Guest post by David:
Disclaimer, I’m a big Harry Potter fan.The first Harry Potter book I read (and coincidentally my favorite) is the 5th, Order of the Phoenix. It pulled me into its magical world almost immediately and even though the characters were long established, the book did a stupendous job of continuing to develop them each individually. I’ve since read the 800+ paged book multiple times and it has never lost it’s appeal. I’ve seen each movie multiple times. (My favorites are the first and second; I loved the direction of Chris Columbus and how he tells a story). I’ve stood in line for many hours for book launches and I’ve bought movie tickets weeks in advance (often to see the movie at least twice on the same day). So when I started seeing advertisements for the Harry Potter studio tour in London I jumped online and booked tickets.
But as excited as I was, my better half Anne Taite is not as huge of a Potter fan as I. She’s seen a few of the later movies with me, but has never read a single one of the books. Convincing her to take one of our final Saturdays in London to visit the Harry Potter studio took a little charm, a little red wine, and her defeat in a sports bet (soundly I might add).
In the end, last Saturday, we got up, grabbed a coffee and headed to Victoria station. As part of the package we purchased from this site we got bus tickets to and from the studio. It took about an hour from Victoria, and we were there.
The organization of the tour was pretty impressive. Your ticket has a time slot for your entry, but we were able to enter early since the previous time slot wasn’t full. The tour starts with a video introduction and then a moment later we were standing on the set of the Great Hall. This is the only part of the tour that has a guide. She told us a few interesting facts about the Hall and how it was made along with some information about the tour itself. After that, we were on our own.
The tour is broken down into 3 main sections. 2 interior sound stages and an outside set in the middle which allows you to get some fresh air. It takes somewhere between 2-3 hours to go from start to finish, and you end up in the gift shop, but more on that later.
The first sound stage included a lot of sets like the Gryffindor common room and boys dorm, Dumbledore’s office, and the Ministry of Magic. It also had a ton of props. The first section also housed some of the green screen special effects and you could even get in a small line to actually ride a broom in front of a green screen (wind machine and all) and get a photo. (£20, I think).
You then move to the outside section. Here you can get refreshments at a cafe where butter beer is on tap (non-alcoholic, but totally delicious) while looking at some outside sets and large props.
And then it was on to the final section, which started with makeup and animatronics. They had some fascinating finished work and some “in-progress” stuff for you to see how it was made. A lot like the other sections, there were accompanying videos that talked about the different pieces. The cool thing was the animatronics were synchronized with the videos so when someone on screen was using an RC remote, the life-size Buckbeak started moving.
The only actual studio set in the third section was Diagon Alley. It was very impressive and felt a bit surreal walking down the street. They had Olivander’s and even the Weasley’s shop. It was a little narrow, which only affected taking pictures, and you couldn’t go into the shops, but it was still a highlight.
From there you move on to a section with some technical drawings and artwork of buildings and props, as well as some 3D foam board models of buildings. The final part of the tour included an impressive massive scale model of the entire grounds of Hogwarts, which was actually used in the filming of aerial scenes in the first six movies. Finally, you conclude in the interior of Olivander’s Wand Shop, which had a wand for each person who worked on the movie. There were thousands of them.
As I mentioned before, the tour ends with you walking into the gift shop, and that is almost a tour unto itself. There is everything from candy to clothes and even replica wands (I ended up buying the Elder wand, because it was the most powerful). Most of the items were not too pricey, but you could also get life-sized replicas of the brooms including the Firebolt and clothes that characters from the movie wore. It was very impressive and packed to the brim.The items were great quality, but most were targeted to the teen set (shrunken polos, baseball caps, etc)
In sum, what amazed me most was the attention to detail that was put into everything from the house-points to name of a cereal box. It felt like you were really there (except for the exposed ceiling with all the lights). Another thing I noticed, which I actually expected, was how few young kids there were. They were there, but the people with the biggest eyes were the parents and young adults.
A few final tips:
- Definitely try the butter beer. It’s pretty sweet, but very refreshing, especially if it’s warm.
- Remember (and they will remind you at the tour) that once you leave a section, you can not re-enter. This actually wasn’t a problem since we never felt rushed or crowded.
- If you see a video screen, go to it and listen. They have tons of great info about the sets, the actors and even the animals they used in the movies. We wished we could purchase a compilation of these short video segments.
- Take photos, but don’t forget to look at stuff without looking through a lens.
- We found the studio chilly as its size doesn’t lend itself to central heating. The outside set is small, but prepare for the weather. You don’t want to skip it just because it’s raining.
- Buy a wand. You will regret it if you don’t.
I would honestly recommend this tour to anyone in London who is a Harry Potter fan. It was a great way to spend a day, and I would totally go back again. I think I even was able to spark a little magic in my wife; maybe I can talk her into movie marathon on a rainy weekend.
(See my full picture set here)