Thursday, October 3, 2019

Geeking Out in London on a Budget!

Me with the Platform 9 3/4 sign... in Primark! 
I'm a geek. When I was younger I used to be embarrassed by it, but at this stage in my life, I wear my geek label with pride. Oh, and I'm a Hufflepuff. And a Whovian. And a firbolg druid multiclassing as a barbarian in our weekly Dungeons and Dragons Campaign. I find geeks to be my favorite types of people, and I'm glad that as an adult I've found my tribe with whom I can geek out.

One of the reasons I was so excited to visit London on my recent trip abroad was because of my geekiness! Two of my bigger fandoms are Doctor Who and Harry Potter, and both familiarized me with London. When I was doing research about what to do on my trip to London, when I saw things mentioning the Thames I already knew it was pronounced Tems, thanks to Doctor Who. I remembered the episode where the Thames was frozen over and there was a monster under the ice. On my night walking tour along the Thames, so many of the sights were familiar because I remember scenes of one of the Doctor's companions walking across the bridge while talking on the phone with the Doctor, but I'm not remembering who. Basically, as much as it was a new place to me, because of London based shows, it seemed very familiar and it was awesome.

So because of all this geekiness, I decided that some quintessentially London tourism that I'd do was something Harry Potter and something Doctor Who.

But first, I need to share that on my first foray into London, on my first day there, I took the underground to Tottenham Court Road (by the way, pronounced Totnum. Mind blown.) and the first thing I saw pretty much was a big store that said Harry Potter in the window. I walked in, and saw that it was actually Primark, the discount clothing (and other thing) store I'd heard so much about, with a big Harry Potter section! They had a Platform 9 3/4 sign to pose with. They had decor of owl cages and school trunks.

They had lots of Harry Potter themed clothing, blankets, sheets.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed as a Hufflepuff by the lack of selection for things in my house colors. The most was Gryffindor, obviously, but they also had a decent selection of paraphanalia in Slytherin and Ravenclaw, but extremely limited for Hufflepuff. Since it was cold in London and I didn't actually bring anything warm with me, I bought myself a low priced Hufflepuff sweater, and also decent quality and quite cheap Puff pajamas.

They even had Harry Potter portable chargers!!

It was awesome. And no need to visit an overpriced Harry Potter store, when I get the experience in Primark.

Once back at my hosts' house I did some research about Harry Potter and Doctor Who experiences. Unfortunately, I found out that the Harry Potter studio tour costs 70 pounds per person. That was not happening. Even though that was something special and unique to London, and one of my passions, it wasn't worth that much money to me. So I looked for other options.

I briefly considered going to the Cursed Child, even though I've heard many negative things about it, mainly that its just bad fanfiction, and should not be considered canon, because it was special to London... but then I found out it was a show in two parts, and each part was a few hours and each cost over 60 pounds... Again, that was definitely not the type of investment I wanted to make. For that, I could just go to the studio tour.

But then I found a Harry Potter tour of London, through Strawberry Tours, which was awesome. It was a "Free tour" which really means pay as much as you want to at the end, but please pay something, because these guides work hard and this is how they get paid.

Our tour guide, JJ, was phenomenal. He was such a super fan and his love of the series and his excitement for sharing it with us was so palpable.

He started off the tour by asking us which houses we were in, and of course it was mostly Gryffindors... One Slytherin, a few Puffs, and a few Ravenclaws. Then he told us he was going to do a house cup for us, with trivia. Long story short, as one of a few Puffs, I ended up getting lots of the answers correct, and Hufflepuff won!

Anyhow, that was fun.

The tour was divided into a few parts, and he told us about the history of Harry Potter, and showed us the areas of London that inspired different parts in the books. For example, he took us to this alley which was the inspiration behind Diagon Alley, because of the strange and mysterious and cool shops they have there.

This one shop had "moving pictures", which supposedly inspired the moving pictures in the wizarding world. So of course they had to have Harry Potter moving pictures in their shop window, which from one direction looked like this...

And from another showed this. 

 This was another of the atypical shops in the Diagon Alley inspiration alley, whose name, of course I forgot.

We also went to the alley that inspired Knockturn Alley, which definitely had a creepy vibe to it.

I could definitely see Borgin and Burkes being located on this street, and Death Eaters shopping here... if they took away the flowers.

Of course, the Hedwig doll in the window kinda took away from the creepy factor, but I definitely appreciated the homage to Harry Potter. 

We also saw some of the locations in the movie, but, to be honest, we didn't see so many. This one, though, is where the Ministry of Magic was located. Thats JJ, by the way, awesome guide.

After the tour, we were directed where to go if we wanted to take pictures by the real Platform 9 3/4. But we were told that there's generally a 2 hour line (ok, he said queue) to do that, and it costs a lot of money, so I decided to nix it.

Oh, and I saw this store, House of Spells, and I didn't enter it because I was pressed for time when I passed it, but it was filled with Harry Potter goodies, and had a large Iron Throne in the window. If you're a geek, look for this store when you're in London.

And lastly, the Doctor Who tour. Doctor Who tours are much less frequent than Harry Potter tours, there were only two tours going on, neither of which was free. Only one was happening at a time that worked for me, and it was 12 pounds, which I thought was a decent price for a tour.

We started off at the Shard building, which is where the Doctor rode up his anti grav motorbike.

Once we started, I have to say that we were warned that despite Doctor Who largely taking place in London, filming was actually mostly done in Cardiff, so there weren't too many locations from the shows to see in London. Many times they actually CGI'd things to make them look like they were in London when they weren't.

I definitely recognized this place where Missy was hiding with the Cybermen, and I definitely remember the roof opening up and the Cybermen flying out. And our guide made sure to tell us, no, the roof doesn't actually open up in real life.

We saw and talked about the London eye which appeared in quite a few episodes, including the first of the new series, with Eccleston and Rose.

And this episode, which I don't remember its name...

Shakespears Globe theater showed up in an episode with Shakespeare, Martha, and the Doctor, and the tour guide reminded us of lots of "easter eggs" hidden in that episode, about how the Doctor and Martha "inspired" Shakespeare. It was awesome to see in real life while talking about that episode.

We learned about teleportation that apparently happens regularly in Doctor Who, how Rose starts off in a mall in Cardiff, and then walks to Trafalgar square to meet up with Mickey, and then walks back to her job in the mall in Cardiff. Gaffe basically for those who know British geography.

The tour was nice and enjoyable, and if you're a Whovian in London, definitely do this, but I will admit I liked the Harry Potter tour better.

And lastly, just an unexpected extra...

I bumped into this, in my opinion, very close Jason Momoa look alike. He was just guarding a door where I was going and I was like oh my gosh, oh my gosh, but apparently he doesn't get told a lot how much he looks like Momoa. But he definitely does.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share these fun geeky things I did in London. There are plenty of enjoyable ways to geek out in London, even if you skip the pricier Harry Potter studio tour and the Cursed Child.

Ever been to London? What geeky things did you do there? Do you share my interest in these fandoms? 


  1. Used to live in Middlesex and visited London a few times when young and would love to go back so it's so nice to read about your time there. I'm glad you had such a nice time on the tours. Finishing with the photo of the Jason Momoa lookalike was wild though! Can't believe no one's ever told that young man that he looks just like him!

  2. Well 5 1/2 years ago when we flew from the US to visit our daughter going to grad school in London, my younger daughter and I took a bus to Cardiff to specifically see the now closed Dr Who experience. It was so fun and for two Who geeks, worth it. We enjoyed Cardiff as well, and the buss ride itself wasn't to bad-kind of a nice relaxing respite from the pae we had been keeping.


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