By name, England's Alnwick Castle isn't that well known. But by sight? That's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry you're looking at. Well, in real life it's the entrance to the state rooms at Alnwick Castle, a still-inhabited Medieval castle in Northumberland. But to Harry Potter fans, it's the ultimate destination as the castle's exterior and grounds feature prominently in the movies.
I can't make the claim that a visit to Alnwick Castle is more fun than a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, because I haven't visited the newly opened theme park yet. But it certainly is more authentic.
The Outer Bailey, the grass area in front of the castle (between the castle and the outer wall of the barbican and courtyard) was used for the flying broomstick lesson in the first film, which is one of those scenes that makes you long to be a wizard. You can even see the lantern from which nervous Neville Longbottom hangs. Unfortunately, no one was flying around on a broomstick when we were there.
The castle is also known for its gardens, which we didn't see because of the rain. We did however see the pretty sheep-dotted countryside that surrounds the castle.
I never mind seeing a castle on a dreary day, because I feel that it helps set the mood. You'd want a strong stone structure protecting you from that British weather! And from the invading forces, of course. But the gardens are supposed to be impressive, so we were sorry to miss them. Also, the Lion Arch, which has a nice walkway and serves as the secondary entrance reached from Alnwick Garden, is what's used as Hogwarts' entrance. And the grassy area of Browburn park, just outside beyond Lion Arch, is where the Womping Willow was added in post-production.
We visited Alnwick Castle on our drive from Manchester to Edinburgh. It wasn't exactly on the way, but it wasn't out of the way either. We drove about three-and-a-half hours from Manchester, and then it was nearly two hours to Edinburgh because the A1 highway isn't too speedy. The castle is the town of Alnwick, a well-preserved historic market town, but it's location is definitely off the beaten path. But it's well worth a detour!