Excited at the prospect of coming face-to-face with the real Longbottom cardigan, I arrived at the Harry Potter studio tour already buzzing. Kids wandered about in full Hogwarts uniform, brandishing wands and flailing their capes, while parents looked positively relaxed. It was a rainy Sunday, but no-one seemed to mind. Shuffling into the entrance hall, shivering and chattery, people’s eyes widened as they noticed the cast photos all along the walls. Little did we all know that our eyes would get even wider inside the tour…
Let me first say that if you haven’t been to the Harry Potter studio tour and don’t want anything ruined for you – then don’t read on! I wouldn’t normally discourage anyone from reading my posts but this one does contain spoilers of the tour. So, be warned!
“Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn’t simply open on to the heavens.”
The first stop of the tour is a pretty plush cinema, where a guide jokes that you’ll be sat there for 22 hours – watching all of the Harry Potter movies back-to-back. Of course that’s not really happening so they play a short introduction to the tour instead. Here you see Daniel, Emma and Rupert talk of their time growing up at Leavesden and what you’ll expect to see on the tour. Then as the intro finishes, the screen rises to the ceiling and the curtains fall back – and there you are, standing at the entrance of the Great Hall. It looks pretty magical. The doors open and you’re lead through to the real hall to look at some of the real costumes. This is the only guided bit. Once you exit the hall, you’re free to roam about as you please.
The benefits of a digital guide
We thought it best to pick up some digital guides on the way in. For £4.95 each, they were good value for money and did provide a lot of extra information. Narrated by Tom Felton, the guides have introductions for each calling point, plus behind the scenes videos and scrapbook pictures. Warner Brothers didn’t scrimp on style either, as they’re presented on an iPod Touch.
Since the digital guides follow everything in number order, we felt quite paced too. Without them, I know we would have raced ahead and finished after an hour. Using the digital guides meant that we didn’t miss a thing.
The self-guided tour
Inside the tour you visit several sections of production – from hair & makeup and set design to props, the animal casting and special graphics/art departments. It’s fascinating to see all the little bits specially created for the films, particularly when there’s no real history to go on. The art dept did an incredible job creating newspapers, brand packaging, currency, magazines and text books – all from J.K Rowling’s made-up world.
We ambled through department after department, set after set – the gates to Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s office, Snape’s potions classroom, make-up mirrors, costume racks, props, the cars, motorbikes and broomsticks, Hagrid’s hut, the Weasley’s cottage, The Ministry of Magic, Umbridge’s very pink office… No wonder we spent 3 hours strolling through the whole thing!
Halfway through the tour, there’s a section outside where you can have your photograph taken with the Knight Bus, the bridge to Hogwarts (where Neville almost met his end), and the Dursley’s patch on Privet Drive. It’s also where you can knock back a few butterbeers…
“Why don’t we go and have a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks, it’s a bit cold, isn’t it?”
I think this was the bit I was most excited about (after Neville’s cardigan). Wanting to know if it was as good as it sounds, we joined the excited queue for a butterbeer.
The rumours are true. Butterbeer is delicious and addictive. A cross between a really watered down Irn Bru and cream soda, butterbeer has a delicious butterscotch cream on top to give it a kick when you take a sip. As you can see, the sugar went straight to my head! About halfway into the cup I started feeling a little full. It’s quite fizzy and that cream is very sweet!
I found a really great Butterbeer recipe which is vegan-friendly and looks just like the real thing. One day I’ll give it a go myself.
The rest of the studio tour
After the outside section we walked straight into the Creature Shop, which is where the special makeup and prosthetics is explained. Goblin heads and limbs are displayed, as are the impressive animatronics! You can see Hagrid’s head and the real Buckbeak, plus a little Dobby head on a stick…
Then the surprises begin. You get to walk down Diagon Alley and take photos of all the shops while kids pretend they’re about to buy their Hogwarts uniform, books and wands.
And then this happens…
That’s the real model Hogwarts used for extreme long shots and as a base for CGI! It’s so much bigger than you expect and the people at Leavesden have worked really hard on creating the perfect atmosphere as you catch your first sight of it. It’s definitely something that you need to see for yourself to understand the detail. The model is the final stop on the studio tour, before you head into the shop to load up on chocolate frogs and Hogwarts stationery.
Highlights of the Harry Potter Studio Tour
- Get up close to ‘that’ infamous cardigan – the real one, and see the Hogwarts first-year uniform worn by an 11 year-old Daniel Radcliffe (they’re so small you go all gooey).
- Have your picture taken flying a real broomstick in a Hogwarts cape.
- Get your first taste of the J.K. Rowling-approved Butterbeer recipe
- Walk down the real Diagon Alley, complete with Weasley brothers’ magic shop
please note: some header images are from unsplash.com