Harry Potter’s Cambridge

Growing up with Harry Potter, of the famous J. K. Rowling’s novels, I often dreamed of attending Hogwarts instead of my local school. Who didn’t? Then when I was accepted into Cambridge University, I realized just how close I would come to Harry’s real-life world of wizardry.

Cambridge is the second oldest university in England, and one of the oldest in Europe. During my time there I realized that, although J. K. Rowling wrote the series in Edinburgh, many of the ideas for Hogwarts and the magical world were inspired by two of the most famous English universities: Cambridge and Oxford. Here are a few of the ways that Cambridge can make you feel like a wizard.

The architecture: The 800-year old town of Cambridge still feels like a medieval village, complete with turrets, spires and elegant towers. While no castle like Hogwarts dominates the landscape, the old college campuses are a worthy substitute, with high walls, grand entrances, chapels, secret gardens and centuries-old libraries adding to the experience of leaving the modern world behind.

St. John's Old Library

The colleges: On arrival in Cambridge students are divided into colleges and while there’s no Sorting Hat, student life will be greatly influenced by your college just like one of the four houses of Hogwarts. Most of the students live, eat and socialise within the colleges, mingling with students from other colleges mainly during classes. While there is none of the hostility between colleges like that between Gryffindor and Slytherin, certain colleges still compete for sporting, academic, and social prowess.

Cambridge Gates

The dress: Harry Potter and his friends would leave their muggle clothes in their trunks, and wear school robes all year round. In Cambridge, you’ll also spot students (and professors) wearing long, black gowns – the official uniform of the university. No wands are required, but in the beginning of the academic year, all students flock to a store in the centre of Cambridge to buy their gown. While tourists potter on the ground floor, students are upstairs choosing their gowns, which can prove difficult, as the type of gown depends on your age, faculty and college. Unlike Hogwarts, however, Cambridge students are not required to wear the official outfits every day, but only during formal dinners, events in the colleges and, finally, graduation.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

Formal dinners: The time I felt most like a Hogwarts student was during formal dinners. Every college in Cambridge has their own dining hall, some as majestic as the Great Hall of Hogwarts (which was actually filmed in Oxford’s Christ Church College). These beautiful, spacious rooms are big enough to welcome all the students from the college, and are often used for informal breakfasts and lunches. As night falls, the room is transformed into an elegant, candlelit dining hall. The ringing of the gong announces the arrival of the professors, who sit at the High Table and lead a thanksgiving prayer in Latin, before dinner is served (not by house-elves, unfortunately). With many of the halls still without electricity, all that is missing are the golden plates of the Great Hall of Hogwarts.

So, you can see how a visit to Cambridge may easily make you feel like a character in a Harry Potter novel. More than once I thought I caught a glimpse of Dumbledore flying over King’s College on a broomstick, and I had to remind myself that I was in Cambridge, and not in Hogwarts, with Harry Potter and his friends.