Prior to Benedict Cumberbatch opening Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre in London, I wrote a blog post providing what I hoped would be useful tips for the many fans travelling to London to see the show and visit the theatre, possibly for the first time, and a friend recently suggested that perhaps I should do the same for those coming from far and wide for Harry Potter & The Cursed Child.
So, below I’ve tried to include a few tips for directions, transport, places to eat, things to do nearby, tips for getting tickets and for when you arrive at the Palace for the show, as well as some Harry Potter-related suggestions (although I imagine most fans will have already planned those themselves)! I’ve also included links to maps and other useful information.
1. Getting There
The Palace Theatre is luckily in the heart of London’s West End and therefore there are plenty of ways to get to the show once you arrive in London. The nearest tube stations are:
- Leicester Square – Northern Line; Piccadilly Line (about 5 minutes away)
- Tottenham Court Road – Central Line (about 5 minutes away)
- Piccadilly Circus – Piccadilly Line; Bakerloo Line (about 10 minutes away)
- Covent Garden – Piccadilly Line (about 7 minutes away)
A great resource is the Transport For London (TFL) website, on which you can plan routes and check on any tube closures / travel problems: https://tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/
I also recommend downloading the CityMapper app to your phone, as it’s the most reliable route planning app for London. I use it every time I need to go somewhere new.
2. Still looking for tickets?
If you haven’t been able to buy tickets, then don’t despair, as there are still ways of seeing the show during your time in London. Here are a few suggestions, plus visit the official website for more information: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/ticket-information/
- Friday Forty – the least effort option is the weekly online lottery. Click on the enter button at 1 p.m. every Friday to be entered in to the ballot for £40 tickets for shows in the following week.
- Weekly Premium Seat Release – a limited number of premium seats at £95 (or £190 for both parts) are apparently released weekly on the website, so keep an eye on it if you can afford the higher prices.
- Popping by the box office / checking the website – If you are flexible as to when you go, then it’s worth calling or popping by the box office and checking if there are any odd seats available. I know someone who asked if there was anything at all for July and picked up a stray seat. This will clearly be easier for solo theatregoers or those willing to sit separately. Tickets also occasionally pop up on the website, so keep an eye on it and you may pick up last minute tickets that way.
- Returns – the Palace has 1,400 seats so the chances of returns are good. Picking up a return will involve a queue, so take a flask of hot tea, a blanket, a stool and head for the theatre. I know people who’ve queued in the early morning for any returns released as soon as the box office opens. Others are also queuing during the day, where there is more chance to pick up returns the nearer it gets to the start of the show as people arrive with spares. The brilliant Theatre Forum now has a thread about the returns queue, which can help you keep up to date with people’s experiences: http://theatreboard.co.uk/thread/1408/harry-potter-cursed-returns-thread
3. Box office collection
If you need to collect your tickets, the box office is on the Shaftesbury Avenue side of the buildingg. I’d recommend collecting them earlier in the day if you can, as that will save you having to queue at the box office when you arrive for the show (as you’ll likely have to then join the queue to enter the theatre too)! Make sure you take some ID and the card you used to pay for the tickets when you go to collect them.
4. Arriving for the show – Get there with plenty of time before it starts (especially if you want to buy merchandise)
I’m sure you’ll have seen that the theatre is recommending everyone arrive an hour before it starts. I’ll start by saying don’t panic if you think you’ll arrive with less time than that! We arrived there at about 6:50 p.m. and that in fact worked out better, as those who had already started queuing before the doors opened had largely already gone inside, meaning the queue was much smaller and was already moving. Once the Palace Theatre opens, the queue to enter moves very quickly, so I don’t see the point of queuing for ages before then.
I would however say that you should give yourself enough time before the show starts to buy any refreshments and to queue for the merchandise. The merchandise kiosk is located in the entrance of the theatre and due to the lack of space and to ensure everyone is served quickly, there is a queue for the kiosk. It’s very orderly as Palace Theatre staff direct you and don’t let anyone push in, so you’ll find yourself queuing for about 15 minutes down the stairs inside the theatre foyer. I’d recommend buying anything from the kiosk either before the show starts or at the end, as the interval may not give you enough time and you don’t want to be rushing. I would say, don’t read the programme or souvenir brochure until after Part 2 if you want to be absolutely spoiler-free (the lovely theatre staff will say the same too).
