The Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is an absolute must-visit destination for any fan.
Located in Leavesden, around 20 miles from central London, it’s a permanent exhibit offering a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the Harry Potter movies. (Before I go any further, this feature contains spoilers as to what to expect during the tour, so if you haven’t yet been and want it to remain a surprise, stop reading now!)
So, I’ve been on this tour twice (soon to be three times) but there is honestly so much to see and do, that I could go a dozen times and still discover something new.
Due to its popularity, tickets must be booked in advance and the studio advises to arrive 20 minutes before your scheduled time – there can be a significant queue to get inside – but once you’re indoors, you can visit the gift shop, the Chocolate Frog Café (go here for an ice cream, you won’t regret it!) or The Food Hall if you need to put in a little time before your tour actually begins (you can always visit them after too, so don’t worry if you don’t get the opportunity beforehand). As the tour is self-guided you are able walk around at your own pace, but be prepared to set aside at least three hours to do so.
Narrated by those involved with the movies, including Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, the experience begins with a short video about the history of Harry Potter. As it concludes, the big screen rises to reveal the door to the set of the Great Hall that was used in the films. (As an aside, if you’re celebrating your birthday on the day of your tour, let the staff know and you could get the chance to open the door – usually, it’s the kids who are celebrating, but who’s to say adults can’t also join in?!).
The Great Hall
Probably one of the best known locations from the movies, the Great Hall is adorned with student costumes from each of the four Hogwarts houses, plus some staff costumes including those of Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape and Hagrid. There are also two tables that have been set for dinner so if you can, grab a seat and have your photo taken. The detail inside the hall is breath-taking and a perfect start to the tour. Don’t forget to find the golden snitch before you move on to the next section.
When you leave the Great Hall, there’s a large selection of props, costumes and sets that you can study up close. Some of the major sets include the Gryffindor common room, the Potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office and Professor Umbridge’s very pink office at the Ministry of Magic. The smaller displays include the Cupboard Under The Stairs, the Yule Ball, the giant clock tower pendulum, the tapestry featuring the Black family tree, and the famous Horcruxes. With regards to costumes, Harry’s Quidditch robes and the outfits Harry, Ron and Hermione wore during the final scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 are just a few examples of those on show.
The Forbidden Forest
The Forbidden Forest is the next significant set after the Great Hall. First opened in 2017, it’s accessed through the Entrance Gates to Hogwarts Castle. The gates alone are just amazing to see; wrought iron and flanked by a column on either side which is topped with a statue of a winged boar.
Now, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Forbidden Forest was a combination of both location and studio shooting but for the next film, it was moved entirely to the studio due to the scale of the set. The Forbidden Forest which you see on this tour features 19 trees – each with a diameter of more than 12 feet. They are huge.
Buckbeak is a welcome inclusion in the forest and visitors can bow to him (to show your good intentions) just like in the movie, while Aragog also makes an appearance from its lair with the spiderlings. I’ll be completely honest, as I’m petrified of spiders this wasn’t my favourite part of the tour and I did have to close my eyes going through parts of this set. However, if you’re like me but don’t think you could make your way through the forest, just let a member of staff know and they’ll let you bypass the section without missing any other parts of the tour. Also, those with photosensitive epilepsy or other similar conditions should be aware that flashing lights are used in this area.
Completed in 2015, the Hogwarts Express (and Platform 9¾) was the first main expansion to the studio tour and, as many fans will know, the Hogwarts Express provided not only the first shot ever filmed for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but the very last shot of the entire franchise as well in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
You’re welcome to take your photo by the train while on the other side of the platform is a trolley half-embedded in a wall (representing the famous barrier to Platform 9¾) where you can again have your picture taken. The Railway Shop offers sweets, notebooks, scarves and other items for sale, and make sure you board the Hogwarts Express where props from different scenes can be found in each compartment. There’s also an area on the platform where you can take a seat and experience first-hand how VFX artists replaced the greenscreen background in the train windows with moving backdrops, flying Dementors and Chocolate Frogs.
Having indulged in all of the above, this marks the halfway point of the tour so stop off at The Backlot Café which serves snacks, hot meals and the famous Butterbeer! There is seating indoors and outdoors depending on the weather and you can take a breather surrounded by more props and sets. For example, the backlot contains the set of 4 Privet Drive (the home of the Dursleys), the Hogwarts Bridge (which you can walk across), the Knight Bus and the Weasley family car (which you can get inside for a unique photo op). Once you’re suitably rested, you can head for the next part of the tour, the creature room, which features Aragog (I just closed my eyes again), Dobby and other animated props like The Monster Book of Monsters.
