Visiting London’s Harry Potter Studios

As someone who bought each Harry Potter book as it was released and saw each movie as it came out, I was beyond thrilled to walk through the Great Hall and bow to Buckbeak. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando has thrill rides and some experiences based on the stories, but at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter you can walk over the Hogwarts’ bridge, push a cart on Platform 9 ¾, board the Knight Bus, enter 4 Privet Drive, step into Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts, and so much more.

The Great Hall at Hogwarts and costumes at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.
The Great Hall at Hogwarts and costumes at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.

Just a 20-minute train ride from London’s Euston Station, the studio tour often sells out months in advance. My biggest takeaway was the incredible craftsmanship and enormous amount of time involved in creating all the details that help make Harry Potter’s world seem real. Set designers placed 17,000 boxes in Ollivander’s wand shop and 38,000 pieces of (rubber) treasure in Lestrange’s vault. Aragog has an 18-foot leg span and took 100 technicians to operate. The tables in the Great Hall were distressed with axes and chains to show wear and actors were encouraged to carve graffiti in them as real students would have. Dumbledore’s memories are stored in 800 hand-labeled vials. Think about the 950 jars in the Potions classroom all filled with different items and labeled, and the creatures, props, and costumes–all unique and created by hand.

Dumbledore's office at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.
Dumbledore’s office at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.

After a short introductory video, visitors enter the Great Hall and from there are free to visit exhibits at their own pace and in whichever order they wish. Labels and short videos provide interesting background information. Here you’ll find Harry’s Gryffindor dorm room, Dumbledore’s office, the Potions classroom, the Weasleys’ kitchen, Hagrid’s Hut, the Ministry of Magic, the flying car, and more. You’ll have an opportunity to say “Accio” and have a broomstick rise to your hand.

The flying car at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.
The flying car at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.

Wind your way around the paths in the Forbidden Forest and encounter Buckbeak and Aragog, both which move (younger kids might be unnerved by Aragog and his spiderlings). The Hogwarts Express is at Platform 9 ¾, where you can take your own photos pushing a cart into the wall.

Next is the Backlot Café, which serves hot food like burgers and hot dogs, and has lots of seating. It is one of only a handful of places where you can try butterbeer, a non-alcoholic beverage that tastes like cream soda topped with thick butterscotch foam.

Butterbeer at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.
Butterbeer at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.

The café is adjacent to the outdoor back lot where you can board the Knight Bus, walk across the wooden Hogwarts’ bridge, enter the Dursleys’ home at 4 Privet Drive, and see the Potters’ Cottage at Godric’s Hollow.

From the back lot, enter the creature effects department to see Fawkes and Dobby, prosthetics made for Voldemort and goblins, and props like mandrakes and the Book of Monsters.

The 16,500-square-foot Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion opened in April 2019. Walk through the Gallery of Goblins and the main banking hall, and then enter the Lestrange family vault where you will be surrounded by “treasure.” Exit into the destroyed Gringotts.

It’s a thrill to stroll down Diagon Alley, peering into the windows of Ollivander’s and the Weasley twins’ shop, for which the art department created 120 different items like extendable ears and fudge flies. Unlike the shops at Universal Studios’ Diagon Alley, these are not open for business.

Pass detailed “white card” architectural models of places like the Owlery and the Quidditch World Cup stadium, and then you’ll enter the last room. Here you can walk around the very large, detailed model of Hogwarts, which was painstakingly built by 86 artists. Note details like lighting and landscaping that, when enhanced by digital effects, made the castle seem so real in the films.

Hogwarts Castle model at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.
Hogwarts Castle model at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter. Photo by Anastasia Mills Healy.

Exit through a gift shop selling items like Hogwarts Express Christmas ornaments, chocolate frogs, and Gryffindor sweatshirts, before ending up in the hall where the tour began.

Upcoming Special Events

From September 27 to November 10, 2019, in celebration of Halloween, 100 pumpkins will float from the ceiling of the Great Hall, which will be decorated with lollipops and apples. You’ll be able to take up a wand against Death Eaters before walking down a darker, spookier Diagon Alley.

Hogwarts will become even more magical from November 16, 2019 to January 26, 2020 with Christmas trees lining the Great Hall, the Gryffindor common room dressed for the season, and a blanket of filmmaking snow covering the Hogwarts model.

Logistics

Book as far ahead as you can: Entry is by advanced-purchase timed ticket only. Don’t bother with the tickets that come with extras like an audio tour–much of the content of the audio tour also plays at the exhibits.

Visits take an average of three to four hours; add in travel time and it’s best to plan for a whole day. There’s a café about halfway through where you can buy food and drinks or eat your own picnic. Other places to grab a coffee, a sweet, or a light, cold bite are sprinkled throughout the tour.

Leave plenty of time to get to the studio and try to avoid rush hours. National Rail trains operate regularly from London’s Euston Station for the 20-minute trip to Watford Junction. This train handily accepts the Oyster Travel Card. At Watford Junction, buy return tickets for the shuttle bus, which takes 15 minutes to get to the studio tour in Leavesden. The buses accept cash only and the fare is £5 for a return ticket. You will need to show a studio tour ticket for the same day to board the bus.

Resources

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London–The Making of Harry Potter 

National Rail for schedules from Euston Station to Watford Junction 

Visit London 

What to Do with Kids in London 

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