When planning our day spent sight-seeing, we each were given the chance to chime in with something we wanted to see. My mom chose The Tower of London, my friend Alex chose the London Eye, and my sister Jen and friend Sylvan didn’t have any preference. For me, I knew there was one place I had to go, even if no one else wanted to – The Warner Brothers Studio Tour.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me – or even here on my blog – that I love all things Harry Potter (well, almost all things – looking at you, Cursed Child). I knew my trip to the UK would feel emptier if I didn’t experience the tour. To my surprise – and delight – none of them required peer pressure to convince them to tag along.
We only really had one day we were able to sight see, so we had to squeeze everything in. Our day began bright and early with an hour drive to the studio tour in Leavesden. The doors opened at 8:30, so we made our way into the store to scope out purchases we’d want to make after the tour in order to save time. Our ticket time was 9 am, and we had agreed that in order to make it to downtown London in time, we’d have to leave the tour at 12.
I decided to get the package that includes the digital audio guide (above), and the behind the scenes paperback souvenir guide. For anyone who loves Harry Potter as much as I do, the audio guide mostly provided information I already knew about the behind the scenes process, but I still think it was worth it.
The tour begins with a short movie presentation, which I won’t spoil here. From there, the screen lifts and the curtains part to reveal the entrance to the great hall.
I’m a proud Gryffindor, and even I think the house points are biased here!
I had goosebumps from the moment the doors swung wide. The magic behind this tour is that the props, costumes, and sets on display are the real deal. Long after the rest of the group had entered the side door to continue on, I was still in the great hall, admiring everything and biding my time to snag the perfect empty shots. I was there so long in fact, that a staff member began to approach me and insist I continue on. Still, these pictures were well worth the wait:
After the video and time in the great hall – the staff ensures the hall is empty to preserve the magic for the next group – you are left to wander at your own pace. From the great hall, you walk through a large room with many twists and turns full of interior set pieces, costumes, hair and make up information, and a handful of interactive experiences.
There is plenty of signage indicating what everything was, but the audio guide definitely expanded upon the written information. Certain areas included additional bonus audio, which was typically a story told by one of the cast or crew members about that particular set or costume.
The amount of intricate detail involved in the costumes and sets was astounding. The tour opens your eyes to the minute aspects of everything involved in bringing the world and characters to life.
I’ve always loved the Gryffindor common room, and getting to see it in person just furthered my wish to experience living there in person. If only!
Seeing the sets combined with the particular costumes on display had me alternately picturing snippets from the books and imagining the movie scenes in my head all day long.
And then we stumbled upon one of my all-time favorite set pieces – Dumbledore’s office.
It was one thing to see it while in line at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, but quite another to step into the set and be up close with the real thing. One of the staff members, after asking me which part was my favorite thus far (my reply being Dumbledore’s office), admitted that she volunteered to clean that particular set as often as she could. Who could blame her?!
Along with costumes and massive set pieces, various items used in the films were on display as well. They also provided examples of original designs – such as the wooden Goblet of Fire up above.
Another intricate set piece was definitely the potions chamber.
I actually had a lot of respect for them showing Slughorn at one end of the chamber…
…Let’s be honest, though – there’s only one name that comes to mind when a Potterhead hears the term “potions master”.
One thing I enjoyed seeing more than I thought I would was the giant door that opens to the Chamber of Secrets. Instead of computer-generating the motion, they built a door which actually had the snakes slither to unlock it.
Another favorite set piece is Hagrid’s hut, complete with Hagrid and Fang.
Ah, the Burrow. The set piece for the Burrow only showed half the kitchen, but if you stood in the proper place, you could make magic happen. Along with Hogwarts and Dumbledore’s office, the Burrow is high on my list for places I’d love to visit in the Wizarding world.
Chillingly, they had half the table lay out for Malfoy Manor, complete with a hovering Charity Burbage and an advancing Nagini. The only set that unnerved me more was Umbridge’s office, which I refused to take a single picture of.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was seeing behind the scenes photos from filming. They displayed the wonderful camaraderie between the cast and crew, and were a lovely and welcome addition.
Ahh to go to Hogwarts aboard the amazing Hogwarts Express… that would be a dream come true! Instead, I just pretended.
While I did not purchase the above photo taken by the professional, Alex did snap a few pictures of me while it was being taken! I hadn’t thought to ask as I passed her my bag and camera to hold, but luckily she knows me well enough to do this.
One of my favorite set pieces on display was the one below. It’s such an iconic moment, and I felt warm and fuzzy seeing it recreated this way.
After King’s Cross station, you enter the cafe and backlot, which are the only two places you can eat and drink in the entire studio. I was incredibly disappointed to learn they didn’t have frozen butterbeer, but was more than happy to settle for the regular.
Behold, the back lot!
The backlot consisted of several exterior sets, although not as many as I would have wished. They didn’t have the Burrow, which would have been amazing, or the Quidditch pitch – I wasn’t really expecting the Quiddith pitch to be there, but it would have been awesome!
From the backlot, you enter on the other side into the creature section, which is equal parts amazing and terrifying. Here’s your first nightmare:
Bathilda was definitely the creepiest, with one notable exception – Aragog.
As someone who is excruciatingly arachnophobic, I had been panicking for weeks about coming face to face with the giant spider. I knew it was in the creature room, and I had also read that it was hanging in a corner from the ceiling. I had also read that other arachnophobic people had simply informed staff members, who then directed them around it by taking them through a back door.
Up to the day of, I had no idea what I was going to do. A big part of me wanted to just go past it and not look, but a much bigger part of me wanted to avoid it altogether. That morning, though, I thought about the series I loved so much, and about Ron and his horrible fear of them. He was brave enough to face them for Hermione, and – as strange as it may sound – that thought gave me the courage to do it. I didn’t want to be ashamed to call myself a Gryffindor, after all!
For anyone who is nervous about it as well, it’s in the second room of the creature section, hanging in the upper left corner of the wall opening you pass through. If you look at the top right corner of my thestral picture below, you can see its legs.
In the end, Alex looked around and told me where it was, and I ran through without looking at it. Standing in Diagon Alley (just past the creature section), my heart was racing as I took deep breaths, but I felt a real sense of accomplishment.
I expected to feel the same sense of wonder and awe that I felt stepping into Diagon Alley as I did at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, but it escaped me. That isn’t to say I wasn’t excited about it; it just didn’t have the same effect on me. My only theory for this is that you don’t have the ability to enter any stores here.
One of the last areas consisted of small scale models and drawings of set pieces.
It also housed these amazing pieces of concept art. I wanted to purchase nearly all of the ones by Andrew Williamson!
The final room was my favorite part of the tour. I took nearly 80 pictures in that room alone, but I’m only going to share two here. In the final room is the Hogwarts model they used for exterior sweeping shots.
The intensity of seeing it was overwhelming. I was covered in goosebumps and had tears in my eyes as I walked the entire path around it. No matter what I do or say, it can never truly represent the magic and power of being there. I could have easily spent all day staring at it, and much longer than the 30 or so minutes I actually did spend there.
This tour had been on my list for a very long time, and I’m thrilled I finally was able to check it off! It’s a must for any Harry Potter fan who has the ability and opportunity to experience it.
Have you been to the Harry Potter studio tour? What was your favorite set piece?