Every Muggle and the dampest of Squibs has heard of Harry Potter.
Harry’s story may be long finished but the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down; especially after the release of the Fantastic Beasts movie and the production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The Harry Potter films were made at Leavesden Studios, just north of London. An inordinate amount of props and costumes were used in the films and they have all been combined in a huge hangar next to the still-working studios. This is the Warner Bros Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter.
It’s a hugely popular day out; I therefore considered it my duty to visit with the family. Obviously this has nothing to do with the fact that the husband and I like the Harry Potter stories and films more than we should.
And we absolutely had to check out the brand new Forbidden Forest section.
Be warned that there are plenty of spoilers in this post!
The Great Hall
The Great Hall is where your journey through Harry’s world begins.
Before you reach it, there are a couple of group talks. I didn’t get to see them, however, as Bee decided to have an enormous tantrum in the queue to get in. He wasn’t calming down by the time we’d got to the entrance so, feeling the daggers in my back from the rest of the queue, I asked the staff for help.
Much the everyone’s relief, the super helpful staff took me through a back entrance where I could give Bee a quick feed and calm him down before meeting up with the group. The Husband and the Cub were treated to the dramatic reveal of the door to the Great Hall while I sat in the wings. (Tip: If it’s your birthday you get to knock on the hall doors to open them).
The Great Hall is the only part of the tour where you’re pressed for time – they will shoo you out to make way for the next group. Make sure you have your camera out and ready! The hall is smaller than it looks on-screen and must have been quite cramped to film in with all the tables out. It’s impressive, nonetheless, and feels a lot more “real” than I expected.
The Big Room
Once ushered out of the Great Hall you can explore at your own pace. In the Big Room you’ll find many of the props and sets from the films. The level of detail in the sets is incredible – how many hours went into designing let alone building them? You could lose hours in this room, depending on your attention span.
Most of the sets are roped off but you can go into the lower part of Dumbledore’s office. There are some interactive bits and pieces scattered around the room, so look out for these.
The Cub took the opportunity to ride a broomstick (but refused to wear the oversized robes). She absolutely loved it. There was a screen where she could see herself flying around London, Quidditch pitches and Hogwarts and this put the biggest grin on her face.
I thought the Potions classroom and the Weasley’s home were standouts, although the darker scene at Malfoy Manor was suitably chilling.
At the far end of the Big Room is a huge gateway to the brand-new Forbidden Forest set. The makers have incorporated 19 massive trees and some of the most memorable magical animal characters from the films. You can meet and bow to Buckbeak the Hippogriff and play about with day and night forest sounds. The trees are enormous and the dark set is suitably foreboding.
A tunnel of twisting tree roots led us to a grotto (make sure you look up for spiderwebs on the way). No prizes for guessing who lives in here; Aragog the Acromantula and some of his friends are waiting to send a shiver down your spine.
If you don’t have any inclination to be scared out of your wits you can skip the spidery nightmare. But I wouldn’t recommend missing it!
All Aboard the Hogwarts Express!
Stepping onto Platform 9 3/4, you are greeted by the Hogwarts Express, a real steam train used in the films. To the kids’ delight you can board the train and walk through the passageway where you can see carriages with props from the scenes of each film.
On the platform itself you can take a train ride, pose with a disappearing trolley and shop in the platform sweet shop.
If you’re hungry, the next stop is the Backlot cafe where you can eat and try some Butterbeer. It’s not as bad as some people have suggested; I quite liked it. It’s super sweet though and I could feel my teeth rotting just looking at it.
The only part of the tour that’s outside, the Backlot is home to the Knight Bus, part of Hogwarts’ bridge, Bathilda Bagshot’s home (complete with hole in the roof) and, of course, Number Four Privet Drive.
Make sure you get your photos with some of these most iconic props but you’ll have to get in line as everyone wants the same picture.
As the outside section is so small, the Studio tour is a good place to spend a cold winter day.
Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Castle
From the Backlot we walked through a room with many of the animatronic props. There are a fair few interactive things to do and see here. You can control an animated Dobby with your movements and press a button to wake the horrible shrivelled baby-Voldemort thing.
Highlights include life size models of the Basilisk, seeing how the werewolf Lupin was created and how Hagrid was made to look so huge using rugby players and a prosthetic head.
Just around the corner you can take a stroll down Diagon Alley which is one of the highlights of the tour. Although you can’t go inside the shops it’s still great fun and again, the attention to detail is striking.
Next, walk through corridors displaying some of the beautiful concept art and mock-up models before you arrive at the grand finale; Hogwarts itself.
It’s a busy but fascinating day out and I defy even non-Potter fans not to enjoy themselves. Even if you don’t like the films, the effort put into the design and the sheer amount of props is incredible and seeing the behind the scenes secrets to the magic is enchanting.
Know before you go
You must buy tickets online before you visit Warner Bros Studios. An adult ticket costs £39, children’s tickets for those aged 5-15 are £31 and children 4 and under are free (but don’t forget to add under 4’s entrance ticket to your basket as little ones still need a ticket to enter).
You’ll need to be organised as tickets sell out far in advance – when we booked in January, the next Saturday available was in April. Your ticket will have a time slot on it – make sure you arrive in plenty of time, although you can stop at the cafe for lunch before going in.
You can pick up an audio guide, available in different languages.
If you’ve got cash to splash you can take a deluxe 2 hour guided tour for £199pp.
Plan on spending at least 3 hours at Warner Bros. Studios. I think it took us at least 4 hours; the husband and I could have spent longer but the kids had had enough.
Exit through gift shop
Take some spare cash with you; the gift shop is huge and sells an enormous variety of souvenirs, mostly good quality. You could spend a fortune in here (which is of course what they want you to do…).
Warner Bros Studios are in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, an easy day trip from London. If you’re arriving by car it’s just off the M25 at junction 19, and is well signposted.
Do check the state of traffic on the motorways though, in case they decide to shut the whole, entire M4 like they did when we went! Diversions aren’t pretty, especially when you’ve got timed entry…
To reach the Studios by public transport take the train from London Euston to Watford Junction. From here you can catch shuttle buses direct to the Studios (cost £2.50, cash only). You need to arrive at Watford Junction 45 minutes before your entry time on your ticket.
The food here is OK. It’s expensive for what you get and the only vegetarian offering the husband could find for me was a plain cheese sandwich (I can’t say for sure how hard he looked). We’ve had worse though!
There is a cafe at the entrance and we’d recommend eating before you go in if you arrive around lunchtime as it will take a couple of hours for you get to the next cafe about halfway through the tour. The Backlot cafe sells butterbeer by the glass as well as butterbeer ice cream. We tried both; the ice cream was better despite being a rather unappetising sandy colour. Still bloody expensive though!
Not enough Potter for you?
There are plenty of other Potter sights in the UK to see. The train ride over the Glenfinnan viaduct is at the top of my list!
And outside of the UK there’s always the incredible looking Universal Studios in Orlando; take a peek at Diagon Alley here.