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Have you devoured every page of the Harry Potter novels? Have you waited with great anticipation for each new film to be released? If so, the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tour should be a must on your wish list of places to visit this year. To be honest even if you are just moderately interested in the series, I think that this is an attraction well worth visiting as there is so much to experience. With about 80% of the tour being indoors it also makes this a perfect winter day out – something for which I was extremely grateful when I visited on a freezing cold sleety Sunday in February.
What makes the tour feel so good is that you are in the actual studios where the vast majority of the filming of all eight of the Harry Potter films were shot. These are the real sets, the real props and the real costumes – no US style mock ups here and as Harry, Ron, Hermione or Draco lead you around the whole world of Hogwarts, Privet Drive and the Burrow, to name but a few, are really brought to life. I can’t wait to watch the films again and spot the sets and I’m sure I’ll see them in a new light now.
The Warner Brothers studios are located in Leavesden in Hertfordshire, just outside of Watford and are sign posted from junctions 19 and 20 of the M25, from which it is a couple of miles away. We found it easily using their sat nav directions, but there are also clear written directions. The huge creamy yellow warehouse type structures that form the studios are located on an old airfield site and there is therefore amply parking space right outside.
A word of warning – tickets must be purchased on line in advance, so don’t turn up expecting to just go in as no tickets are sold onsite. Adults are £29 and children £21.50 with family tickets also available for £85. You can also buy a ticket that gives an audio tour and souvenir guide. You will need to select a 30 minute window timed entry slot and can opt for your tickets to be posted to you or print an E mail receipt and collect your ticket from machines in the car park. My opinion is that these prices are a little high, and although we spent nearly 5 hours here, it is an awful lot to spend for a family and as such only myself and my 18 year old daughter went as the rest of the family were not so keen so the cost couldn’t be justified.
**You’ve arrived at the world belonging to Harry, Ron and Hermione**
The big decision we faced was whether to have an audio tour or not and then whether to have one each or to share. I’m glad we did opt to have one each as there is way too much information to share. They were easy to use and contained so much interesting information. However boards and TV screens around the various sets were also really informative,
Pictures of Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
Dumbledore and Professor McGonagal in the Great Hall
so they are not essential. I would only recommend the audio tour if you have about 4 hours to spare, are really interested and have no children with you as they will get bored. The other family that we visited with ended up moving at a much faster pace with their younger children, so we lost contact with them. If travelling as a group I would just use the onset information and this should be perfectly adequate.Firstly you will be escorted into a welcoming area, followed by a cinema where Harry, Ron and Hermione tell you a bit about life filming at Leavesden and how it was home to them for 10 years. I was really interested to know how they managed their education as well as time on set here and how the crew were like family to them. And then the moment arrives when the doors to Hogwarts open and you enter the Grand Dining Hall, laid out for dinner with the staff (well models of them) on the dais at the front. It really is just as impressive as you’d expect it to be.
Up until this point staff have escorted your tour and they give more introductory information in the Hall, but once you leave the Hall and enter the main studio area you are free to roam at your own speed taking as long as you like to explore. The audio guides then begin, as do the children’s’ passports. The passports are a fun workbook for children to answer questions, spot golden snitches on the sets and collect stamps – I even had a go myself! Children particularly seemed to like the embossing stamp machines. A few of the displays have interactive elements and there is a fun area where you can fly on a broom or in the Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia in front of a green background and have your photo taken (£12 each decreasing in price with multiple purchases). Children seemed happy but I can imagine that you would whizz around quite quickly with youngsters and not really get your money’s worth. I certainly wouldn’t take any child who doesn’t know the films well.
The main studio is like a huge aircraft hanger and contains sets from all of the films and also many individual props and explanations of how things like the rotating stair cases work. My favourites had to be the boy’s dormitory with Neville, Dean, Harry and Ron’s beds in and the kitchen of the Weasley’s home, the Burrow. I loved the fact that the characters / actors had personalised their bed areas over the course of their seven years at Hogwarts and found it really amusing to know that the set had been designed with beds to suit the eleven and twelve year old actors; by the time filming ended there was no way the now adult size actors could fit in their beds so they were always filmed in a curled up position. The burrow was the most fun and interactive set as by pressing buttons you are able to set the knitting needles knitting all on their own, the washing up brush scrubbing a pan, the chopping knife cutting up a carrot and the iron ironing; lucky Mrs Weasley having these labour saving devices! This set was also the brightest and most colourful and included so much detail. I particularly liked the food boxes with names like ‘Cheery Owls’. Even without audio guides there is a good hour and a half’s worth of time to be spent looking around this area, but I won’t spoil the surprise by including too much more about individual exhibits.
