Most of us, when we travel to another country, probably have in mind at least one “must-see” attraction., usually an iconic structure, museum, historic site, or natural wonder.
Examples might be Machu Picchu in Peru, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, the Roman Colosseum in Italy, and the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary.
Recently, TripAdvisor — which has propelled itself into the world’s leading travel site and travel data bank — released a map of Europe displaying the “one thing you must do in each country, according to tourists.” (I found it in the Huffington Post.)
For most countries, the results were pretty true to form: The Roman Colosseum in Italy; The Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium; the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Tallinn Old Town in Estonia; the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece; the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Hogwarts Tops English Royalty
But I was taken aback when I saw that the Harry Potter Studio Tour — more formally known as Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, in Leavesden, southeastern England, (where all eight Harry Potter films were produced), — was now TripAdvisor’s top “must-see” attraction in the UK.
It’s reached this pinnacle in just five years, having opened in 2012.
Keep in mind this is a country that boasts — in London alone — Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard; the British Museum; Big Ben and Parliament; Westminster Abbey; Hyde Park; the Thames River; and much more.
Beyond London, you have Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon, Winchester Cathedral, the Roman town of Bath; Wordsworth’s Lake District, scenic Cornwall, mysterious Stonehenge, medieval York, stately Oxford and Cambridge — and we haven’t even mentioned the many attractions of Scotland, Wales, or northern Ireland.
All these also-ran attractions have been around for quite some time and have solid reputations, so I wanted to check out the Harry Potter tour to see how it’s leap-frogged over the palaces and museums to become the UK’s number one tourist attraction.
Here’s how the Warner Bros. Studio Tour website describes the magic that lies in store:
“Step on to authentic sets, discover the magic behind spellbinding special effects and explore the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Harry Potter film series. Tread the original stone floor of the iconic Hogwarts Great Hall, encounter animatronic creatures and wander down Diagon Alley.”
How can Buckingham Palace or Big Ben compete with that?
Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland
The other country that threw me was Germany, where the “one thing to do” if you only have time to do one thing is to visit Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland, at over 10,000 square feet the world’s largest model railway.
The Wunderland edged out such other German attractions as the castles on the Rhine, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall remnants, Munich’s Marienplatz, the Black Forest, Neuschwanstein Castle, and the Bavarian Alps.
But I have to say, the Miniatur Wunderland does look pretty amazing.
A work in progress since the early 2000’s, the Wunderland is still growing and has branched out into other forms of transportation beyond trains — including planes and automobiles. Every few minutes, daylight fades into darkness and the Wunderland is lit up for nightlife.
It would take days to examine the details throughout the exhibit, which includes some 50,000 “Wunderlanders” — occupants of the mini-layouts of Hamburg, other areas of Germany, and parts of Italy, France, the U.S. and more — as well as hundreds of trains zipping around the displays.
What about the U.S.?
Based on the UK and German results, I might have guessed that the number one must-see in the U.S. is Florida’s Disney World.
Nope — that honor falls to New York’s Central Park.
I would probably pick Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon — or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge — but I’m buoyed by the fact that Disney World didn’t make it.
I’ve got nothing against Harry Potter, the world’s largest model railway, or Disney World. They’re fun things to see and do.
I just don’t think I’d spend my one day in the UK, Germany, or the U.S. — if that’s all I had — with Harry, Mickey, or the Wunderlanders.