In June a dream that I’ve had since I was 12 years old came true.
I visited Hogwarts.
No, an owl did not drop my acceptance letter into my flat.
And, no, I did not get to take a ride on the enchanting Hogwarts Express. (The really drunk old man who hadn’t showered in years on our London Midlands train made the whole getting to Hogwarts experience as un-enchanting as possible, actually…)
But I did get to visit the Warner Bros. Studio outside of London
Brooke, Heather, and I are all huge Harry Potter fans. It was one of the things we bonded over in Italy and many a Harry Potter movies were watched hungover in our apartment. So, in addition to our whirlwind Brussels trip, a visit to the Making of Harry Potter was in order.
Located about 20 minutes outside of London, these studios were the production home to all 8 Harry Potter films. Today they house many authentic sets, props, and costumes from the movies, and also demonstrate some of the technology that was used to bring J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world to the big screen.
Probably the most important thing to note if you want to pay a visit is that you MUST pre-book your tickets ahead of time, either on the Warner Bros. website or through a tour company. You cannot just turn up and go on a tour. While pre-booking you choose a tour time and are asked to arrive 20 or 30 minutes before then to collect your tickets. If there’s a time of day you’d prefer to go on the tour, I’d suggest booking early. When I went to reserve our tickets about a week before our visit all the morning slots were already filled.
We were still able to book an afternoon tour, though, and with ticket confirmations in hand we made our way from London to Watford Junction where we boarded the Harry Potter emblazoned bus to the tour studio, giggling like a bunch of pre-teen fangirls.
The tour begins in a small auditorium with a video presentation. The writers and producers talks about how they decided to turn the Harry Potter books into films and there are some behind the glimpses from all the films, as well as commentary from the actors. I think I actually teared up a little hearing about how much this experience meant to them.
From there everyone is led into the Great Hall, a set that was built for the first movie in 2000 and used in all subsequent films until the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now, in addition to the two long dining tables, the room is filled with costumes from the different films. It was interested to see how much the actors had grown (or hadn’t grown…) over the course of the films.
After being ushered out of the Great Hall, visitors are then free to take as much as they’d like to explore the rest of the studios.
The first area is a large room that contains a lot of the sets, costumes, and props used in the movies. Think…the Gryffindor common room in its entirety, Dumbledore’s office, and the Burrow. In addition to just seeing everything, the studio did a great job of placing information placards just about everywhere detailing what things were, how they were made, and when they were used in the movies. There were also employees milling about ready to answer any questions.
Once we’d seen everything there we moved onto the backlot, an outdoor area featuring some of the exterior sets. Here you can take a look at No. 4 Privet Drive, the blue Ford Anglia, and Hagrid’s bike, among others. You can also hop on the Knight Bus for a photo and TRY BUTTERBEER. As this is only one of two places in the world you can try it, I had to order a glass. While I’m pretty sure you’d get diabetes if you drank butterbeer on a regular basis, a few sips were deliciously sweet.
Moving on, we went back inside, this time to the creatures and art department. Here we learned about the technology that was needed to bring all of the non-human creatures to life and saw how the artists planned the sets. As you can imagine, the amount of planning that went into creating these large, detailed sets and making monsters and goblins and other mythical creature come to life was extraordinary.
Nearing the end of the experience, we arrived at my favorite part of the day- Diagon Alley. Walking down the street and passing all the exteriors of the shops where Harry and his pals did their pre-term shopping, I really felt like I was exploring this magical town. And I wished more than ever I was a wizard and not a merge Muggle.
We then arrived at the centerpiece of the studio tour, a handcrafted model of Hogwarts, built to scale. Visitors are able to walk around the entire model, which is nearly 50 ft in diameter, while it moves through its 4 minute day to night cycle. It’s a truly beautiful end to your Harry Potter experience.
Walking away from Hogwarts felt a little sad, so I went home, pulled the first book up on my Kindle, and happily transported myself back to that magical castle.
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Would you want to visit the studio? What did you think of my Harry Potter studio tour review?