An elaborate 'Harry Potter' festival happens every year in this small town -- here's what it's like

Each year, the small Philadelphia suburb of Chestnut Hill undergoes a magical transformation.

The Hogwarts Express rumbles into town, and Muggles set off to find hidden horcruxes, snack on chocolate frogs, and experience the wonderful world of wizards for themselves.

We’re talking about the annual Harry Potter Festival. 

It all began six years ago, when Chestnut Hill College held a Quidditch Tournament on their campus. The castle-like school buildings are reminscient of Hogwarts, while quaint Chestnut Hill neighbourhood (established in the late 1800s) makes for the perfect Hogsmeade replica. 

“There was a real interest in Harry Potter,” Martha Sharkey of the
Chestnut Hill Business District told Tech Insider. “Fans really span generations.”

The smash hit tournament spawned a larger festival.

“After the first year, the Chestnut Hill business community partnered with the college and created the festival,” Sharkey explained. “This is the fifth year for the festival as a whole.”

Everyone from toddlers to 40-somethings flock to Chestnut Hill to enjoy the elaborate event. Shops are renamed, selling Harry Potter themed merchandise and featuring interactive booths. There are character impersonators, live book readings, and even a “Wizard Rock” concert. 

Scroll down to experience the magic for yourself.  

The main event takes place in downtown Chestnut Hill (aka 'Hogsmeade') -- a Philadelphia neighbourhood complete with cobblestone streets and a working trolley.

Darryl Moran/CHBA

'We estimate 10,000 to 12,000 people attended this year,' Sharkey told TI. Below you can see the crowds gathered at the train station, where the 'Hogwarts Express' arrived from downtown Philly.

Darryl Moran/CHBA

In town, the local shops were revamped for the day -- taking on the names of stores from the Harry Potter books. 'Our stores came up with their names,' Sharkey explained.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

They really got into it, selling themed goodies like these Golden Snitch Truffles. The Chestnut Hill Business District helps shops come up with merchandise ideas.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

And of course, there was Butterbeer -- the beverage of choice sold at the Three Broomsticks pub in Hogsmeade.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

Hagrid was on hand, selling bottles of Butterbeer to eager Muggles. (Pink umbrella not photographed.)

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

Down the road, Chestnut Hill College is nestled among the trees. It looks just like a real-life Hogwarts!

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

This is where the Quidditch Tournament was held. If you don't know, Muggles adapted the magical sport for themselves in a mash-up of dodgeball, soccer, and rugby. The game is super fun to watch, with lots of tackling and epic one-handed catches.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall were nearby, making sure the witches and wizards were enjoying themselves.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

This Harry Potter lookalike was a celebrity in his own right. He even taught a 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' class to a group of excited kids.

The town was dotted with 'Educational Decrees' -- just like Hogwarts was in the fifth book, 'Order of the Phoenix.'

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

Hand-painted signs directed the festival goers to activities. Can you spot the Dementors hanging in the background?

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

One popular activity was the Sorting Hat. Adults and kids alike lined up for their chance to hear which Hogwarts House they belonged to. This would-be witch looks like she just got sorted into Slytherin. The horror!

Loyal members of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff gobbled up these themed cookies. The magical treats seemed never-ending.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

Small photo-ops like this one helped make the festival even more fun. (I insisted on being Harry since I already had the glasses. My Hermoine was a good sport.)

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

Chestnut Hill College hosted an interdisciplinary conference, featuring literature and psychology professors who gave talks on the many layers of Harry Potter. From analyses of fantasy tropes to studies on how reading Harry Potter is proven to improve empathy, the conference gave a fascinatingly academic look at the books.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

The festival finale was a concert, featuring the first-ever 'Wizard Rock' band Harry and the Potters. The talented trio entertained with comedic punk rock songs like 'Save Ginny Weasley from the Basilisk.' It was the perfect end to the magical weekend.

Kim Renfro/Tech Insider

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