Yer a Wizard, Harry

If you have no idea when to use “Wingardium Leviosa”, or don’t really care what house you might be sorted into, then a visit to the Warner Brothers Studio in Leavesden is a waste of time.

For everyone else – especially those who would like to try and pet a hippogriff or see how an invisibility cloak works – a trip to The Making of Harry Potter is a must-do. The primary filming location for all eight Harry Potter movies is located outside of London and showcases sets, costumes, props, and more within a tour that takes an average of 3.5 hours. Fans first walk through the doors of the Great Hall, then explore notable spots like the Gryffindor Common Room, the Headmaster’s Office, and the Forbidden Forest.

Mischief (Almost Not) Managed

When I first learned we were heading to London, I checked tickets for the tour knowing that my family would definitely want to do this. Loads of tickets were available for any day of our vacation, so I waited to reserve until the rest of our schedule had sorted itself. Big mistake. Every ticket was gone within three weeks and I suddenly found myself without a letter to Hogwarts. My family could have cursed me then and there with good reason.

Instead, I took a breath and searched online for other options. Companies like Golden Tours, Gray Line, and Viator purchase blocks of tickets for their own Harry Potter bus tours. I found the cheapest option to be Evan Evans, which was still significantly more than tickets directly from the website plus a train ticket to Leavendson.

On the plus side, the bus tournament we didn’t have to think about catching a train or worry about travel delays. We simply arrived at the tour office located just a few blocks from the Victoria Station Tube and boarded the bus for a 90-minute ride.

When in Doubt, Go to the Library (and the Great Hall, and the Forbidden Forest…)

By taking a bus to the studio, we only had four hours for the tour. The line to enter took about thirty minutes, so we were already on pins and needles. The queue is rather interesting, with quotes from actors, photo opportunities with character cutouts, and a view of Harry’s cupboard under the stairs.

After a video briefing from the Weasley twins, groups enter the great hall together and then see a demonstration of technical magic for the featured experience. We attended when Magical Mischief was the primary feature, highlighting special effects used in the films. Other times of the year feature other movie highlights, like Discover the Dark Arts for several months around Halloween.

Guests are then dismissed to wander the rest of the studios on their own. In our excitement, I flew through the first few displays, eager to see a bit of everything before our time was up. Interior sets, props, and costumes fill the initial room.  Periodic demonstrations occur in designated areas, with a little patience. It was the most crowded and with good reason; it’s the room where everyone should spend the most time. Following the section of sets is the Forbidden Forest, then Platform 9 ¾.

Along the route are two green screen opportunities for an extra fee. Learn to ride a broomstick, or take a ride on the Hogwarts Express. The lines weren’t too deep for either option, but with my perceived time crunch, I didn’t want to waste a moment.

Hold My Butterbeer

Midway through the tour is a Backlot Café with multiple food choices including Butterbeer. The cost is cheaper than Universal Studios, even with the reusable mug or cup, both of which are better quality than the ones found in Florida. Just outside of the café, explore more sets including Hagrid’s motorbike, Number 4 Privet Drive, and a miniature version of The Burrow used for exterior shots.

While this is billed as the midway point, the most interesting elements of the studios are found prior to the cafe. Spending two-thirds of a visit on this first portion of the tour is appropriate, as the second half has far fewer things to explore. Visitors may reverse their path at any time and revisit areas of the museum, as long as they don’t exit the studio or attempt to reenter the Great Hall. 

Perhaps the Nargles are Behind It

Beyond the Backlot Cafe is a display of technical magic with various creatures, such as Dobby. The display is rather small considering the work that was done on the films, and therefore quite quick to experience. More recently, the studio tour has added the Gringotts set, both before and after destroyed by a dragon. The transformation and attention to detail is fascinating. Wait a moment to watch the dragon breathe fire in the room.

Diagon Alley is sorely disappointing for anyone who has visited Universal Studios. It was lamentable to view the shop exteriors and not be able to walk inside. I found this section extremely boring, as well as the art department photos and inspiration.

The crown jewel of the tour is the model room at the end, and Hogwarts used for exterior shots. It’s easy to envision students running through the courtyard of the massive structure. Lights twinkle on and off in the Gryffindor Tower and Great Hall.

The tour can be done within four hours, but big fans should take their time and enjoy every second without rush. Ideally, start early in the morning and grab breakfast or lunch before starting. The cafe at the entrance has a wide menu and a great deal of sweet treats. Afternoon tea is also an option.

Some blogs note that the studio closes at 3:30 or 4 p.m.; rather that’s the last entry time and the studio closes at 8 or 10 p.m.  Many visitors choose to spend their day in London, then they can take a relaxing train ride to Leavesden before a full and enjoyable day touring the studios. At the train station, Warner Brothers provides a free shuttle directly to the studio, which runs throughout the day.

Though visiting by car isn’t realistic for those who don’t live in London, there is a small parking lot adjacent to the studios. Try a behind-the-scenes experience through special tours.

Whether arriving by train, bus, car, or broomstick, the studio tour is an experience to remember. Always.



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