Gringotts is the newest addition to the tour so it was my first time seeing the set and, quite simply, it is incredible! You can walk through the wizarding bank where the grand hall is lined with marble pillars while chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Just like the movies, the goblin tellers’ desks can be found on both sides of the bank and these are decorated with inkwells, quills and coins.
As fans will know, however, Gringotts was also destroyed in the movie when Harry, Ron and Hermione went there to search for a Horcrux and were later forced to escape on a Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon… and this destruction is also part of the Gringotts set. The marble pillars that once lined the opulent building lie on the ground surrounded by debris. Hang around for the immersive experience courtesy of some very cool VFX (the video below doesn’t do the moment justice, but make sure you’ve the volume turned up a little).
The vault of Bellatrix Lestrange is another striking addition to the set where there are literally thousands of props situated. Again, it’s worthwhile spending a little extra time here as the attention to detail is stunning. (Interestingly, the Gringotts expansion has been designed and built by many of the original crew members who worked on the series).
This is one of my favourite sets on the tour. It’s just so quirky and fun! It’s also home to Gringotts Bank, Ollivanders and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (complete with a gigantic Puking Pastilles dispenser) to name a few. The dressing of every shop and the details on each shop front are superb and something you don’t catch in the movies. The members of staff looking after this section are incredibly knowledgeable and can help point you in the right direction and share some trivia for each shop.
For those of you interested in VFX and the more technical aspects of what went into making the franchise, after Diagon Alley there is an area dedicated to the art department that features technical drawings, white card models and more. Personally, I really enjoyed studying the white card models. Essentially, before any actual construction of a set commenced, the art department was responsible for creating a model of the set or location in question. These models would then help the crew (such as the director) determine what camera angles, etc. to use when filming. The absolute highlight from the art department comes at the very end of the tour, however – a large and incredibly detailed model of Hogwarts castle that was used for the movies’ exterior shots. It is stunning.
Via a ramp, make your way around the model before you enter a room (similar to Ollivanders) where there are boxes upon boxes stacked on shelves. On each box is the name of anyone involved with Harry Potter. You can study the boxes yourself to find your favourites or, if you’re stuck on a particular name, ask one of the guides. No word of a lie, they can find anyone.
After this, all that’s left is to enter the gift shop but once you do, you can’t go back into the tour, so make sure you’ve seen everything you want to!
The Gift Shop
Honestly, I feel like I’m about to take part in The Generation Game here, but you can buy anything here. Sweets, notebooks, a replica of Hermione’s Yule Ball dress, stationary, tricks, wands, board games, mugs, t-shirts, cuddly toys…
The list goes on and on and there are new items added regularly (for a sneak peek, you can visit the studio’s online shop here). Just be prepared to buy more merchandise than you ever expected!
Overall, this is a fantastic day out. It is well organised; the staff are friendly and helpful; and it’s just good fun for kids and adults alike – whether you have a passing interest in the movies or are a full-out fan. If you do get the opportunity, I would definitely recommend giving the tour a go.
Things you need to know
• Tickets must be pre-booked. There are no tickets for sale on site.
• A shuttle bus service is in operation from Watford Junction to the Studio Tour. With a journey time of approximately 15 minutes, the buses run every 20 minutes or so. Tickets are reasonably priced for a return journey (around £3.00) but it is a cash-only service. You will also need a valid Studio Tour ticket or booking confirmation for the date of travel to use the service. If you are driving to the studio, parking is provided free of charge in the car park directly outside the Studio Tour. Again, make sure you have your booking confirmation ready to show the staff on the way in.
• The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. Don’t be afraid to approach them for help, or ask them any burning questions you have about the movies.
• Wear comfortable shoes.
• Bring money for the gift shop – you’re going to need it!
• There are a few places on site to eat. You can purchase a specialty hot chocolate, ice cream or dessert at the Chocolate Frog Café; speciality Starbucks hot and cold drinks, grab-and-go sandwiches and bakery items at the Hub Café; breakfast, hot and cold dishes, sandwiches as well as a selection of drinks and a full bakery in the Food Hall; and a quick hot meal, sandwich or snack and a frothy (non-alcoholic) Butterbeer in the Backlot Café. Alternatively, you can bring your own food and use the studio’s picnic area.
More photos from the tour can be viewed here.