25 years of Harry Potter: A magical journey around the world

The first of the seven-part 'Harry Potter' series was released on June 26, 1997.

The Diagon Alley at Warner Bros Studio Tour London (Photo: Warner Bros Studio London)

JK Rowling's best-selling book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which changed the YA scene around the world, was released 25 years ago. Dust off your Floo Network and perfect those Apparition skills as we take you on a magical journey in celebration of the book’s silver anniversary.



So obsessed are the Japanese with the wizarding world that Harry and friends have been transmogrified into anime-style characters, complete with shimmering hair, oversized heads and large bug eyes. The fandom, however, does not stop there: Warner Bros Studio has inked a deal with Warner Bros Japan to bring the famed studio tour, “The Making of Harry Potter”, to Tokyo in 2023. Taking over the space once occupied by the historic 94-year-old Toshimaen Amusement Park, the new 30,000 sq m facility will recreate iconic sets from the films such as the Great Hall inside Hogwarts, the misty Forbidden Forest and the Dursley’s residence at Privet Drive.

A year is a long wait, but a newly launched themed plaza to celebrate the debut of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage production — performed by a Japanese cast at the Akasaka ACT Theatre starting July 8 — should tide ardent fans over. The steps connecting Akasaka Biz Tower to the theatre house, modelled after the moving staircase in the movie, will be decorated with 42 portraits of famous witches and wizards along the way. 

Visitors can rest their tired feet at the pop-up café nearby and wind down with a Wingardium Leviosa cocktail or a Mont Blanc pastry shaped like Aragog’s lair (no sign of Mrs Weasley’s famous rock cakes, sadly). Gamekeeper Hagrid will be too busy taming Blast-Ended Skrewts to walk you down Diagon Alley, but you can pick out your own wand or own a keepsake from the Harry Potter Mahoutokoro shop to commemorate our heroes even though they have flown off into retirement. Galleons are, unfortunately, not accepted here. 




Muggles are usually forbidden on the grounds of Hogwarts but it is possible to graduate as a high-flying Gryffindor even without sitting for NEWTs (that’s Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests for non-Potterheads). The studio in Leavesden, where the film franchise was shot, has been refitted as a tour ground so you can poke around the headmaster’s office or hop on the purple three-decker Knight Bus. To keep “students” constantly engaged, the self-guided, three-hour journey introduces new attractions every other semester. Keep a look out for Cornish Pixies, Albus Dumbledore’s beloved Fawkes and the animatronic Monster book of Monsters during the upcoming Mandrakes and Magical Creatures session (July 1 to Sept 12). Challenge a Death Eater to a live wand duel when the Defence Against the Dark Arts theme (Sept 23 to Nov 6) descends on the castle this Halloween.

You may also want to start brewing some excuses (or hide under an Invisibility Cloak, if you can snag one) to escape from your relatives this Christmas. The studio is bringing back the elaborate Yule Ball, the formal dance held during the international Triwizard Tournament in which Batman, er, we mean Cedric Diggory, met his tragic fate. 

Although you cannot exactly conjure up pork chops or any food you wish just by saying its name during the tour, visitors are promised a grand wintry showcase, set in a snowy setting made up of ice sculptures with orchestra music conducted by Professor Flitwick playing in the background.




The fantasy literary franchise has cast a spell on Philly, as the most comprehensive touring exhibit to date makes its world premiere at the Franklin Institute. On display through Sept 18, Harry Potter: The Exhibition sprawls across 18,000 sq ft, with 21 fully fleshed out galleries celebrating the memorable moments, characters, props and beasts depicted in the films as well as the British two-part play, Cursed Child

Although we are sure fans would much rather go under the wise old Sorting Hat, they will be given an RFID wristband instead to personalise their profile — from virtually picking their House to selecting a Patronus — before embarking on their journey at King’s Cross Station’s Platform 9¾.

The three-dimensional storytelling sounds impressive already: Brew a potion under the watchful eye of Professor Severus Snape using digital touchscreens, predict the future in Divination, relive scenes of Harry’s first Quidditch Game in the Pensieve Theatre or defeat a boggart before it causes a ruckus within the campus. Scan your wristband wherever a “Golden Snitch” appears throughout the exhibition to unlock hidden experiences, and you will rack up points for your chosen House in the process (10 points for Ravenclaw!). Photo ops are specially designed to walk you down memory lane — rummage through Professor Umbridge’s sickly sweet office or snap a selfie in the cramped “bedroom” under the stairs before Dudley throws another tantrum. The exhibit is slated to tour globally, with stops across Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa in upcoming months.




