If you are a fan of the Harry Potter films and you find yourself in London, there is one thing you must do and it is to obtain tickets and run to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Use floo powder, your trusty Firebolt, London Underground tickets—take whatever transportation is required because the tour falls firmly into the category of “Cannot Be Missed.”
I had high expectations going into the Harry Potter studio tour. Opened in 2012, the tour is a permanent part of Warner Bros.’ footprint at Leavesden. It’s packed to the gills with magical artifacts that document the making of the eight Harry Potter movies. I’d heard nothing but praise from friends about the tour, and though part of me wanted to go in and be completely surprised, I couldn’t help flipping through galleries online. I went in knowing what to expect, and I was still blown away. I don’t use the expression lightly. I lost count of how many times I stood in front of something, jaw dropped in disbelief. A staggering amount of work went into bringing Wizarding World to life.
The Sorting Hat
The tour winds through so many displays, sets, and behind the scenes exhibits that it’s hard to recall them without the aid of photo documentation. You begin in the Great Hall—entering this grand room possibly (totally) made me cry a little—and travel into vast sound stages with areas showing off Hagrid’s Hut, the inside of the kitchen in The Burrow, Dumbledore’s office, the door to the Chamber of Secrets, the potions classroom, and on and on. Besides the sheer joy of seeing so many set-used costumes and decorations, it’s all done museum style so that you learn a little about what went into crafting the wonders before you.
Gryffindor common room
The Harry Potter tour is immersive, but not in the same way as Wizarding World at the Universal parks. This experience places you on the set instead of in the world, if that makes sense. After you wander through the first part of the tour, you go outdoors to hop aboard the Knight Bus and with the current celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (it’s happening until September 5), you can walk inside number four, Privet Drive.
Number four, Privet Drive
As the tour wraps up, you’ll see the efforts of the prosthetic, effects, and prop departments up close. They crafted everything from goblin masks to the creepy baby Voldemort seen in Goblet of Fire. It was wonderful to see the artistry of creatures such as Fawkes and Aragog in person. And it still wasn’t over. After a stroll through the Diagon Alley set, you’ll make your way to the pièce de résistance of the tour: an incredibly detailed 1:24 model of Hogwarts.
The model of the school for witchcraft and wizardry has been used in every movie. How detailed is it? There are miniature owls in the Owlery. Seeing it for the first time would be one of those moments when my jaw dropped in awe.
Planning a visit to the studio tour? I have some handy tips:
- Take extra batteries and clear space: Whether you’re using your phone or a separate camera, bring spare batteries and make room. You’re going to want to take more pictures and video than you can imagine.
- Comfy shoes: The experience involves a fair amount of walking and standing, so wear shoes that will tolerate that.
- Don’t just see it through a lens: The studio offers free wifi so you can tweet, Snapchat, and otherwise share your experience at the Harry Potter tour. I did that, but I also took time to make sure I looked at the displays with my own eyes. Document your trip, take all the photos, but don’t only look at everything through the lens because you’ll miss so much.
- Stop in the cafe: If you’re spending over a couple hours doing the studio tour (and you likely will), plan to stop and get a snack at the cafe. It’s conveniently located in the middle of the tour (tour traffic goes one way through a couple of stages), and you’re going to need the fuel to get you through the rest of the exhibits and back to your home base.
- Linger to see different lighting: Lighting changes in places like Diagon Alley and at the Hogwarts model, and when it cycles through, it brings different moods to the setting. Stand still and see them all.
- Look up: You might think it’s impossible to cram more awesome stuff into the tour, but if you remember to always look up, you’ll find more set pieces to drool over.
- Go with equally enthusiastic fans: As someone who adores the Harry Potter universe and nerds out over props and the nuts and bolts of costume and set design, I took my sweet ol’ time wandering through the tour and happily my group was into a slow pace. It’s self-guided, so you can go as quickly or as slowly as you want; you can literally wander around until they close. I encourage taking your time; my group was there approximately 4 hours. I don’t know if a non-fan would last as long. Choose your companions carefully.
You can see dozens more pictures from the tour in the below gallery. I included several shots of the model of Hogwarts at the end because holy pixies, it is beyond dazzling.
Have you been to the Harry Potter studio tour? Head to the comments and tell me about your highlights from the journey.
Images: Amy Ratcliffe