What to do at the Weekend:
The Harry Potter Studio Tour
It’s a site of pilgrimage in many ways for any Harry Potter fan.
Whether you’re a casual fan like Tanith, or a card carrying super-fan like Ben, the Harry Potter Studio Tour is somewhere you have to visit at least once.
We were already down South (well, south for us) for a My Chemical Romance gig in Milton Keynes and off work the following day.
So, we made the trip down to Watford to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour.
Or, to give it its full proper name: Warner Bros. Studio Tour, London: The Making of Harry Potter.
Which is a bit of a mouth full.
This is actually somewhere we have talked about visiting for some time, but we wanted to go on a quieter day (rather than the weekend), so had earmarked this for our annual leave.
This was Tanith’s second time visiting the studio tour and Ben’s fourth.
Yes, he’s that sad.
Getting to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, London
Contrary to the “London ” part in the title, it is important to know that the Harry Potter Tour is not in London.
It’s actually located at the Warner Brothers Studios in Watford, which is about 20 to 25 miles North of London.
We once overheard a group of young adults (who spoke very little English) asking one of the staff at London Euston train station for directions to the studio tour.
It was reminiscent of the scene in the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone for our American readers) where Harry Potter asks where he might find Platform nine and three quarters.
Anyway, the point is if you opt to travel by train, don’t go to London.
You’ll be needing to get off at Watford Junction instead and from there, a special Harry Potter Studios shuttle coach will pick you up outside.
It runs about every half an hour, is only a 15 minute journey to the studios, and it’s free (if you have a Harry Potter Studio Tour ticket).
Driving instead? There is a huge free car park available on site.
Harry Potter Studio Tour Tips
1. Book a Later Time Slot
Our tickets were booked for the 3pm time slot, which actually turned out to be a good thing because it was much quieter than we expected (score).
The earlier time slots are probably more popular but we’d recommend going later in the day if you can.
This is definitely a ‘quieter is better’ kind of place, as you get to see more!
2. Don’t get the Digital Audio Tour – Save Your Pennies
We fully intended to get the digital audio tour (for an extra fiver each), but a nice bloke who worked there advised us not to bother on the way in.
It turns out they are only worth having for people where English is their second language.
We thought this was a good tip to share with you all too.
This was actually a common theme during our visit, the people working there are very chatty and cheerful.
Even the security chap on bag check had a lovely chat with us too, it got our visit off to a great start.
To be fair, working there must be awesome.
3. Don’t Buy Butter Beer
Our final tip might well be an unpopular one, but we are sticking to it – the Butter Beer tastes terrible and costs far too much.
In a souvenir cup, it’s £6.95 or £3.95 in a disposable one.
If you give this one a swerve, you’re not missing out (in our opinion).
Our Experience of The Harry Potter Studio Tour
There have been real cool improvements made to the atrium / reception area of the studio. since our last visits.
The fearsome dragon suspended over the visitors is one such example and probably the most visually striking of all of the things to see at this early stage.
It’s an obvious initial photo opportunity that no doubt adorns most Instagram feeds of people who visit the studio tour.
Wrapping around the atrium, is a giant screen that changes periodically to keep anyone waiting for their time slot entertained (as it did for us).
We sipped our cappuccinos from the coffee shop – predictably but delightfully dressed as a potion shop – as the cheering of Quidditch crowds sounded out every so often.
For this article, we’re going to separate the blog out into our ‘Best Bits’ because, let’s face it, there’s a huge amount of things to see here.
Besides, this is a blog and not a documentary (unlike the guy we followed through the tour holding a Go-Pro, literally documenting every. Single. Square. Inch. of the tour).
Ben’s Best Bits of the Harry Potter Tour
1. The Great Hall
Okay so straight off the bat, I’m going for the Great Hall.
The amount of time I daydreamed about hopping up on that chair in front of the school and having the sorting hat sort me into a Hogwarts House, I can’t even tell you….
And that was just last week, let alone when I was a kid.
The Great Hall reveal (not giving too much away) never gets old and to think some of the most iconic scenes in the film series were filmed there, is pretty cool.
Although, It actually always strikes me how small it is in there, but obviously some very clever camera wielding and special effects were going on during filming.
One suggestion for any Studio Tour people reading this (which I doubt), why not have the ceiling as a giant screen that visitors can select different weather or day/night from a touch screen or their app etc?.
Just a thought.
2. Movie Magic (Pun Intended)
Alongside being a Harry Potter nerd (books and films), I really like movies in general and have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes magic that make up film production and special effects.
So, this place really hits a best-of-both-worlds sweet spot for me.
There are several ways to scratch that particular movie magic curiosity itch during the tour.
Turns out, pretty much anything can be done with a green screen, from playing Quidditch to putting library books away.
I also learned why they use that particular shade of green and not any other colour….
Go ahead, you can nip away to Google it if you like, but please do come back.
So, I also enjoyed watching the flying letters through the letterbox demonstration, how the visual effects department brought the gemino curse to life, and found out that the door to the Chamber of Secrets is a real and functioning mechanical marvel.
