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My Dream Come True – Loving the Harry Potter Backstage Tour
My mom asked if we wanted to add the backstage tour of Harry Potter to our London itinerary. Hmmm. Let me preface this post by letting you know that I am not your casual Harry Potter fan. From when my Mom handed me the hardback of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone seventeen years ago at the same age as the protagonist at 11, I was lost to the wizarding world. Since then I have attended midnight release parties for the books; and, subsequently, the movies, dressed as a Hogwarts student. I have visited and attended all official Harry Potter related amusements including the traveling Warner Brothers Harry Potter exhibition. When my sister earned her Masters degree she asked our parents for her and I to go to the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando Florida, and two years later when I earned my Masters degree the whole family visited the newly opened Diagon Alley and Hogwarts express extension of the Wizarding World. I even have a Harry Potter tattoo. Like I said, I am no casual. So yes! When I finally had the chance to attend the Warner Brothers Studio Tour for the Harry Potter films in London I grabbed it.
An Inside Look at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour
Now, first off, the sound stages that hold the sets and props from the movies are not actually in London. We booked our tickets well in advance, as I advise anyone to do, this is a popular destination for Harry Potter fans. Don’t leave your visit up to chance if you really want to go; be sure and reserve your tickets as early as possible on the Universal Tour Website. Thankfully we had our own car and transportation was not an issue; however, fans hoping to visit the studio tour should know that it is actually located in Watford, so one would have to take the tube to the Watford station and from there take a special bus ran by the Studio (decked out in Harry Potter decorations) from Watford station to the actual sound stages. I have to admit I was jealous when I saw the busses that I didn’t get to ride. However, parking is free and convenient so driving is still the best option.
Because I am truly a fanatic, I booked us for the very first tour of the day. I wanted to make sure that there would be less people than mid day because I knew I would be taking a lot of pictures. While standing in line to enter the studio I noticed that some children had Passport Booklets, I was instantly jealous so asked one of the crew members if I could have one too. She implied they were meant for children, but I was persistent and she eventually gave me four, one for each member of my party.
Once I arrived back in the queue and showed my family their new Harry Potter Passports, another group of young adults, roughly the same age as me, asked where I got the passports and they too acquired some of their own. (Note to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: Adult Harry Potter fans are just as excited, if not more excited, than most kids visiting the tour, give them cool freebies without them having to ask!).
Finally the line was moving and we were brought to a large room displaying HP movie posters from all over the world. Soon the movie posters changed to a short film about the exhibit and finally we were escorted into the Great Hall at Hogwarts. The room was beautiful and completely set up as if we walked directly into the great feast on the first day of school. We were informed that it was a “live set” meaning it was dressed as if the movie were about to begin rolling. I took many pictures and marveled in the beauty and awe of walking into a world I had always dreamed of. Soon after we moved to the main exhibition floor.
The exhibits were plentiful and interesting, the layout was easy to understand and thankfully the visitor can move at their own pace. Quite a few of the sets had some interactive elements and most of the larger sets were accompanied by television screens with the cast and crew of the films explaining what was happening in the scenes, with interesting facts and tidbits about the movies. For example I learned at the animal exhibit that cats are easily trainable but owls can take up to three weeks to learn one trick. There was a set from the Leaky Cauldron that showed and explained forced perception. And at each main exhibit there were embossed stamps that we used on our passports. There is also a game throughout the exhibit to find the Golden Snitch.
Walking further through the tour all aspects of movie making were represented, I particularly enjoyed the architectural set designs including line drawings and paper scale models of different scenes and sets including a full paper model of Hogwarts and line drawings of the Dragons from the first challenge of the Triwizard Tournament. The make up and special effects exhibit was also quite exciting with a working animatronic robot of Voldemort in his shriveled form from the fourth and eighth movies, as well as everyone’s favorite House Elf, Dobby.
Midway through the tour they sell snacks and serve butterbeer; you can buy a butterbeer in a plastic cup or a plastic souvenir mug. While enjoying our tasty treat we walked around all the outdoor sets including the Dursley’s House at number 4 Privet Drive, as well as the bridge at Hogwarts and Harry’s parents’ house at Godric’s Hollow. There are plenty of photo opportunities, such as the Ford Anglia and a seat on Hagrid’s flying motorcycle.
After finishing our butterbeer and washing out the souvenir cup at the washing station we headed to the biggest exhibit, the Hogwarts express. There you can take a picture running through the platform 9 ¾ and walk on to the Hogwarts express. The train is dressed as well and there are small scenes of candy and scarves/school robes hung in the cabins. Then walking through a hall of props from the films showcasing student’s textbooks and interesting toys from Zonko’s joke shop the tour is over as you arrive in the huge model of Hogwarts and the surrounding grounds.
Overall the tour is magnificent, and I recommend it to any Harry Potter fan, or anyone interested in the movie making process. However, the price is high and I wouldn’t recommend it as a leisurely day. It is quite far from London and I noticed quite a few children running through the exhibits simply to get their next embossed stamp in their passport. There is an area where visitors can dress in School Robes and “ride” a broomstick in front of a green screen and a fan, they can then buy a short film of themselves flying through various scenery. This is very expensive, however, so I did not personally try it. There is quite a lot to do, see, and buy and any true fan of the series would enjoy themselves.
#1 Tip: As soon as you know you are going, book your tickets online here: Warner Bros. Studio Harry Potter Tour
#2 The studios are located in Leavesden, about an hour north of London. You can drive, take a shuttle bus, or take the train.
To drive is extremely easy, and it’s signed off of the motorway. There is a huge free parking lot.
If you want to take the train, you catch it at Euston Station and get off at Watford Junction. Just walk outside and you will see the shuttle waiting to pick you up and drop you off at the studio, which cost 2.50 pounds for the round trip. The only thing to remember is that you want an express train so that you are not stopping at every station along the way. It should take 43 minutes, and costs about 12.00 pounds.
If you really want to take the bus all the way from central London, this is an option offered on the website, so check it out there.
Personally, we stayed overnight in Watford at an AirBnB, and I would highly recommend staying in the vicinity. It’s a lot cheaper than being right in London, and it is also very close to Windsor Castle so there are other things to do in the area.
Have you been to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour? Did you find all of the golden snitches?