In all of our years of family travel, my older daughter, Katie, has never anticipated anything quite so much as our visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter located outside London in the former Leavesden Studios.
On a previous family trip to London in 2010, we went on a full-day Harry Potter Tour with London Taxi Tour to see some of the filming sites in and around London which Katie enjoyed immensely. I thought that would be the extent of our Harry Potter travels, but as soon as the announcement was made about Studio Tour London, a visit to the attraction vaulted to the top of her travel wish list. We invited one of Katie's friends along on our London trip last summer and since Lindsay loves the books and movies as much as Katie does, there was never any question but that we had to visit The Making of Harry Potter.
Transforming Leavesden Studios
Shortly after acquiring the film rights for the Harry Potter book series, Warner Bros. leased Leavesden Studios and filming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone commenced there in 2000. The former aircraft factory was ideal for building many of the large sets and was production home for all 8 films in the Harry Potter franchise.
In 2010 Warner Bros. invested 100 million pounds into Leavesden Studios to establish a permanent film production base for the company and it became known as Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden. As part of this redevelopment, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London was planned as a permanent walking tour to provide guests with a unique behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter was opened in 2012 featuring authentic sets, props and costumes while also showcasing the artistry and technology that went into the making of the films.
Getting to the Studio
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London is located about 32 kilometres (20 miles) north-west of London and there are several transportation options available for visitors heading there from central London. Public transportation is probably the best option for most people visiting from outside the U.K. but anyone who is comfortable driving on the London motorways may prefer to drive themselves and have the freedom to come and go when they choose. There are also group tours available from companies such as Viator which depart from Central London and transport guests via coach bus to the Studio with a set amount of time allotted for the visit.
We decided that a group tour wouldn't work for us because I didn't want my Harry Potter fans to feel rushed. We had no desire to rent a car and try to find our way to the studio either so we opted to take the train from London Euston station to Watford Junction which took approximately 20 minutes. It is important to check the timetable carefully before purchasing tickets as some trains are on a milk run that take considerably longer.
Upon arrival at Watford Junction train station, there are clearly-marked shuttle buses which transport passengers to the studio (a return Ticket is 2 pounds per person). It is recommended that visitors plan to arrive at Watford Junction 45 minutes prior to the time stated on their ticket and visitors should be prepared to show an email confirmation prior to boarding the shuttle. (Admission to The Making of Harry Potter must be pre-purchased - there are NO tickets available at the attraction.)
The Studio Tour
Upon arrival at the studio, visitors must proceed to the booths outside the building with their email confirmation in order to collect their timed entry tickets. We had arrived with plenty of time to spare so were able to pause and admire the giant chess figures and pose for photographs before heading into the foyer to join the entry line.
If you have allowed yourself more than enough time then you might like to have a pre-tour snack in the Studio Café or grab a coffee at the lobby Starbucks as there won't be an opportunity to eat again prior to entering the Backlot midway through the tour.
Time spent in the entry queue passes very quickly as there is plenty to look at including the flying car from Chamber of Secrets which is suspended from the ceiling and the "cupboard under the stairs" where Harry lived at the Dursley's in Philosopher's Stone. When visitors have made their way through the entry queue, they will be ushered into the cinema for a pre-show about the studio and the Harry Potter franchise. The excitement in the room is palpable as everyone waits for the doors to the Great Hall to open.
The Great Hall
Following the pre-show, visitors enter The Great Hall. This is the only area of the attraction where time is limited as the room has to be cleared before the next timed-entry group is allowed to enter. This set was built in 2000 for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and was used in all of the subsequent films except for Deathly Hallows Part I. The set is modelled after a Dining Hall at Oxford University which we saw on a full-day Harry Potter Tour we took with London Taxi Tour in 2010.
There are two large tables in The Great Hall which are set for dinner. The room also features the costumes of students from each of Hogwarts' four houses and the Teacher's Table is set at the top of the hall with costumes of a few of the professors including Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall, and Hagrid. The time spent in the Great Hall will pass very quickly so don't dawdle if you want to get photos here.
The Big Room
Once in the Big Room, visitors can take as much time as they like and there are staff members on hand to answer any questions one might have. This is the largest space in the studio and where visitors are likely to spend the most amount of time - approximately 3 hours in our case. The room is filled with props, costumes, and large sets from the film and there is, in fact, so much to see that it is difficult to know where to start or how to tackle the space in an orderly fashion. The sets include Dumbledore's Office, the Potions Classroom, The Burrow, and the Gryffindor Common Room.
As visitors move around the room they will find countless authentic props, costumes and more to look at - many of which have story boards with detailed explanations of what it is and when it was used in the films.
One of my favourite sets is the Gryffindor House Common Room complete with the painting of The Fat Lady, a large stone fireplace and a staircase to the dormitory rooms. Harry and Ron Weasley's dormitory room is also part of the set and there are several of Ron, Hermione and Harry's costumes on display.
Another detailed set is headmaster Dumbledore's Office - the walls of which are lined with books and the portraits of former heads of Hogwarts. The office also contains many of the magical objects that Dumbledore used in the films including the Pensieve that he used to review memories.
It's fascinating to get a close up look at many of the props and magical objects that were used in the film. We loved the display that included the Time Turner, the Remembrall and the Deluminator - I have always thought that a Time Turner would come in quite handy.
