How do you rate your level of Harry Potter fandom? I personally wouldn’t call myself a ‘Potterhead’ but I’ve read and enjoyed all the books and watched every movie several times, so I’d say I was more than just a casual fan. When we booked our trip to London, visiting the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden was at the top of our list.
As you can imagine, Emmas’s level of anticipation was off the chart, and I was SO happy when our visit date finally arrived because: One) I was pretty freaking excited about going, but mostly Two) if I had to hear the question “When are we going to see Harry Potter Studios?” one more time, my head was going to explode!
The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London isn’t a theme park, it’s the location where the films were made and showcases actual sets, costumes and props from all the eight Harry Potter films. The studios themselves have an interesting history, once the Leavesden Aerodrome and aircraft factory where in WWII fighter planes were produced for the Ministry of Defense, it was transformed into workshops making costumes and sets for the Ministry of Magic.
The entrance to the studios may look a little unassuming but this is definitely a case of ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ because as soon as the tour starts it’s knock your socks off AMAZING!
I was a little torn as too how many photos and details to share with you because I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but the truth is my photos don’t even come near to capturing the number of exhibits or the incredible detail and craftsmanship of the costumes and sets, the fascinating behind the scenes action of how the movies were made and most importantly the emotions you feel when you are standing in the actual Great Hall or Diagon Alley. It’s really magical.
So without further ado, let the tour begin…
As the doors to The Great Hall are about to open, the anticipation was palpable, it was easy to imagine that you were actually about to visit Hogwarts.
And then you are in the actual real Great Hall where all the films were shot. The floors are actual solid York stone which makes the space feel less like a set and more like a castle, but the only thing that gives it away is that there is no ceiling, the Great Hall’s enchanted ceilings were created with the magic of visual effects.
The Great Hall features costumes worn during filming and has a section with uniforms from each house. Sadly you don’t get sorted by the sorting hat (how cool would that be), but I already know I’d be a Ravenclaw. How about you?
The guided portion of the tour ends here and then you can explore in your own time.
The next section contained full sets, costumes and props. SO MANY PROPS! It was fascinating, the details were amazing.
I’d really recommend chatting to the staff as the are really knowledgeable and full of behind the scenes stories about funny things that happened on the film set.
Turns out every wand on set was numbered and had to be returned and accounted at the end of every day. If even one wand was missing no one could leave until it reappeared.
And if you’ve ever wanted to fly a broom here is your chance. There was an opportunity to see how green screens are used to film the flying scenes and be the star of your own film. There is a cost to purchase the finished films (and they are quite expensive starting at £25) but there is no obligation to buy, so if the queue isn’t too long I’d recommend it because it’s lots of fun and you get to wear robes and sit on a broom.
Emma absolutely loved it and I did buy the film and photo package because it’s a fun memory of the day and something she can show all her friends.
You can see an abridged version of here movie here…her acting is priceless.
After flying lessons it’s time to practice casting spells, Emma chose Harry Potter’s wand, I much preferred Professor McGonagall’s delicately turned wand. Voldemort’s wand was also on offer but I didn’t want to tempt fate.
Other sets in this section of the tour included Hagrid’s Hut, The Ministry of Magic, Potions Classroom, The Weasley Kitchen and lots more, in fact if the tour ended here we would have been super happy.
But it didn’t and the next section was…
Platform 9 3/4 with the real steam train that was used as the Hogwarts Express in all the films.
We were so lucky to see this section of the studio as it was only recently opened a few months before and was painstakingly reassembled by many of the crew that designed and built the set originally. They’ve even rigged the locomotive with special effects steam to give the impression that the Hogwarts Express is ready to board.
Fun fact: Scenes featuring the working engine were filmed on a sound stage at the studios in Leavesden and on a track running the full length of the Studios’ 100 acre backlot.
We had a chance to sit in the carriage sets that were used during filming as well as walking through a train carriage that was dressed with props from iconic train scenes from each movie.
By this stage I had a hankering for Chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans.
A small section that I really enjoyed (but sadly Emma rushed me through) featured the work of the graphics department. A small team of artists created all the printed pieces featured in the movies. There were posters, product packaging, books, posters, maps, letters…it was fascinating.
Guess what? We were only about half way through at this stage, I was wondering how it could get any better and them BAM! BACKLOT.
By this stage we were super hungry. No food is allowed in the studio areas so the Backlot Cafe was a welcome sight and it was finally time to try some Butterbeer.