Only leave this area when you are totally sure that you have seen everything that you want as once you progress through to the backlot you won’t be able to return. I was itching to get out to the backlot as through the glass doorway I could see the bright purple 3 story high knightbus and I really wanted to see this despite the sleet! You are able to stand on the conductor’s platform and look into the beds but sadly can’t go any further. The same with no 4 Privot drive, you may knock but not enter. You can however sit in another one of the blur Ford Anglias and pose for a photo – by the way did you know that 17 and a half of these cars were used in filming altogether! Hagrids motorbike is also great for taking photos in. The bridge which features in the later films is also here but we couldn’t walk over it as it was too wet.
Back in the warm again you progress through the Creatures room. I found this fascinating, especially watching 3 films that show how various creatures used in the film are made. They are easy to watch films ideal for keeping children’s attention and feature one of the dwarf actors who played a goblin in Gringotts bank. It was great to see how some of the animatronics work and how Hagrid appears so big and even Dobby is here to see. Don’t look up to the ceiling if you’re easily frightened!
Diagon Alley comes next. This set is still in-situ and ready to be used again if needed and is every bit as wonky and magical as I envisaged. Peer in the window of Olivander’s wand shop or choose and owl, go to the apothecary and don’t forget Weasly’s bright red joke shop with its puking pastel figure out the front – gross!
The logo of the studio tour is ‘where secrets are revealed’. The last point on the tour is the piece de resistance and I think visitors are supposed to keep this secret too, so as not to spoil the surprise for future visitors, so I won’t reveal any more other than to say that it has a real ‘wow’ factor and is mightily impressive and was used throughout each of the eight films. You really should go and see what it is for yourself.
After seeing and hearing all that is on offer at the studios I can really see why these were such big budget films. Everything is made with such fine attention to detail and is so intricate.
**Can I have a souvenir please?**
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I picked up something to buy in the shop. I’d planned to take some every flavour beans and a chocolate frog home, but at £8.95 and £7.95 respectively I quickly returned them to the shelf. These were small packets and I cannot see how these prices can be justified, except that there were queues at the tills so someone must be happy to part with their well earned cash. A few other examples are a robe costing £75, a small cuddly owl £12 and a mug £12. The shop is really big with pretty much any kind of souvenir you can imagine and you have no choice about going in as the tour exits through here. It may be worth priming small children first to avoid a tantrum or an expensive bill.
**Butterbeer or a cake please**
A good sized cafe is located in the entrance lobby with some lovely looking muffins and cakes for £2-3 and costa coffees and other drinks at about £2.50 for a small size. They also serve soups, salads and sandwiches. We chose to take a picnic as the time of our tour would mean that we were only in the lobby for what would be either a very early or very late lunch and there is a covered outdoor picnic area half way round. The tour is one way only so if you choose to go out to the cafe you cannot re-enter. There is also a small refreshment stall by the picnic area in the back lot. Again you cannot use this area, other than at the point where the tour passes through it. I really can’t see why you can’t walk to and fro between the parts of the exhibition, but I guess they are trying to control crowds and keep things moving. We brought butter beer from here, as that felt like an essential part of the Harry Potter experience - a strange somewhat sickly butterscotch kind of taste, but my daughter loved it. This costs between £2.50 for a plastic beaker to £6.50 for a souvenir tankard.
The main toilets are located in the lobby and there are others in the largest studio area, which seemed to be plenty, but I’m not sure what you’d do if you were taken short in the back lot of second studio area. Both times I went into the toilets there was someone wiping down the sinks and dryers and they were spotless.
Wheelchair access is good throughout the tour.
**Summary** A visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour gives a fascinating glimpse into the process of making a Harry Potter film. I totally recommend visiting here to anyone who loves the Harry Potter stories and has watched the films. Some sets are missing that I had really hoped to see, but they really have included a good amount to make your visit worthwhile and enjoyable. It is a shame however that the prices are so expensive, especially in the gift shop.