Update: I realized how long this post was in its original form and decided to break it up into two parts. You can check out the second half of this London Attraction here or through the link at the bottom of the page.
On my last day in London I had the opportunity to check out the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio tour. On my first night in the city, a chance encounter with a Warner Bros. executive at a Chinatown restaurant set the stage for my visit to the studio. Tickets to this London attraction have to be purchased in advance – well in advance, if you’re visiting on the weekends. Unlike most American attractions, you are not able to buy tickets at the door.
The tour was an amazing and fun end to a busy trip for World Travel Market. It began with a one and a half hour commute on the Tube from East London where I was staying in an apartment. It required four train transfers and then a cab ride to the outskirts of London in a town called Leavesden, where the Warner Bros. lot is located.
This is no ordinary London attraction. As you enter the studio building you’ll see familiar items from the movie ranging from props, images, and set pieces. You’ll pass Harry’s first room, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, as you line up to enter the theater. I won’t spoil the surprise awaiting you once you enter the theater by describing the experience here, just know that most guests are awe struck when it happens.
The first part of the set that you’ll walk on is that of the Great Hall. The doors leading to the Great Hall are massive – just like I remember from the movies. As you walk in, you immediately feel like you’re in the world of Hogwarts.
Two long dinner tables flank either side of the hall, furnished with place settings and many of the same items you would’ve seen in the film. Behind the tables are uniforms from the different Hogwarts houses. For either a child or adult fan, the imagination quickly goes into overdrive. I stood there recalling Great Hall scenes and imagined myself sitting at one of the place settings.
At the far end of the Hall, overlooking the room, is the headmaster’s table complete with costumes of the film’s main faculty members. Although you aren’t able to touch anything in the room, you have an opportunity to look over every minute detail of the various wardrobes, coats-of-arm, working fireplace, and props. This part of the tour is guided by studio helpers, some of which were child actors in the film. One of whom I met, recounted his experience working on the set, sharing details that you wouldn’t necessarily find in the tour’s literature.
During Halloween, all of the helpers dress up as Death Eaters and add a little something extra to the experience. During the off-season, the tour stays open until 8 PM. On holidays and during peak times, the studio stays open until 10 PM.
After your visit to the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided. I would suggest renting a headset and handheld device to make the experience more of a guided tour. It’s an extra charge but well worth it – the actor who played Draco Malfoy narrates the story behind each numbered mini-set that you’ll pass. There are 33 stations on the tour. The headset provides behind-the-scenes images and extra details in a well-organized system.
Apparently, the longest it took someone to complete the tour was nine hours. After an hour of my own perusing, listening, and photo-taking, and only having reached station 7 of the tour, I could see how that was possible. I stood at each station for at least five to ten minutes but like so many of the props, time truly flies.
In my opinion, if you’re an adult parent-fan of the movies, you should probably take the tour for the first time without your kids or come back on your own. Understandably, younger kids are more likely to zip through the studio in a flurry of excitement at all the “magic” surrounding them. A mature child will have the patience to stop at each set, read its description, and take in all of its details.
One of my favorite parts of the tour is the CGI effects station where you see the flying car, the flying motorcycle, and the Quidditch stick “magically” moving in front of a green screen. Above these objects are videos of scenes from the film where the props appeared with CGI effects.
A particularly fun part of the tour is the opportunity to sit in the flying car ahead of a green screen. In front of you, scenes like that of the encroaching train face you while a helper directs your action to snap an optimal shot for your souvenir picture. At the next station you can ride a mechanical broomstick, pretend you’re in a Quidditch match, flying over the water, or zooming through the arches of Hogwarts. A fan blows air in your face to heighten the experience. At the end, you can purchase any two pictures for 15 pounds.