SO, what does Butterbeer taste like? It’s super sweet like butterscotch cream soda with a sweet foamy top, I enjoyed it but I must admit it was way too sweet for me. Emma doesn’t drink soda so she didn’t like it at all.
We had some lunch and then it was time to explore the backlot.
Creature Effects was incredible and showcased the processes that went into designing and making the prosthetics and animatronics. There were all manner of creatures there including goblins, and monster books, moving mandrakes and a full sized bowing Buckbeak. Emma was actually quite scared in here because everything looked so real, she also knew there was going to be a giant spider (Aragog) which was making her panic a bit. One of the friendly staff offered to take us through a back door so we could bypass the spider, but she covered her eyes the whole way through and made it unscathed to… Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley was so cool. So many little details that are never even featured in the films, I could have spent hours there and still missed things.
Fun Fact: Ollivanders wand shop was home to more than 17,000 individually labelled wand boxes.
The tour was nearly at an end but the very best was saved till last – How can you top Diagon Alley? I hear you ask. Just wait and see.
The next section featured concept art, illustrations and set models and I almost don’t want to reveal what came next because I didn’t expect it at all at it blew me away. Even Emma’s jaw dropped.
But the pictures here just don’t show the scale and the overwhelming wow factor that you feel when you see the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle.
I got a little bit emotional when I first walked in and saw Hogwarts. This model is stunning and meticulously detailed.
It’s scale was breathtaking, and as the lighting changed you saw the model transform with over 2,500 optic fibre lights simulate candles and torches. Really a special thing to behold.
The model was used for filming exterior views of Hogwarts and the enhanced with digital effects to create realistic looking scenes.
The hours that have gone into making such a detailed object are mind blowing.
Have you enjoyed my highlights tour? I hope I haven’t revealed too much. There is so much more to see, I have barely scratched the surface. In fact I’d love to visit again, I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff myself.
So in summary – Totally awesome – GO!
What you need to know before you visit
Book your tickets in advance
You need to purchase you tickets online in advance and choose an available date and time. Tickets are not available on site.
I suggest booking tickets as soon as you have confirmed travel plans so you don’t miss out, especially if you are only in town for a few days.
Adult (Ages 16 years and above) £33
Child (Ages 5 to 15 years) £25.50
Family of four £101
Plan to arrive 20 minutes before your allocated time slot. If you miss your time slot they cannot guarantee entry. We were actually over half an hour late as we missed our train, luckily it was a slower day (Wednesday) so we went in with the next available group.
If you aren’t driving (there is plenty of free parking), taking the train to Watford Junction is the easiest way to get there.
Trains to Watford Junction leave regularly from Euston and can take up to 45min. A Warner Bros. shuttle bus meets the train and costs only £2 return (remember to save your ticket to show the driver on the way back). You can’t miss the shuttle, it looks like this…
Allow at least an hour for the whole trip from London Euston.
There is no food or drinks allowed inside the studio tour
We made the rookie mistake of not eating before we arrived and were ravenous by the time we got to the Backlot Cafe. Even worse I did have some snacks but left them in a backpack in the cloak room at the entrance so had to buy food and drinks at the cafe (which had some healthy options but not budget friendly). If you have kids bring snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy in the backlot of the studios (but it’s about 2 hours through the tour so eat a big breakfast and a snack on the train on the way in).
Before and after the tour, there is a cafe and Starbucks inside the main entrance where you can also purchase food and drinks.
Plan to be there all day
Even though the average time spent by most people is 3-4 hours, we were there for 6 hours (not including travel) and that’s with Emma rushing me through a few things. It wasn’t that busy (we went on a Wednesday) but there was a lot to see and I didn’t even get to read all the signs on each exhibit. If you have a Harry Potter fan in your group plan this as an all day event.
The gift shop at the end of the tour is huge and pretty great in it’s own right. It goes without saying that you can fairly easily break the bank inside the gift shop. Emma knows ‘the gift shop rules’, my answer will always be ‘No’ so don’t ask. I like to travel light and prefer taking home pictures and memories rather than toys and knick knacks. In saying that, The Official Guide Book is really worth it and has a ton of facts about everything in the tour. If you have kids and are pro gift shop it might be best to set a budget beforehand so there are no tears at the end of the day.
10am – 8pm with the last tour of the day taking place at 4:30pm.
7 days a week (except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day)