot of big tours, and Harry Potter is one of the bigger ones,” said British Tours operator Jason Doll-Steinberg. “It’s up there with our tour of Stonehenge at dawn.”
British Tours gave 200 to 250 Harry Potter tours to about 1,000 people last year, said Doll-Steinberg, comprising 6 percent of total tours last year. About 600 people went on the Stonehenge tour.
For the London premiere of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth movie installment, hundreds of fans filled Leicester Square and waited in downpours so heavy they flooded parts of the Underground system, all to get a glimpse at the cast that brought Harry Potter to life on the big screen.
Izzy Martinez, a student participating in the University of California’s abroad program, makes no excuses for her decision to spend the summer in London: She came to London for Harry Potter and the premiere of the sixth movie.
Martinez was inspired, she said, to study in London for its culture, its modern culture.
“It was Harry Potter, the Beatles, pop culture in general,” she said.
As two girls next to Martinez jumped and screamed as Daniel Radcliffe appeared on screen, she laughed lightly.
“Coming here to Leicester Square and seeing all the fans, it’s crazy,” she said.
As Claire Lovrak, a Louisiana State University sophomore studying in London for the summer, struggled through the crowd with her friends, she talked about Harry Potter’s generational draw.
“Harry Potter has definitely changed how a lot of people in our generation look at London,” she said. “It’s so iconic now. It’s definitely not something that’s going to fade away.”
Years ago, J.K. Rowling sat in the Elephant House in Edinburgh, Scotland, scribbling down the beginning of what later became one of the world’s bestselling series.
As cafe-goers quietly sipped their tea and coffee over the morning’s newspapers, cameras flashed outside at the sign in the front window: the birthplace of Harry Potter. The cafe is a big destination for Harry Potter fans, said Doug Angelosanto, an Elephant House employee.
Doll-Steinberg, who was born and raised in London, said Harry Potter fits in with the history of the United Kingdom.
“We are a country of legends and mythology,” he said.
Doll-Steinberg said he considers Harry Potter “one of the best contemporary pieces of art going on” and is happy to have it be the eye through which the rest of the world sees his country.
“It quite encapsulates a nice vision of the country,” Doll-Steinberg said. “It keeps Britain in the public eye, and it keeps people coming over.”
Pop culture will always affect tourists’ choices, Doll-Steinberg said. After Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, “The Da Vinci Code” rose to fame, British Tours began offering tours of Da Vinci Code tours of Paris and London.
“I think the people on the Da Vinci Code tours were more obsessive,” he said with a laugh.
The pop culture tours give people the chance to experience Britain’s history in a different way, Doll-Steinberg said.
“People always want to visit the way it was in the past,” he said. “But the flipside of that, it’s nice to have the contemporary bit to it, something that gives it a kind of a twist.”
“It’s an ever-changing history,” he said.
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