The main highlight of our visit to London was traveling to Leavesden to tour the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studios. That’s right! The most magical place in the world where all eight Harry Potter films were shot on location. Everything we saw and everything we learned was authentic and directly from the creators of the world’s most highly grossed and beloved series of all time.
When you walk into the studios, you see skyscraping photos of the most iconic cast members of the films. Already, the anticipation and excitement is almost too much to bare. To take the tour at your own leisurely pace, it takes about 3-4 hours, with 15 hours being the current record for the longest perusal to date. We stood in line by the cupboard under the stairs to start our journey, which began with a brief video from Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. Once the video had finished, the screen rolled up to the ceiling unveiling the doors to the Great Hall. I can’t even describe our excitement. We were about to enter one of the most familiar places on the planet, and yet we were only crossing the threshold for the first time. Such surrealism cannot be depicted accurately enough.
Walking through the Great Hall, we saw the rows of house tables, all decked out with costumes from the movies. At the end of the hall, of course, were mannequins of Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall. The first robe that Daniel Radcliffe wore for the very first movie was also set up by the Gryffindor table (which, as it turns out, is the house I have been sorted into according into Pottermore – Go Lions!).
Continuing along to the next room, you walk into a warehouse of major sets featured in the films. It had everything you could imagine from Dumbledore’s office, Potion’s class, the Gryffindor Boys’ Dormitory, the Burrow, Hagrid’s Hut, the Chamber of Secrets; absolutely, EVERYWHERE WE’VE DREAMED OF BEING THESE TEN YEARS !! It was absolutely incredible.
Fun fact: the artwork scattered all over Hogwarts by the staircases were drawn as a commemoration to all the hard-working staff of the films. Each person is featured prominently as the subject.
Now, within this warehouse of wonder, there were many interactive games and short films depicting what it was like on the set and how they were able to create all of the magic that you see on the big screen. One of the most memorable aspects of this was the photo/video shoot. You get in line to be put on screen in the blue flying car or on a broomstick in your school robes. Standing in front of a green screen as the backdrop, you fly over Glenfinnan Viaduct, Hogwarts Castle, and even the streets of London, and can purchase the photos and videos of your flying lessons after you finish (because, of course, this is WB). I have to admit, it’s a pretty cool keepsake, even though it’s a bit costly – how many people can say they flew on a broomstick over Hogwarts Castle and have the proof to back it up?
From there, we continued on toward the newest addition of the studio tour. The day before we came to England, WB studios had opened the Hogwarts Express portion of the tour. This was the authentic Hogwarts Express carriage used for over ten years of filming the Harry Potter series, and the compartments were redressed by the set decorators to represent key scenes from the films in chronological order. Not only did Rachel and I make our way to the Glenfinnan Viaduct on our visit to Scotland, we were actually able to ride the Hogwarts Express and see for ourselves how it had changed over the years. Alongside this tremendous train was a gift shop where you can even stop and get some Hogwarts Express souvenirs. Anything from the trolly, dears ?
At the halfway point, you can stop in and have some lunch or try the local Butterbeer brewery. Whether you spend a dime at any of the gift shops, I recommend you spare some change for this one – the Butterbeer was DELICIOUS! And no, as the disappointed fellows in front of us tragically came to realize, Butterbeer isn’t actually beer – let us not forget that Harry Potter is, in fact, a children’s book. But MAN, is it ever delicious! It tastes like ice cream, almost exactly like a carmel-beer float, which is as accurate of a depiction as I can muster. It’s just something you’ll have to taste for yourselves.
Moving on, you get some outdoor time to see the Knight bus, Privet Drive and the bridge shown most prominently in the Prisoner of Azkaban, as well as the house where Harry lived as a baby (not to mention where Lily and James met their demise). Placed around these iconic props are some of the chess pieces from the Philosophers stone, the flying car, and more.
We then moved on to the magical creatures and makeup department where some of the most beloved members of the cast were cased. My favourites? Hagrid’s head, the Basilisk, and Aragog. Again, as with every aspect of the tour, there were short clips describing the makings of these characters and how they functioned on set. I won’t lie to you, up until this point I thought Hagrid was a blow-up of an actual actor made to look bigger by special effects. it wasn’t until this moment that I realized he was a robot head and a body suit – my mind was blown. It was absolutely deadly! The amount of detail that goes in to each one of these characters and creatures is completely astonishing, and the hard work from the crew members was most noticeable in this aspect of the tour.
Finally, after much growing anticipation, we made our way to Diagon Alley! We strolled along the footpath noting Olivander’s, Florish and Blotts, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, and the many wonderful shops that we all have dreamed about rummaging through since our eleventh birthdays. it’s a short portion of the tour, to be sure, but the surrealism was at its peak being able to stroll down the alley and taking in all of these familiar monuments.
As we continued down to view the architectural designs of the landscapes, we ended the tour by going to Hogwarts. Seriously, we actually ended the tour by going to Hogwarts! Every inch of the castle, every shot that you’ve ever seen in these movies was standing in the highest of honours, symbolizing the world of amazement that is so engrained in our culture and in our history.
Finally, after seeing the days go by on this landscape, we ended here, with the names of all the crew members engraved on the wand boxes before finishing the tour and entering the gift shop. You could get anything in the shop from chocolate frogs and Bertie Bots Every Flavour Beans to wands, wardrobe pieces, and even a nimbus 2000 for a riddikulus price of 1000 pounds. I resisted as best I could, but I, of course, had to leave with something – there was no way I was leaving London without taking some of this day with me, and what better way to watch the Harry Potter movies and read the Harry Potter books than to cozy up in this tapestry-like blanket!?
The tour was absolutely well worth the trip. If you do nothing else in London, make sure you go and see this tour. We were able to connect to the series on a completely different level, and there’s nothing that will ever be able to measure up to that. I know, Harry Potter is a movie, it’s a book, it’s a story; how can anyone get so enthralled and overly-excited about a tour of pure fiction? But the reason this trip meant so much is because Hogwarts and Harry Potter opened up an entire world that a generation of people collectively engage in – It is the most communal entity that we share across borders, existing outside of the realms of politics, hatred, and individualism. It is the closest thing to magic that any of us will ever be able to experience, and it is through this magic that we become connected, reviling in loyalty and friendship. It is hope, it is wonder, and it is home for an entire generation.
Whether you’re a fanatic like us, or haven’t a clue who Dobby is (I pray for you), the thing about the Harry Potter series is that nothing in this world has brought us all together, from many different corners of the world, as lovingly and as beautifully in such harmonious friendship than Harry Potter does; and that in and of itself is worth celebrating! Harry Potter, though fiction, instills a magical feeling deep inside of you, one that so many of us grew up with over the course of these ten years. It is familiar, it is loving, and it is home. To be able to put yourself directly in the middle of it all, and seeing all of the hard work that went into making this feeling possible was truly and honour and a privilege, and I for one will never forget my experience at the Harry Potter Warner Bros Tour. I only hope that you all have the chance to live this same sense of pride and admiration for yourselves.
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