Wands Up! Revamped Harry Potter Festival Takes Over Chestnut Hill
The wildly popular festival is back October 20 and 21.
Pack your trunk and hop on the train: the Harry Potter Festival is back in Chestnut Hill, with a whole new plan for 2017.
On October 20 and 21, a long stretch of Germantown Avenue in the lovely northwest Philadelphia neighborhood will become Hogsmeade, and the local businesses transfigured into sites from J.K. Rowling’s beloved stories. Down the hill at Hogwarts (aka Chestnut Hill College), there’s a Potter-centric academic conference and a Quidditch tournament.
The Chestnut Hill Business District, which organizes the festival, is expecting a huge crowd of dedicated fans — perhaps as many as 50,000 excited children and adults — decked out in costumes and eager to sip butterbeer and scarf down chocolate frogs. After overwhelming crowds last year, the festival has changed, spreading out on either side of Germantown and with additional parking restrictions and shuttles to help make moving around easier for fans.
Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of this internationally famous gathering.
Last year, Friday night was pretty much adults-only, with a fun and popular pub crawl that sold out in minutes. This year, it’s “Wands and Wizards Night on the Avenue” from 6 — 9 pm, and it’s aimed at guests of all ages.
There’s no cost to attend, although food and some activities cost money. The Franklin Institute is running an astronomy event, and there will be photo booths, aerialists, and food and drink specials along Germantown.
The J.S. Jenks School is hosting a science event at the school’s castle-like playground, with a costume contest at 8 pm (it’s $5 to enter and is for adults). And the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church is back with its popular movie night and pizza party, with a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and pizza for $10.
This is the main event, and the one that should pack in the largest crowd. The festival itself runs from 10 am — 4 pm, although businesses along the strip will be open before and after. Unlike previous years, some areas and activities require paid admission.
The free activities include a greeting from Professor Dumbledore, a S.P.E.W. rally, Quizzo, a wizard dance party, and presentations by some of the participants in Chestnut Hill College’s annual Potter conference on the stages at either end of the festival.
Along the avenue itself, visitors can see science demonstrations, watch the Sorting Hat do its thing, lend a voice to a Muggle read-a-thon, and snap selfies at a ton of decorated spots.
A $20 wristband gets you in to the craft zones, where you can make a snitch, decorate an owl, and more in the “Magical Make and Take” areas.
Organizers are promising many more bathrooms this year, and more food and drink (all were in short supply last year). Two beer gardens will supplement the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops on Germantown Avenue, and food trucks are coming in, too.
Down the hill at Chuestnut Hill College, the Philadelphia Brotherly Love Quidditch Tournament runs from 10 am to 4 pm and features teams from several colleges and universities as well as a local club team. It’s more than a mile from the business district; you can walk or take a free shuttle to get there and back.
Getting there and moving around
If you’ve ever been to Chestnut Hill, you already know parking is at a premium. Add a major street closure and tens of thousands of people, and it’s going to be extra tough. Festival organizers recommend carpooling, cabs and car services, and taking public transportation. SEPTA has gone all-in on the festival, running extra trains on its Chestnut Hill West and East lines.
True maniacs can even mix with some of the series’ best-known heroes and villains at Jefferson Station, beginning at 9 am. There will be activities at the station, including a pop-up news studio with KYW Radio, flower wand making with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, and a craft with the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Because SEPTA is expecting big crowds, you should buy your tickets in advance. Chestnut Hill is a Zone 2 trip from any Center City station, and you can also use any monthly, weekly, or daily pass on board. Both lines will make all regular station stops, although the first trains may be too crowded coming from Center City to take on passengers.
If you’re driving, be prepared to spend some extra time getting to the festival. Germantown Avenue will be closed from Northwestern Avenue to Cresheim Valley Drive, and the festival zone runs from Stenton Avenue on the east to Saint Martins Lane on the west. The only open cross streets are Cresheim Valley, Willow Grove Avenue, Bells Mill Road, and Hillcrest Avenue.
There are a number of paid lots, and those that are far away include a free shuttle. But the train is a far safer bet.
The festival allows strollers, but with these kinds of crowds, it’s probably wise to leave them at home.
Need more details? Here’s a full outline of everything that’s happening.
Main photograph by Gwyneth K. Shaw.