It was the beginning of 2014. I was dealing with a pretty severe case of insomnia and quickly running out of ways to keep myself sane during regular human sleeping hours when my daughter suggested tackling the Harry Potter series. I resisted at first – I mean, Harry Potter was for kids, right? And besides that, seven almost textbook-size books seemed like far too big a commitment for someone as sleep-deprived as myself. Even still, I was willing to try anything that would help me get to sleep or stay entertained if I couldn’t, and so one night I opened up the first book and began my journey with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I learned two things quite quickly: you’re never too old for Harry Potter, and these books are so worth the commitment. Eleven weeks later I finished the last chapter of the last book and, holding back tears, had to force myself not to pick up the first book and start all over again.
The following Christmas we watched all eight of the Harry Potter movies all the way through for the first time in something like three days. After hearing about our movie marathon, a friend mentioned we might enjoy taking the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Warner Bros. Studio just outside London. Having never heard of this place before and having felt a little glum knowing there were no more books or movies I could lose myself in for the first time again, I was all, “What?! You must tell me more about this magical land where I can get my Harry-Potter-Hogwarts-School-of-Witchcraft-and-Wizardry fix!” (I might have been a latecomer to the Harry Potter scene, but I was just as hopelessly addicted to all things The Boy Who Lived as everyone else at this point.)
Turns out, she was right. We loved it. And so will every other fan who finds themselves standing at King’s Cross station, wishing they were about to board the Hogwarts Express instead of the boring old Piccadilly Line. I’ve got some tips for visiting at the end of this post, but first I want to share with you our favorite parts of the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Keep in mind, this is just a sampling of what you’ll actually get to see. The museum, if you can call it a museum, is over 150,000 square feet, so there is a lot to see, which should make your little muggle heart skip a beat or two!
10 THINGS TO DO & SEE AT THE HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR IN LONDON
ENTER THE GREAT HALL AT HOGWARTS
Officially known as the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making Of Harry Potter (but that’s a mouthful, so who wants to say or type that every time?), the Harry Potter Studio Tour begins with a short film and then visitors are allowed to enter one of the most beloved sets in the movie series – the Hogwarts Great Hall.
Inspiration for the Great Hall actually comes from the Great Hall at Christ Church College in Oxford, but all filming took place on this very set. Two tables have been removed from the center of the hall to allow room for visitors and there is no magical ceiling (sadly), but otherwise the Great Hall looks very much as it does in the movies. Costumes line the walls behind the remaining tables set for dinner and you can check out Dumbledore’s lectern at the front of the room, but my favorite prop in this room was most certainly the Sorting Hat.
Tip: To get photos of the Great Hall without the crowds, you either need to be the first to enter the room or the last to leave. (This is the only room of the tour where your time inside is limited.) Also, if you’d like to dine in here like a real Hogwarts student, there are opportunities for that throughout the year. More information about special events can be found at the bottom of this post!
FIND YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE PROPS
After leaving the Great Hall, you’ll enter a gigantic space that almost feels a little like the Room of Requirement. Seriously, you’ll find everything here – the Mirror of Erised, the door to the Chamber of Secrets, wands belonging to all the main cast members, the Triwizard Cup, Ron’s dress robes (ha!), Voldemort’s horcruxes, and so so much more. Just for reference, we spent over an hour in this room alone looking at all the props and costumes used in the movies, and I could have stayed even longer.
Tip: If you want a photo of yourself riding a broomstick or casting your best spells, you can grab that here, too. Green screen photo booths have been set up alongside one of the walls and if you’re willing to drop the cash, a photographer will snap your photo and/or make a short film for you to take home. (Lex totally did this and took home an epic souvenir!)
EXPLORE THE HARRY POTTER FILM SETS
Located in the same enormous room as the costumes and props are several film sets from all eight Harry Potter movies. A few of my favorites were Hagrid’s cottage, Snape’s potions classroom, the Gryffindor common room, and, of course, the Burrow which I’d give anything to live in myself. But the best, I mean the BEST was seeing Dumbledore’s office. In the books, Dumbledore’s office always seemed to me a comforting sort of place, and a perfect reflection of my favorite character’s gentle but formidable personality. The movies did a wonderful job of bringing that to life, but seeing it in person was nothing short of magical.
Tip: You can play around with the sets! Look for buttons that control different features and opportunities to take fun photos with certain props like the floating cake in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Also, be sure not to miss the newly opened Forbidden Forest set!
HOP ABOARD THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS
It won’t take you to Hogwarts, unfortunately, but you can still step on board the actual steam train used in the movies! Located in a beautiful recreation of King’s Cross station, the Hogwarts Express comes complete with real steam and a convincing soundtrack of railroad noises and train whistles to round out the experience. As you walk through the carriages, you can peek in the windows at recreations of various scenes from the movies that took place en route to Hogwarts. (I always looked forward to those parts in both the books and movies!)
TAKE A PHOTO AT PLATFORM 9 3/4
Most scenes that took place at Platform 9 3/4 were actually filmed on location at King’s Cross station, but you can find exceptionally detailed recreations of the train platform as well as other parts of the station here at the Harry Potter Studio Tour. The most fun for visitors will, of course, be the opportunity for a photo op pushing a luggage trolley through the wall at Platform 9 3/4. (You can do this at King’s Cross station as well, but there’s always a super long line!)
Tip: There is a souvenir shop in the train station, but save some cash for later, too. You’ll be glad you did!