Mind blown. Go check it out.
3. Attention to Detail
To build these sets was clearly a huge undertaking and the level of detail and care is simply astonishing.
Every time I visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour, there is something I didn’t notice before – this time it was the CheeriOwls* in the cupboard at The Burrow, “Errol by Ron” baby picture next to the clock, and J.K. Rowling’s wand box.
The sets are brilliantly laid out and are pure nostalgia for the Potter fan.
They each have some very cool interactive features, such as making Mrs. Weasley’s knitting needles jump into life at the touch of a button, and the potions stirring itself in Snape’s classroom.
Just two of many.
There’s something to make you smile and nerd out a little everywhere. I look forward to finding another nugget or two next time.
*Tanith – I think you’ll find that I spotted the CheeriOwls actually…but that’s fine Ben, you take the credit.
Tanith’s Best Bits of the Harry Potter Tour
1. Gringotts Wizarding Bank
Now, Ben pretty much stole all my original ‘best bits’…but luckily for you, the Harry Potter Tour has so many cool things to see that it was easy to think of other bits to write about!
The Gringotts Wizarding Bank is a new addition since I last visited back in 2014 (as are many other areas if I’m being honest), and it’s awesome to see.
The pretty large bank set gives you that feeling of wealth and riches the second you step foot inside, with tall marble columns, and spectacular glass chandeliers dangling overhead.
With the exception of the hard-working goblins missing from the desks lining each side of the main walkway, the set took me straight back to the ride at Universal Studios, Orlando (which we visited back in February).
The two sets are so similar that if it wasn’t for the lack of lovely warm weather, I could easily have believed I was back in Florida (if only)!
There’s a little surprise once you reach the end of the bank too…but I’m not giving away any more than that.
2. Costumes & Makeup/Prosthetics
While all the main areas of the set are extremely impressive, one thing I also love about the Harry Potter Tour is how they really bring to life the characters.
In the second half of the tour (after you’ve had the option of buying the extraordinarily expensive butter beer – heed our earlier warning), you get the chance to see how they made the characters as they are on screen.
Finding out how they made Hargid so tall, and how all the goblins got their unique facial features is absolutely fascinating.
It’s hard to appreciate just how much time and detail went into making each character truly believable.
It’s definitely worth spending some time in this section, watching the step-by-step videos on how everything was done.
3. The Cast of Animals
I’m very much an animal lover (as is Ben).
You’ll probably already know this if you’ve read our earlier Chester Zoo post.
So, seeing a nod to all the lovely animals who played a part in the Harry Potter film series really did it for me.
Situated by Hagrid’s Hut, this display is pretty easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled if you want to see some cute dogs, cats, owls and more.
On the display you’ll find photos and information on each of the animals used in the series, alongside their personality traits (cute) and key facts!
There is also a short video which shows some behind the scenes clips of the animals in action – they’re the real stars of the show if you ask me.
What’s the difference between the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London vs. Harry Potter at Universal Studios?
This seems to be a common question.
The tour in London displays the real props and many of the actual sets used in the films, the other is a recreation of those props and locations within a theme park.
They are both awesome in their own ways and we love both of them.
At Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure, some of the production team involved in the film series were brought in to help create the immersive worlds of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.
Plus, you obviously get to go on the rides as well as admire the surroundings.
Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
If you want to know more about Universal Orlando Resort (and all the Harry Potter-related attractions) check out our blog post on it.
How Much Does the Harry Potter Tour Cost?
An adult ticket costs a smidge under 50 pounds, a child ticket is about 40 quid, and a family (two adults and two children, or one adult and three children) is 160 pounds.
Under 4 year olds enter for free.
In our opinion, this is very very expensive for a lot of people and it’s definitely a once-a-year, special occasion, birthday treat etc. kind of day out.
It is however always booked up weeks in advance, which shows that they can pretty much charge whatever they want and Harry Potter fans will pay it.
Like we said in the beginning, it is effectively a place of pilgrimage for Potterheads.
They are continually adding new bits to the tour.
To our knowledge, Professor Sprout’s Greenhouse section is the latest.
We haven’t seen this section yet, but will be aiming to do so in the second half of 2023.
Extra Bits and Bobs
Free “activity passports” are available, which include puzzles and trivia and a section to collect stamps. These can be picked up at various points along the way.
Good for kids and big kids alike.
Look out for the symbols of floating keys scattered throughout the tour for questions.
Make sure you read the exhibits they are attached to for clues to the answers.
More from the Blog
Thanks so much for reading! For more ideas on what to do at the weekend, check out some of our other posts below or via the blog section.
For more Harry Potter related content, you might want to check out our Lacock Village and Lacock Abbey post.
This beautiful village in the Cotswolds was the site of multiple Harry Potter filming locations.
Alternatively, our latest Harry Potter-related post looks at the Harry Potter filming locations in Gloucester Cathedral.
Much like Lacock, the cathedral was selected for several scenes throughout the series.