London is one of the most iconic cities in the world, so it’s no surprise that the British capital has featured heavily in films throughout cinema history. London’s skyline has been the backdrop to many films, from action-packed sequences in thrillers like the Bourne Ultimatum and James Bond to romantic scenes in classic British movies such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill.
Just walking through London’s streets, you’ll easily recognise many of the best film sets from different movies. Plus, there are many more hidden away that you may not even realise were used for Hollywood blockbusters.
Film fans will have a fantastic time exploring famous Harry Potter filming locations such as Platform 9 and ¾, and Diagon Alley, while many of London’s most recognisable landmarks, such as Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and even the Tube, have been in countless movies.
To inspire your movie-based trip to the capital, here are the best film sets in London you can visit in real life.
- Platform 9 and ¾
Harry Potter fanatics won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to visit the real location of Platform 9 and ¾ when they are in London. J.K. Rowling had the magical platform located in one of the city’s busiest train stations: King’s Cross. Here, witches and wizards had to charge full steam into the wall with their trolleys to board the train that would carry them to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The scenes were filmed on location at King’s Cross Station, and you’ll instantly recognise the grand Victorian architecture from the Harry Potter series. Since the popularity of the films has exploded, you can even find a Harry Potter themed shop at the station, while you can take your picture under a Platform 9 and ¾ sign, as you push a trolley through the wall.
- Diagon Alley
There’s another great Harry Potter film set found hidden away in the City of London. The magical shopping street of Diagon Alley, where witches and wizards would buy supplies for Hogwarts, deposit money at Gringotts Bank or enjoy a few drinks at the Leaky Cauldron.
You’ll be surprised to find that there’s a real-life Diagon Alley in London, as the stand-in for the wizarding street was Leadenhall Market, which is every bit as magical as its fictional counterpart in the films. Leadenhall Market dates back as far as 1321 and is one of the oldest continually operating marketplaces in the country. It’s no surprise that the historic architecture of the market formed the perfect shooting location for Diagon Alley.
- London Underground
Even just travelling around the city on the London Underground will have you immersed in countless film locations beneath the city. The Tube has featured in hundreds of movies through the decades, and any film that’s set in London will likely include a scene on the train or at a station.
World War II films, such as Atonement, use the underground stations to film scenes from air raids when Londoners would hide out in the Tube to escape the bombings. Action films, such as the popular Bourne Ultimatum and James Bond, have staged chase sequences through stations, and on moving trains too.
- Canary Wharf
The modern designs of Canary Wharf Tube Station have proven a hit with many directors looking to stage futuristic-looking scenes because, with little work, the station can easily pass for the interior of a spaceship.
The metallic-looking floors and sliding doors of the platforms make the station one of the most modern in the city. The last sci-fi movie to feature Canary Wharf was the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One. During filming Stormtroopers were spotted across Canary Wharf, riding the Tube and marching up and down the escalators.
Another film that featured Canary Wharf is 28 Days Later, the hit end-of-the-world, zombie flick directed by Danny Boyle. He had the survivors of the apocalypse hiding out in the by-then abandoned tube station to escape the infected.
- Notting Hill
Notting Hill was a smash hit British rom-com, which was released to great reviews in 1999 and features Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. It’s since become a classic London film, with the story taking place, as the name suggests, predominantly in Notting Hill.
The most famous filming location was Portobello Road in Notting Hill, where much of the action took place. It’s a colourful street and has a long association with cinema, even holding its own film festival each year. Since the release of Notting Hill, Portobello Road has become a major tourist attraction too, as legions of fans scope out the set where the film was shot.
- The Shaun of the Dead Pub
Shaun of the Dead is a British comedy horror film that’s become a cult classic, thanks to its low-key, sarcastic humour and general Englishness. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost alongside their dysfunctional friends get stuck in the middle of a Zombie apocalypse and decide to head to the only safe location they know – the Winchester.
The Winchester is their local pub where they hope to find shelter and a few pints, and you can actually visit the quintessentially English pub that was used in the film.
The pub, The Duke of Albany, is found in New Cross south of the Thames, and you can pretend you’re fighting off a horde of zombies when you visit this horror film set.
- Borough Market
Another classic Brit flick that was set and filmed in London is the timeless Bridget Jones’s Diary. Starring fan favourites Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, the rom-com was a huge success in the early noughties, spawning several sequels and earning its place on Christmas television schedules.
The plot takes the characters all across London, using many locations such as St Pancras Station and even Stansted Airport. The most iconic location in the film though, is Borough Market, where Bridget Jones’s home is found.