If you could not tell from Professor Snape’s secret fondness for the jazzy (or saucy) number, A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love, or Nearly Headless Nick’s penchant for waltzes, music is very much part of the everyday fabric of wizarding life. Just as how a sequence of rhyming couplets can rouse a team’s fighting spirit before Quidditch or lull Fluffy the three-headed dog to sleep, the simple medium of a song can stir emotions and unite disparate factions far more effectively than any charm or spell.

Few musicians have been able to hit the emotional jugular as triumphantly as the award-winning French composer Alexandre Desplat, who produced standout scores befitting the magical world by eschewing a lazy Susan of fixed formulas. This month, the climactic showdown between good and evil that escalated into an all-out war in Deathly Hallows Part 2 will be played on a 40ft HD screen, accompanied by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum concert hall.




You could mount the latest Firebolt and take in the sweeping view of the Scottish Highlands below but let’s be Sirius — nothing beats jumping aboard Hogwarts Express, the crimson-red train on which The Boy Who Lived met his life-long comrades and nemesis Draco Malfoy. 

Scotland’s Jacobite Steam Train — the same company that provided the actual steam engine and carriages in the cinematic franchise — runs along the West Highland Railway from Fort William to fishing village Mallaig, and passes the Glenfinnan Viaduct where Harry and Ron famously caught up in a flying car. Setting off from Fort William, the 84-mile-long round trip lasts about four hours.

With your eagle eye, spot locations such as Loch Shiel (known as the Black Lake in Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince), Rannoch Moor (where Death Eaters attacked the train in the film’s first instalment) and Loch Eilt (Dumbledore’s resting place). Although the train has been operating as a tourist attraction since the 1980s, passengers are still thrilled by the 1950s décor that is a nod to the traditional great British railway trips of yesteryear. Not just one for Potter diehards, the Jacobite route appeals to those who fancy fish and chips with a view over the harbour, or a tour around the Ben Nevis whisky distillery to see how the spirit is made.




Those with a journalistic instinct like Rita Skeeter and a nose for news (well, except for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named due to obvious reasons) should be well-informed by now that a condensed version of Cursed Child, the theatrical sequel to JK Rowling’s books, has arrived in the Land Down Under. The abbreviated play, which opened at Princess Theatre a month ago, will please viewers who may be put off by its previous long running time. 

The Jack Thorne-led story still follows Harry Potter’s adolescent son Albus as he starts at Hogwarts and attempts to escape the shadow of his legendary father, who is now an overworked and jaded man. Albus and his new best friend Scorpius Malfoy travel back in time to change a crucial detail in Harry’s past to improve the future. Early reviewers have called the reimagined one-parter frenetic and lacking in emotional depth as scenes change at breakneck speed while actors grapple with clunky dialogue as if they are riding an outmoded Nimbus for the first time. Having said that, the distilled iteration of the show still kept the greatest hits of all things Potter, from Dementors floating overhead to plenty of surprise reunions with dead characters. Theatregoers can still catch the original two-part format at West End and Hamburg.




To sample a sliver of the world of magic without breaking Gringotts, a Harry Potter-themed café called Platform 1094 is serving Goblet of Fire just down south. Made with blue curaçao liqueur, lemonade and Bacardi rum, the ‘Gram-worthy tipple is set on fire in front of guests with a sprinkling of cinnamon powder, causing sparks and flames to swirl. Established by restaurant group Fresh Fruits Lab, the eatery located on the corner of 1094 Serangoon Road is not new, but it has been a mainstay among wizarding enthusiasts who wish to flee from their daily grind and chaotic Muggle world even for a while.

The owners have dreamt up a whimsical place decked out with brick walls, wood-panelled ceilings and soft chandelier light fixtures to mimic scenes in the best-selling books as much as possible. To get you into the spirit of things, diners can don a witch’s hat and colourful robes while tucking into the café’s Wizard’s Cup sponge cake, Black Magic panna cotta and a Truth Venom cocktail. For the price of a single drink or a cup of coffee, you could be transported between the pages of this enduring fan favourite.



This article first appeared on June 20, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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