Time to make some magic at the Harry Potter Studio Tour.
It’s been twenty-two years since the Hogwarts Express set off from Kings Cross, bearing a young Harry Potter to his first year of school. In that time, Pottermania has exerted an ever-tighter grip on the country, inspiring near-religious fervour for the wizarding world. And if Harry Potter is a religion, then the Harry Potter Studio Tour is its temple. Located on the outskirts of London, inside the very studios where the Harry Potter films were made, it’s chock full of wizarding props, preserved film sets, and fascinating insights into how the magic was brought to life. Let’s take a look inside!
Harry Potter Studio Tour overview
Officially, the attraction goes by the rather unwieldy title of ‘Warner Brothers Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter’, but the Harry Potter Studio Tour is far snappier. It’s a little bit of a trek to get to (in fact, by barely being inside the M25, it flirts with failing the ‘actually being in London at all’ test), but at the end of your journey lies a simply Potteriffic day out.
Unlike, say, Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this is no mere tribute act. The warehouses which hold the Harry Potter Studio Tour are an important part of the franchise’s history, for all eight films were shot on the two soundstages which comprise the tour. In a wise move, Warner Brothers purchased the site, invested £100 million in the exhibition, and threw open their doors to the adoring public in 2012.
Nowadays, the Harry Potter Studio Tour welcomes 6000 visitors a day (roughly 2 million every year), for a self-guided wander through the spellbinding sets used. Props, costumes, interactive installations, artworks, and large-scale designs can all be seen on the tour, where a fascinating new insight into the film-making process lurks around every corner. Expect to spend several hours here, because there is A LOT to see.
Things to see at the Harry Potter Studio Tour
The tour begins in a pre-show cinema, which retreads the film history and generally hypes up the experience a little more. But the magic really happens when the doors to the Great Hall are flung open, and you finally – finally, after all those years hoping for an owl-delivered letter – take your first steps into Hogwarts.
A cavernous welcome to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, the Great Hall is a pretty splendid welcome indeed, and provides your first glimpse of costumes used in the films. Wandering on, you’ll find yourself on further sets including the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, and the Potions classroom, all replete with a treasure trove of props.
Test your nerve with a stroll through the mist-filled, spider-infested Forbidden Forest (this is where I managed to lose the rest of my family during my visit, presuming them to be eaten by spiders until they turned up an hour later), or for an added charge, you can try your hand at flying a broom. Sadly, they can’t be taken off the tour, or we’d be waving goodbye to the Northern line forever!
Speaking of trains, the next big set is Platform 9 and 3/4, where a gleaming replica of the Hogwarts Express is just waiting to be explored. There’s also a trolley sticking out of the wall, which is a much quieter place to pose for photos than its counterpart in Kings Cross station.
Further sets await you outside, where the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Hogwarts bridge – miraculously unscathed, despite being blown up in the final film – and Mr Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia can be found. Oh, and if you don’t sit in the car and scream like you’ve just seen the Hogwarts Express, you’re doing it all wrong…
Perhaps one of the most anticipated attractions at the Harry Potter Studio Tour is Diagon Alley, a wizarding wonderful of shopping. Though you can’t go in any of the shops, the attention to detail and eye-catching decor of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes makes it a firm audience favourite. Plus, if you simply can’t wait to see it in real life, you can take a tour on Google Street View.
For the grand finale, visitors to the Harry Potter Studio Tour wander round an epic, large-scale rendering of Hogwarts. Formerly used for sweeping film shots, the breathtaking model is a striking end to the tour which gives you a true sense of the castle – from the top of the Astronomy Tower to the shores of the lake.
As with any self-respecting London attraction, you exit through the gift shop. If you can resist temptation, you’re a better person than I, because the gift shop is a wonderland of chocolate frogs, magic wands, merchandise from the Hogwarts houses, and some beautifully extra chess sets that I don’t need but totally want.
As you might have guessed, a visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour is a pretty full-on day – and they’re not even done yet. On April 6th, they’ll unveil their newest permanent attraction, and the tour’s biggest installation ever: a full-scale replica of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, complete with vaults, goblins, and over 200,000 coins. Will it be magical? You can bank on it.
When to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour
As with many of London’s best attractions, there’s no bad time to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Logic dictates weekday visits will be a little quieter, but the sheer size of the tour means you’re rarely going to be crowded.
Much like Hogwarts itself, the Harry Potter Studio Tour tends to go all out for big annual events. Come Halloween, the Dark Arts take over, filling the Great Hall with floating pumpkins, lollipops, and red apples, and giving Diagon Alley a decidedly creepy makeover. There are also live Death Eater duels which demonstrate how the wand combat scenes were filmed, and around Halloween itself, there are a series of impressive (albeit pricey) dinner experiences, known as Hogwarts After Dark. In 2019, Dark Arts runs from September 27th until November 10th.
For Christmas, the tour welcomes Hogwarts in the Snow, a stunning transformation into a snow-dusted wonderland. The Great Hall is bedecked with huge trees and other festive fancies, whilst the rest of the tour gets a Yuletide makeover. As with Halloween, there’s a pretty spectacular Christmas dinner up for grabs, which makes for an unforgettable festive treat. This year, you can catch Hogwarts in the Snow from November 16th to January 26th, 2020.
Restaurants, pubs, and bars near the Harry Potter Studio Tour
I’m not going to sugarcoat this – we’re a long way from central London, which means your options are rather limited compared to the capital’s other major attractions. The Harry Potter Studio Tour has two onsite cafes – the public-facing Studio Cafe, and the Backlot Cafe, located halfway through the tour.
Of the two, the Backlot Cafe is the better option, boasting a wider hot food menu of sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and soups. This is also the place to find perhaps the wizarding world’s best export: Butterbeer. Sickly sweet but undeniably addictive, the non-alcoholic drink won’t get you drunk, but it could well put you in a sugar coma – especially since it’s also available in ice cream form.
Aside from the onsite eateries, you’ve got the entire Watford dining scene open to you. Lebanese spots NaNa’s and Tarboush are firm local favourites, whilst nearby Bushey wins plaudits for Italian Zaza (also of Whitechapel) and modern British cooking at St James. The Grove is even closer to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, offering upmarket cuisine in a rather stylish hotel setting. Finally, for something familiar, there are a whole host of the usual chain restaurants in Watford, and a fair few pubs dotted around too.
Harry Potter Studio Tour visitor information
Absolutely spellbound by the Harry Potter Studio Tour? Here’s all the visitor information you’re going to need. 👇
Location: Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR. See it on Google Maps.
Nearest stations: Watford Junction (Overground and National Rail) has a direct bus to the Harry Potter Studio Tour – other nearby stations include Garston, Kings Langley, and Watford North (all National Rail). Sadly, it’s not accessible by broom, flying motorbike, Floo powder, Portkeys, Apparition, Thestrals, or any other magical form of transport. I know, we’re gutted too.
Price: adult tickets are £43, children’s are £35 – it’s also free for kids aged 0-4 and carers. They’ve also got family, group, and VIP ticket packages available. Tickets must be booked in advance. See all the ticket options here.
Opening times: 9:30am-10pm (Mon to Fri), 8:30am-10pm (Sat and Sun). You’re advised to turn up 20 minutes before your tour time starts in order to collect tickets and pass security, and tours tend to last roughly 3 1/2 hours.
More information: available on their website.
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Featured image: @wbtourlondon
Also published on Medium.