The producers picked a nondescript flat above the Globe pub, right by the market, and you can see the doorway as you walk down the street in this famous London district. You can even call in at the Globe for a pint, while just down the road a restaurant called Bedales was the scene of what became known as ‘the fight in the Greek restaurant’, and you can pop in for lunch and dinner.
As well as being the film set for Bridget Jones’s Diary, Borough Market is a must-see sight in itself, as the market is one of the oldest in London and these days is home to some of the best street food in the capital.
- The Old Royal Naval College
The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich has appeared in plenty of films requiring a grand, neoclassical setting for shooting.
The building, the site of a Royal Navy training centre for many years, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an integral part of Maritime Greenwich, and it’s an easy film set to visit in London.
The Old Royal Naval College has been featured in hundreds of films and TV shows, being used to depict palaces, colonial buildings and government premises in an array of genres from detective thrillers to superhero movies.
Most recently, Marvel fans will recognise the college’s distinctive domes and pillars from Thor: The Dark World, while it’s also appeared in such films as Pirates of the Caribbean and The King’s Speech.
The college grounds were even used as a substitute for the streets of 18th century Paris, when the final scenes of the most recent adaptation of the musical Les Miserables were filmed here. The production team set up barricades for the classic action shots depicting the fighting in the streets of the French capital during the Revolution.
- Buckingham Palace
Despite being such a famous London landmark, security is so tight at Buckingham Palace that few films are actually able to get permission to shoot here.
Where you do see the palace in a movie, stand ins are generally used – The King’s Speech for instance has many scenes set in the palace which were actually filmed at the Old Royal Naval College mentioned above.
Some films and TV shows have managed to get permission to shoot here though, although it’s almost always been limited to the front facade, with the most famous being Doctor Who and The BFG.
Most of the time though, if you see the palace on screen it’s going to be CGI, another palace or a classic British estate where security isn’t quite such a worry.
Westminster and the Houses of Parliament have been part of many a film set in London, from action movies to political biopics.
In the destructive thriller London Has Fallen you can see Westminster burning in the background, while in Danny Boyle’s zombie horror 28 Days Later, the main character is famously depicted walking across an empty Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament clearly visible in the background.
Lots of British dramas have been set in the House of Commons or House of Lords debating chambers, including the latest Winston Churchill film, Darkest Hour. You can actually take tours of the Houses of Parliament to see for yourself where the country’s most important decisions are made, rather than just seeing it on the screen.
Another famous government district that features in many British films is Whitehall. Found in the Westminster area, Whitehall is home to many civil service offices and ministries, including the Ministry of Defence.
The architecture here is some of the most classic in London, and many producers use the neoclassical designs as a backdrop for sets that need to look quintessentially English, particularly in World War II dramas or political thrillers set in the capital.
If you’re a fan of Winston Churchill, then as well as being set in the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall also featured heavily in the biographical film Darkest Hour, which portrayed the Prime Minister during the early stages of World War II.
You can even visit the Churchill War Rooms, now a museum, where the Prime Minister made many of his daunting decisions during the war.
- St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is an enduring feature on the London skyline, and is often clearly visible in films set in the city.
The distinctive dome of this Anglican Cathedral is hard to miss in panoramic shots of the capital, but a few movies depict St Paul’s closer up, too.
British staples Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes have featured the cathedral in many different episodes and renditions on the big screen, while the most famous movie to use St Paul’s was Mary Poppins.
The cathedral is such a London icon that despite being over four hundred years old it’s often included in futuristic visions of the city. Sci-fi fans will recognise St Paul’s from the recent Peter Jackson film, Mortal Engines, while Star Trek aficionados will have seen it in Star Trek Into Darkness, and Marvel lovers in Thor: The Dark World.
- Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is another of London’s most notable landmarks. Like many of the city’s most iconic places, it has featured heavily in films.
London’s most famous square is surrounded by grand institutions such as the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column, and is often used by directors and producers to depict classic scenes that need to portray the capital in both modern and historical contexts.
Trafalgar Square can be seen in Doctor Who and most notably in V for Vendetta, when the infamous marching scene sees hundreds of masked extras walking from the square and through the streets of London.
Harry Potter fans will also love the fact that the world premier of the series finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where Voldemort meets his end during the Battle of Hogwarts, was held here, being the first film premier to ever be shown in Trafalgar Square.
If you’re heading to London to track down these famous filming locations, check out our great range of London Tours. For serious Harry Potter fans, we also run a number of daily tours of the Warner Bros. Studio, where the films were made.