Fans of the Wizarding World flock to The Shambles, in York, on a daily basis to visit the street said to have inspired the fictional Diagon Alley.
The Shambles – a medieval street with cobbled paths and leaning buildings – is home to four Harry Potter themed shops selling merchandise and butter beer.
But last year, JK Rowling caused controversy by denying that she’d ever been to The Shambles, 2Chill reports.
Despite this, its uncanny resemblance to the fictional Diagon Alley isn’t going to be shaken off any time soon.
The site of The Shambles appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086. For centuries it was the street of the butchers – the word ‘shambles’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word for ‘bench to display goods at market’ and later referred specifically to the sale of meat products.
The high pavements you’ll encounter in places were constructed so shoppers could keep their feet clean of the flow of blood and gunge down the central part of the street.
Now one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe, several of the buildings on York’s Shambles date from the 14th century.
As all Potterheads know, Diagon Alley is hidden away behind The Leaky Cauldron pub in London, and is described as a cobblestoned street filled with everything a wizard could need, from bat eyes to broomsticks, magical creatures to marvellous ice creams. Can The Shambles measure up?
2Chill decided to brave the tide of Muggles and find out…
Diagon Alley has a celebrated bookshop, Flourish & Blotts, where Harry and his friends buy their school texts, and it also has a stationery shop called Scribbulus Writing Instruments.
Unfortunately there’s no bookshop on The Shambles, but there is a gorgeous paper and stationery shop, Paperesque, which sells handmade papers, journals and notebooks, calligraphy sets, origami kits, and much more.
If you want to get that Flourish & Blotts experience, about five minutes’ walk away on Minster Gates you’ll find Minster Gate Bookshop, an amazing 16th century building over several floors with narrow corridors, creaking stairs, and thousands of second-hand and antiquarian books.
No self-respecting Hogwarts student would turn up for class without first making a visit to Madam Malkin’s Robes For All Occasions. Snooty shoppers like the Malfoys preferred to take their custom elsewhere, to the upmarket Twilfitt and Tattings.
For today’s shoppers along The Shambles, it’s slim pickings if you’re looking for clothing – you have the choice of high street staple the Edinburgh Woollen Mill or the British Wool and Cashmere shop.
To be fair, you can probably kit yourself out in a cape at either place.
Once properly outfitted, Harry and his friends needed to search Diagon Alley for various wizarding items required for their lessons.
Ollivanders offers a vast range of wands for sale, and Potage’s Cauldron Shop sells, well, cauldrons. The Apothecary sells all manner of ingredients for potion-making, from smelly slimy stuff in barrels to rustling clumps of dried herbs.
If you’re after a wand on The Shambles, you’ll have to go into one of the Harry Potter-themed shops clustered at the Pavement end of the street: The Enchanted Galaxy (formerly the World of Wizardry), Galaxy Geek (formerly The Boy Wizard), or the original Harry Potter store, The Shop That Must Not Be Named, which currently has a display of wands in its windows.
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The Potions Cauldron, a shop with a very inventive backstory that can be read on its website, sells a variety of potions from the drinkable Basilisk’s Blood or Witches’ Gin to Dragon’s Egg Bath Bombs, Unicorn Poo chocolate, Broomstick Polish-scented candles, and Love Potion perfume.
Further down The Shambles, Hebden Tea, with its cellar stuffed full of herbal tisanes and shelves displaying green and black teas, could easily pass as an apothecary.
Every wizard needs an animal companion, and it’s in Eeylops Owl Emporium that Harry meets Hedwig. Elsewhere on Diagon Alley there’s the Magical Menagerie, where Hermione acquires her half-Kneazle cat Crookshanks.
The closest thing to a pet shop on The Shambles is York Glass Ltd, home of York’s Lucky Cats. The famous Cat Trail of York starts from the shop and takes you on a mystery tour of the city as you try to spot the hidden felines. When you return, pick up a little glass cat of your own in the colour of your birthstone.
Or if you’re determined to buy something fluffier, pop into Galaxy Geek and ask how much is that creature in the window?
Diagon Alley has shops dedicated to hobbies and fun, from Quality Quidditch Supplies where Harry admires the Firebolt to joke shops such as Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, set up by Fred and George Weasley after they leave Hogwarts.
The Shambles is a bit short on joke shops, though Pandora sells games, gifts and souvenirs. And if you have your heart set on a new broomstick, The Shop That Must Not Be Named can order in a replica of the Nimbus 2000 as seen in the films for £324.99.
Food and drink
Harry spends a summer in Diagon Alley eating ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. But why eat ice cream when you can eat cheesecake? The Shambles has The Cheesecake Guy, offering slices or whole cheesecakes in flavours such as Maple Bacon, Pumpkin, and Peanut Butter.
Elsewhere you’ll find Bao, selling steamed buns filled with a variety of flavours from char siu pork to chocolate, and just around the corner on the Little Shambles (not as dangerous as Knockturn Alley!) you’ll find the award-winning Bluebird Bakery, which sells amazing savoury Danishes and superb sourdoughs.
The wizarding pub The Leaky Cauldron is said to be the haunt of warlocks, dwarves and hags as well as a place for witches and wizards to enjoy a drink – but this is no match for the Golden Fleece, located at the bottom of the Shambles on Pavement.
Reputedly home to 14 ghosts, including a Canadian airman who fell out of an upstairs window, and a swaggering one-eyed highwayman, the Golden Fleece appeared on TV’s Most Haunted . There’s even a skeleton propping up the bar.
And finally, though there’s no Gringotts Wizarding Bank on The Shambles, there is a branch of Lloyds further along Pavement – but it’s not certain if any goblins work there…