One of the most creative and magical aspects of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books is the game of Quidditch played on flying broomsticks. At the studio, visitors can learn more about how the Quidditch scenes for the movies were filmed using broomsticks mounted on special rigs, Green Screen technology and computer generated backgrounds. Visitors can line up to have souvenir photos taken against a green screen background in the flying car from Chamber of Secrets. There is also an opportunity to try flying on a broomstick and a video on DVD or USB key can be purchased. (We purchased a photo of all of us flying in the Ford Anglia and videos of Emma and I flying on broomsticks. I can't recall the exact cost, however, they are one-of-a-kind if not inexpensive souvenirs.)
Throughout the year there are various special events taking place at the studio so be sure to check the website to see what is scheduled during your visit. There were a number of special summer events happening while we were there including a spells class in which the girls were able to participate. Although I'm not sure any of them did well enough to pass their O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level), it was entertaining to watch them try.
From the Big Room, visitors exit into a courtyard known as The Backlot where the exterior sets used on the films can be found. No. 4 Privet Drive (the Dursley's suburban home) can be found here as well as the Hogwarts Bridge, the blue Ford Anglia from Chamber of Secrets, the triple-decker Knight Bus, Hagrid's Bike and more. An interesting fact is that the Privet Drive homes were shot on location in suburban London for the first film but replicas were built on set for the subsequent movies. When we visited the original location on a Harry Potter tour a few years ago, we learned that rumour had it that the decision to switch to the studio set was because the owners of the house started demanding more money from producers.
Refreshments are also available for purchase in this area - including Butterbeer (one of only two places in the world where it can be purchased).
Diagon Alley, Creature Effects, Art Department
Once finished exploring and refueling in the Backlot, visitors head indoors again where they can learn more about Creature Effects (a showcase of animatronics, special effects and models), visit the Art Department, and stroll down the fictional wizarding street of Diagon Alley located by the Leaky Cauldron pub in London.
The Hogwarts Model
At the end of the tour, visitors are treated to a 360 degree view of the piéce-de-resistance - the model of Hogwarts. The hand-crafted model was built on 1:24 scale by a large team of artists and crew members and was filmed and enhanced with digital effects to create realistic images of the school for the movies. The model is nearly 50 feet in diameter with over 2,500 fibre optic lights and a day to night cycle takes place every 4 minutes to show off the castle. At this point the teens got a little bit teary - walking around the model can be an overwhelming experience for diehard Harry Potter fans.
The Shopping Experience
Visitors exit the tour into the Studio Shop which is located in the lobby but is considered part of the attraction and requires a valid ticket from date of visit for entry. Every conceivable Harry Potter souvenir seems to be available in the shop including sweet treats like Chocolate Frogs and Bernie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, replica wands, robes, ties, souvenir t-shirts and much, much more. An interactive green screen experience in the shop also allows visitors the opportunity to appear on pages of The Quibbler and the Daily Prophet or as a suspect on an Azkaban Prison wanted poster. Plan on spending some time in the shop because there is a lot to see.
Visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter is an incredible experience even for the casual fan of the film series who would like to learn more about how movies are made. For serious Harry Potter fans, there simply cannot be a more magical way to spend the day.
Tips for Visiting The Making of Harry Potter
- Book a time at The Making of Harry Potter as soon as possible after confirming travel dates in order to obtain preferred dates and times. Timed-entry tickets must be pre-purchased and do sell out.
- Consider transportation prior to purchasing tickets. If you opt to travel by a group tour then the admission will be included in the price of the tour.
- When planning an itinerary for London consider this a full-day activity if there are avid Harry Potter fans in the group. The average time spent at the attraction is 3-3.5 hours, however, we spent 5-5.5 plus transportation time from London. Everyone was exhausted by the time we returned to the city late in the afternoon.
- Digital Guides and Souvenir Books can be pre-purchased with tickets but are also available at the studio. I considered purchasing the digital guide but opted not to and I don't think any of my family members would have used it as we spent the entire time talking to each other about how amazing everything was. Everything is well-labelled so unless you are the type of person who wants to hear the details then I would skip the digital guide.
- There is no food allowed within the Studio apart from the Backlot so be sure to eat prior to entering or be prepared to wait. It took us about 3 hours to get to the Backlot and we were quite hungry by then.
- Be sure to have plenty of room on your camera card - you will be taking a lot of photos!
- Allow room in the budget for souvenir photos and items at the Studio Shop - it's part of the experience.
What You Need to Know
- Tickets for The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London MUST be purchased in advance. A date and time slot must be selected at time of purchase. More information is available on the website here.
- Admission Prices (in British pounds): Adults (16 years and above) - 30; Child (5-15) - 22.50; Family (2 adults and 2 children OR 1 adult and 3 children) - 89; 4 and under are free but tickets are required. (Pricing is current as of January 2014 - confirm here.)
- Opening hours - 7 days a week year-round except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The time on first tour and closing time varies depending on the time of year.
- Refreshments: The Studio Café in the foyer of the studio serves light meals and there is also a Starbucks located there. The Backlot which is located midway through the tour is located outdoors and has snacks available including Butterbeer.
- Interactive Digital Guides are available in 8 languages and can be pre-booked along with admission tickets.
- Souvenir Guidebooks are available and may be pre-ordered or purchased in the Studio Shop.
- Green Screen technology allows you to ride a broomstick and purchase a souvenir photo, DVD or USB to remember the experience. Photos in the flying car from Chamber of Secrets are also available.
- The taking of photographs and video footage is allowed throughout the facility except in the pre-show cinema and the green screen areas.
- There is a cloakroom in the foyer where coats and bags can be checked free of charge.
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