There are refreshments available to buy at the theatre, but I took a bottle of water with me and I’d recommend buying some water, just in case you start coughing during the show, as it’ll be better for you and those around you! If you want to buy drinks in the interval, order them before the show starts to save you having to queue at the bar later on. Also don’t forget that large bags aren’t allowed in to the theatre (no larger than 41cm x 31cm x 16cm), so don’t arrive with your suitcase.
5. Seating Plan
I’m sure by now you all know where you are sitting, but if you need a reminder have a look at the seating plan on the play’s website here: seating-plan-v2
6. Food & Drink
Being in the middle of central London means that there are places to eat and drink nearby that should suit all budgets. If you only want something quick, the usual suspects of McDonalds and Pret are practically opposite the theatre entrance. If you have more time, then you could walk the 5 minutes in to the heart of ChinaTown for Chinese food, which again doesn’t have to cost you too much at all. The Foyles bookshop around the corner (at 107 Charing Cross Road) also has a great café on the 5th floor which is another option (plus you can also wander around this brilliant bookshop too).
The Cursed Child website has also helpfully compiled suggestions for a range of cuisines at nearby restaurants, which you can find here: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/restaurants/
7. Stage Door
For those keen to try and get an autograph from the actors after the play, then there is a stage door. It’s located on the corner of the theatre (the Greek Street / Shaftesbury Avenue side of the theatre). As you leave the theatre, go past the box office and you’ll soon spot the people waiting around the side door around the corner (see image above courtesy of http://www.aboutmaria.com). If you are in London for a few days, it may be worth trying for autographs on a day you haven’t seen the show. That way you aren’t rushing to leave the building and can time your arrival to just before the show finishes, giving you a better chance of being near the front of the crowd.
8. Things To Do nearby the theatre
I’m sure you all have lots of ideas for things to do during your time in London and there’s so many options (I live here and still haven’t done it all). Here are a few suggestions for nearby the Palace Theatre:
- Forbidden Planet – about a 5 minute walk from the theatre (179 Shaftesbury Avenue) is the home of sci-fi, fantasy, TV and film merchandise in London. Here, you can buy everything from books and comics to Funko Pops!
- Covent Garden – There’s plenty to see in Covent Garden, whether you want to visit the Apple store, browse the market stalls or watch the street entertainers and soon its Christmas decorations will be up too. I also recommend exploring Seven Dials, which has lots of independent shops and places to eat.
- Picturehouse Central Cinema & Café – about 10 minutes from the Palace (at the corner of Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue) is the lovely Picturehouse Central cinema. Not only is it a great cinema, but it also has a fabulous café on the ground floor, with lots of seats. https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Picturehouse_Central
9. Other Harry Potter activities to do in London (because why not when you are here)!
If you are travelling to London to see the play, whether from elsewhere in the UK or abroad, you are clearly already a passionate Harry Potter fan, so this last section of tips may be old news to you. That being said, just in case, here are some other Harry Potter-related suggestions of things to do and see here!
- House of MinaLima – Just around the corner from the Palace Theatre (at 26, Greek Street) is the wonderful House of MinaLima; an exhibition and shop of the graphic art of the Harry Potter films, and other works, by the MinaLima studio. You can see props of books and letters used in the films, see the artwork of The Daily Prophet up close and even take prints home (or an exercise book in the style of those of the Hogwart’s students). It’s free to enter and open every day and will soon be adding a display from the new film Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them. http://store.minalima.com/house-of-minalima/
- Warner Bros. Studios – I’m sure this is already on every visiting Harry Potter fan’s list. Located in Watford, the Warner Bros. Studios give you the opportunity to delve in to the film world of the series. See props, costumes and models and sample the Butterbeer too! See the website for more details: https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/
- Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross station – a fun thing to do which doesn’t take too much time, is to visit King’s Cross station and get your photo taken pushing the luggage trolley through the wall! There is also a merchandise shop next to it for all your Harry Potter goodies. https://www.kingscross.co.uk/harry-potters-platform-9-34
- Location spotting! – There are plenty of locations from the Harry Potter films to be found in London, from Leadenhall Market as Diagon Alley, to Hermione Granger’s street in Hampstead. There is a great list of suggestions located at the Londonist website here: http://londonist.com/2016/06/harry-potters-London
So, hopefully this post has been useful and can be a resource before and during your trip. If I think of anything useful or there are any developments (such as tube strikes), I’ll update this post. In the meantime, feel free to read my spoiler-free review of the show.
I hope you all have a wonderful time!