If you haven’t read Harry Potter, you should. If you haven’t seen the Harry Potter movies, you should. But, read the books first. You’ll also understand my not so subtle Potter references better.
And once you’ve done all that, add ‘Visit Harry Potter Studio Tour’ to the top of your list of things to do next time you’re anywhere near London.
If you’re going to visit, be warned. Tickets sell out fast. Like, two months in advance, fast. I started looking at the end of November for a mid-January trip. And, there were 0 tickets available for the whole month of January. Merlin’s beard!
So, my options were: find another way, or don’t go. Well, that wasn’t happening. Some quick research and I learned that the tours allow guests to change their tickets for a small fee, once purchased. So, every few days I would peek at the ticketing website again. Sure enough, sporadic dates would appear to have tickets available, that were previously sold out. Then, about two weeks before I left the US, jackpot. Not only were tickets now available on the date I wanted, but tickets were available on the last tour of the day. This was perfect, as I was landing at Heathrow early that afternoon and would have time to drop my bags off at a hotel and get to the Tour in time. I imagine this is what it feels like to catch the snitch.
If you are staying in central London, there are any number of options of tour companies offering to take you, via bus, to the studio tour. If, like me, you are staying near Heathrow, and outside of the city, your best option is to drive yourself. I chose Uber. It was about a $40 uber ride (£35), and took about 25 minutes.
Tours start from the main lobby, where you can see the first movie set, the cupboard under the stairs.
This is the smallest set ever built for the movies, and fits nicely at the start of the tour. From there, you’ll get to watch a short video explaining how the tour came to be, and then the curtains open and you find yourself in the Great Hall!
One tip, before you enter the Great Hall, the guides will remind you that the entire tour is self-guided. The quickest anyone can do the tour is about 45 minutes, and the longest is 13 hours! It took me just under 2 hours. You are only limited by the studio closing time, so true Potter fans shouldn’t take the last tour of the day, as you’ll be kicked out when the studio closes for the night.
The tour begins in Studio J, where you can walk through many of the sets familiar to any fan.
You can see brooms flown by Harry and his friends, which magically rise up from the ground at a simple verbal command. You can see knives aided by magic in the Weasley’s Burrow, cutting vegetables with nobody in sight. And, where else can you hop on a Nimbus 2000 and fly through the streets of London?
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:
HOGWARTS EXPRESS & DIAGON ALLEY
At the end of Studio J, before getting to the adequately named Studio K, visitors find themselves at King’s Cross Station and Platform 9 3/4. Here, the original Hogwarts Express is on display!
Guests can also try to guess which Harry Potter’s luggage is on display throughout the platform. There is also a gift shop in the middle of the tour here, where you can buy souvenirs.
Upon leaving the train station, you, of course, find yourself in Diagon Alley. Everything from the cobblestone streets, to the store signs, to the window displays to the intimidating entrance to Gringott’s is all real, and all on display.
The Back Lot of the tour is the halfway point. Here, there is a concession area where you can grab a bite to eat or a cold Butterbeer. The next part of the tour is outside, so you’re treated to the Hogwarts bridge, the Dursley’s home, and the Potter’s Cottage in Godric Hollow.
Studio K is much more about the crew, and the incredible work they did to bring Harry Potter to life. This is the first movie set I’ve ever visited, but the attention to detail has to be second to none. No corners were ever cut. The wands in Ollivander’s? All the boxes were designed by hand. The textbooks in every classroom? All handwritten. The masks and props and sets? All imagined, and created.
To show an example, here is an artist’s rendering of The Burrow.
And, here is a small mock-up of the Burrow, starting to come to life:
And here is the finished set, no detail overlooked:
If you’ve read Harry Potter or seen any of the movies, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t visit the studio. It is a true testament to the imagination of J.K. Rowling and the vision of the entire production cast and crew.
It makes me think back to grade school and reading my first Harry Potter book, and then patiently waiting for the UK version of the Amazon site to release the next book!
Maybe you’ll find a portkey to get to London, maybe you have some knowledge of the Floo Network, or maybe you’re lucky enough to know how to Apparate. It doesn’t matter to me how you get there, but add The Making of Harry Potter to your list.