SEE 4 PRIVET DRIVE + OTHER COOL SETS IN THE BACKLOT
After exiting the train station, you’ll be directed outside to the Harry Potter Studio Tour Backlot. Here you’ll find all sorts of fun sets including the Dursleys’ home at 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, the Potters’ home in Godric’s Hollow, the bridge to Hogwarts, and quite a few other memorable sets and large props from the series. Supposedly, portions of 4 Privet Drive are open to visitors from time to time, but we, unfortunately, missed the grand opening by just two weeks on our own visit. Another reason to go back, I guess!
GRAB A BUTTERBEER
The Backlot is also where you’ll find the studio’s indoor/outdoor cafe, so if you’re feeling a little peckish, this is a good, albeit expensive, place to grab a bite to eat. Even if you’re not hungry, there is one thing you absolutely must try while you’re here – the butterbeer. Described, maybe not so appetizingly, by JK Rowling as “a little bit like less sickly butterscotch”, whether you like sugary drinks or not, guzzling down a butterbeer is practically obligatory on the Harry Potter Studio Tour if you want the full Hogsmeade experience! (For the record, I loved it. But I can also down half a dozen glazed donuts in a single sitting, so make of that what you will.)
STROLL DOWN DIAGON ALLEY
Before you reach the famed Diagon Alley set, you’ll wander through a few different rooms featuring the visual, special, and make-up effects used to create the movies and the magical creatures and characters in them. If you’re curious about the technical and artistic side of film-making, you’ll love exploring these sections. Even if you’re not, it’s still cool to see how some of the effects were achieved.
The most exciting part of this section, however, is obviously getting to take a stroll down Diagon Alley. Throughout the movies, the landscape of Diagon Alley changed, so what you’ll see on the Harry Potter Studio Tour is Diagon Alley in one of its later forms. (With Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes – yay!) Seeing all of the detail that went into creating Diagon Alley is just incredible – you’ll end up wishing you could enter every single one of the shops!
Tip: Diagon Alley gets super crowded, but it seems to come and go in waves. If you stick around a bit, it’ll clear out enough for good photos. There are also staff available to take your photo with your own camera if you ask nicely.
CHECK OUT THE BEAUTIFUL MODEL OF HOGWARTS
Finally, one of the last things you’ll see on the Harry Potter Studio Tour after a walk through the art department is the beautiful 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry used in various forms throughout all of the movies. A circular path winds around the model so you can view it from every angle. Just like with Diagon Alley, you’ll wish you could step inside and walk the halls of Hogwarts yourself!
Tip: Be sure to hang around for at least five minutes to watch the lighting over the castle change from daytime to nighttime and back again – it’s really cool!
SPEND ALL OF YOUR MONEY IN THE GIFT SHOP
No, really. Just go ahead and accept that you’ll be dropping a couple hundred pounds on Gryffindor swag, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and a magic wand, because obviously you need one. Normally gift shops at the end of attractions irritate me, but how can you possibly be irritated when there are Chocolate Frogs around? The answer: you can’t. This is the store your Harry Potter-lovin’ dreams are made of, so just embrace it.
Tip: Don’t look at the receipt. Or your bank account until after your next paycheck.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR
Tickets for the Harry Potter Studio Tour must be purchased in advance. You can do that online here. I recommend booking as far in advance as you can to make sure you get tickets for the exact day and time you want. Tickets are timed entry, but you can stay as long as you like until closing. The longer you think you’ll stay, the earlier in the day you should book your tickets for. Be sure to print your booking confirmation off when you purchase your tickets and bring it with you to the studio. You’ll need it to collect your tickets from the kiosks outside.
Located in Leavesden, 20 miles outside central London, the easiest way to get to the Warner Bros. Studio is to drive. If you don’t have a car, don’t worry – it’s not too hard to reach by train either, but you will want to allow extra time for delays. There is a direct train leaving from London Euston station that will get you to Watford Junction, the closest station to the studio, in just 20 minutes. From there, you can hop on one of the shuttles outside the station headed for the studio. They run every 20 minutes and you’ll have no trouble spotting them. (Note: You’ll need to bring £2.50 in cash for each person for a return ticket on the shuttle.) Plan to arrive at the studio 20 minutes before your scheduled entry time. For more information about how to get to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, go here.
FYI: My favorite app for navigating London’s tube/train/bus systems is the free Citymapper app. It can help you plan your journey to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, too!
HOW LONG WILL THE TOUR TAKE?
The average time people spend inside the Harry Potter Studio Tour is about 3 hours. We stayed closer to 4, but I could also easily see how you could stay longer. We went pretty quickly through the art department and special effects areas, so if we’d covered those more in-depth we would have been there for 5 hours, for sure. That’s one reason why I think it’s important to book earlier in the day. The last thing you want is for the museum to close when you’re not quite done looking through it. Since it can take quite a while to reach Leavesden depending on where you’re coming from, it might not make sense to book right at opening time, but I do suggest booking no later than 1pm, just in case!
There is almost always some sort of special event going on at the Warner Bros. Studio, so be sure to check the official website in advance of your visit to see what’s coming up. Some events are included in your entrance ticket and others are ticketed separately. A couple of the most popular annual events are Hogwarts in the Snow, which runs every holiday season from late November to end of January, and Dinner in the Great Hall which is offered on select dates around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. (You should expect to pay a pretty penny for that, but something tells me it might be worth it!)
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