September 11, 2012 by Amanda
It’s every Harry Potter fan’s dream — to step into the Great Hall; to get a glimpse into the Burrow; to hop aboard the Knight Bus; to poke around Professor Dumbledore’s office.
And now, we can do all of this and more without taking a scarlet steam engine to a fictional place called Hogwarts — we can do it right in London, England.
Earlier this year, Warner Bros. Studios opened its “Making of Harry Potter” experience to the public at the site of its Leavesden Studios not far from London — the site where the majority of all 8 Harry Potter movies were filmed.
When I first heard that they were going to open up the Potter studios complete with full sets, props, and costumes, I nearly peed myself. It would be almost as good as being IN the movies.
And the reality? EVEN BETTER.
Once I discovered I would be spending enough time in London to fit in an afternoon visit to the studio tour, there was no question as to whether I would do it or not. I booked a ticket (via Viator and Golden Tours), and eagerly awaited my visit to magic-land.
My first thought upon entering the studio was… that it was crowded. REALLY crowded. This was not surprising, however, and so I barely even minded the constant elbow-to-elbow contact as I milled around in the huge memorabilia shop for 45 minutes as I waited for my turn to begin the tour. I was impressed by how great all the staff were at this place — you can tell that they are fans, too.
They allow a specified number of people (150, perhaps?) to enter the studio tour at 15 minute intervals to try and manage the huge crowds each day. You get to see Harry’s cupboard before you even enter the tour, which I thought was a great touch to get people hyped (as if I needed it…).
The beginning of the tour consists of a short video about how “The Making of Harry Potter” came to be.
And then the screen lifts.
And huge doors open.
And suddenly you are standing in the Great Hall.
Complete with all 4 house tables, plates, and silverware, the Great Hall set is nearly complete. The only things missing are the students — and the ceiling, which was computer-generated in the films.
Costumes of all sorts line the Hall behind the tables, and you are given a few minutes to mill around and take it all in.
And then you are unleashed.
The studio tour consists of two separate sound stages (cheekily named “J” and “K”) with a few outdoor sets and snacks in between the two. You go through Stage J first, and, while there is a loose flow to the layout, you are really free to see things in whatever order you want.
I will warn you, though: there is SO MUCH to take in. Things to read, things to ogle at, things to interact with… they really have done a fantastic job.
Some of my favorite parts of this part of the tour included:
There were also videos playing that revealed the secrets behind the wizarding sport of Quidditch, and an area where you could put on a robe, hop on a broomstick, and be CGI’d into a London scene (the line for this was over 45 minutes long, however…).
After Stage J, it was time to head outside to grab a butterbeer and check out a few of the outdoor sets.
Here you’ll find:
Once I’d had my fill of fresh air and frothy beverages, I headed into Stage K. While Stage J was focused more on sets, props, and costumes, Stage K is focused more on the behind-the-scenes magic like make-up, creatures, conceptual art, and miniatures.
There’s an amusing video inside about creating creatures, plus all of this to see:
From there, it’s into none other than Diagon Alley. Yes, THE REAL DIAGON ALLEY!! It was so cool to walk down the street and see Gringott’s, Ollivander’s, Madame Malkins, and of course Fred and George’s joke shop.
Diagon Alley is followed by a lot of conceptual artwork and mock-ups:
The second-to-last room you’ll go into it set aside for one thing and one thing only — a detailed scale model of Hogwarts castle. To say that this took my breath away would be an understatement. If you hang around long enough, you can watch the lighting shift from day to night and back again.
Lastly, you’ll make your way into the “inside” of Ollivanders, with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of wand boxes. Most of these include the name of someone in the Harry Potter cast or crew on the outside — have fun trying to find people like Daniel Radcliffe and J.K. Rowling!
I had the good luck of visiting “The Making of Harry Potter” on July 31 — the birthday shared by both author J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter himself.
I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated than this.
Practical tips for visiting the WB Studio Tour London:
- Book your ticket early. Yes, time slots and days DO sell out, so book in advance to reserve your ticket.
- Figure out how to get there. The easiest thing to do is to book something similar to what I did through Viator — it includes your entry ticket and round-trip transportation to London. The only downside to this is that you are then restricted as to how much time you can spend inside.
- Time it right. It’s estimated that it will take you 3 hours to get through the whole tour and gift shop. It took me about that long, but I could have easily spent much longer had I not had a strict departure time to adhere to.
- Consider an audio extra. I opted not to pay for the audio guide, but a lot of other people I saw had them. There are enough signs and explanations throughout the exhibits for a knowledgable Harry Potter fan. But I’m told that the audio guides give you even MORE behind-the-scenes details and secrets. Personally, I was suffering from information overload as it was without the extra guide!
- Bring money. Yes, the souvenirs are expensive. Yes, the Butterbeer is 5 GBP if you want it in a souvenir cup.
- Bring a camera. Photos are entirely allowed — and encouraged! You won’t want to forget this experience.
Would YOU want to visit the WB Studio Tour in London? Which part would you be most excited to see?
Category Movie Locations, Tour Reviews | Tags: behind-the-scenes, Harry Potter, Leavesden Studios, London, movie locations, movie magic, The Making of Harry Potter, Tour Reviews, Warner Bros. Studio Tour