When your kids think of London, do they think of Buckingham Palace or Hogwarts? Would they stare at a map of the London transit system and look for Platform 9 ¾? If so, then when in the U.K. consider the Warner Bros. Studios Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. Even if you have been to Universal Studios in Florida, you’ve never seen Harry Potter like this!
As adults, we want our kids to experience the UK’s incredible history and culture, but every vacation should have a little magic thrown into the itinerary. After dragging our daughters, ages 13 and 15, through the British Museum (“Rosetta Stone. Cool!”), the Museum of London (“Broken plates, wow!”), and the Tower of London (ok, the crown jewels actually were a crowd pleaser), on our last of three days in London we took the hour-plus journey out to the Warner Brothers Studios. And despite some initial reservations, it was well worth it.
How to Get to Harry Potter Studios London
The Harry Potter Studio is located in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, an hour-plus outside of London. Getting there involves taking the Tube to Euston Station, taking the Rail to Watford Junction, and finally a 15-minute shuttle bus to the studios. All of this is covered with the Oyster Card, the ubiquitous London transit card (with the exception of the shuttle, which costs 2.50 round trip). You must purchase your tickets in advance. We had reservations for an early tour, which I highly recommend as it gets crowded later in the day.
What to Expect
The studio is a massive complex with huge sets all built and used throughout the making of the eight Harry Potter movies. What makes this tour special is that you are not experiencing something that looks like Dumbledore’s office; you are in Dumbledore’s office. The actual sets are there, including the Great Hall, Diagon Alley, the Ministry of Magic, Gryffindor common room, the Hogwarts Express, Platform 9 3/4, Hagrid’s hut, and an incredibly-detailed model of Hogwarts that fills an entire room which was used with a green screen for exterior shots. The actors, directors, and set designers are on video giving you insight into the movie-making, explaining many of the effects from simple to extraordinarily complex.
In one of the more low-tech exhibits, you learn about forced perspective, where the sets are designed to make things look larger or smaller than they actually are. In this photo, my daughter and I are side-by-side, but my chair and cup are much smaller than hers. This technique was used to make the actor playing Hagrid look like a giant. Instead of just reading about it, we were able to experience the trick ourselves.
Among the many exhibits, you can also make a broomstick rise on command, play Quidditch in front of a green screen and see yourself zooming through the air, and push your cart magically through the wall at Platform 9 ¾. The tour does an excellent job in not just explaining in detail how it was done (which my husband thoroughly enjoyed) but letting the viewer try it out (which makes for endless Instagram-worthy shots for your kids).
How long to Spend
Because the Harry Potter Studios London Tour is mostly self-guided after some introductory remarks and movies, you can spend as long as you like going through the exhibits, but plan on at least 2-3 hours. My 13-year-old spent hours reading every detail about the sets, then breezed through the parts on animation. My husband, an aspiring sketch artist, spent a lot of time with animation and effects and breezed through the sets. My 15-year-old and I mostly looked for fun selfie opportunities and bought candy. Truly something for everyone.
If you have been to Universal Studios in Florida, you should know that there are no rides on this tour. You can buy butterbeer, butterbeer-flavored ice cream, chocolate frogs, and all manner of sweets referenced in the books, but surprisingly no pumpkin juice. And of course, there are two gift shops located conveniently at the middle and end of the tour where you can buy wands, robes, and accessories for each house, and all things Potter.
While we always want our kids to learn as much as they can when we travel, taking this tour is a chance for my kids’ favorite books to come alive before their eyes, a memory they will treasure. Even if after our vacation, my kids will still know more about who was locked up in Azkaban than in the Tower of London, but the Harry Potter Experience is well worth the trip for muggles and wizards alike.