“No story lives unless someone wants to listen”
The Harry Potter Studio Tour seems an odd proposition. When I think of the words ‘Studio Tour’ my imagination fires up with images of someone on a far flung trip to Orlando, sitting on a shuttle bus looking at the set of ‘Back To The Future’. It certainly does not make me think of visiting a studio 20 miles outside of London. It’s also odd because I love films, I’ve watched a ton of them over the years (from films like Goonies, Indiana Jones, to big franchises like Star Wars, Transformers, and of course Harry Potter, and everything in between!) While I am aware of collectibles and fan merchandise I have never once thought to myself, ‘you know what would be great, I would love to go see Indiana Jones’s hat for real.’ I can not think of any other movie that has its own permanent tour outside a theme park. So the thought of visiting what (on the face of it) is a professional memorabilia exhibition didn’t really excite me that much. That was until I visited in 2012 and again this weekend !
The Making Of Harry Potter is based at Leavesden Studios. Filming of the Harry Potter films ceased in 2010. At this point Warner Brothers bought the complex and pledged a £100 million investment to create a state of the art movie studio and build two new buildings that would house a new exhibition. That exhibition would become ‘The Making Of Harry Potter’ and opened in 2012. Fast forward 8 years and its still going strong. So strong that around 6000 visitors a day turn up!
Visit Experience Includes Spoilers
I drove to the Studio from the Midlands, The route was straight forward and the local signage easy to follow. Once arrived at the Studio I found a large free visitor car park, and for a few pounds extra you can park closer or charge your electric vehicle. I found no need to upgrade as the large carpark is more than adiquate. If you are visiting by public transport you are well catered for as the studio has their own bus stop, with regular buses to the closest train station.
You can choose to collect your pre-booked tickets on site or use tickets printed at home or shown on a mobile – this is the fastest option. Once you have your tickets scanned you are in a queue then sent through to security. I felt reassured at the extra lengths of security being employed here, the bag search with giant torch was very thorough! I was then scanned by an unenthusiastic guard who simply waved his wand in front of me and grunted. (My first interaction with a wand and it wasn’t even magic!) It’s obvious that he has had some security training, but I get the sense this was several hundred persons ago.
Once you are through the strict security regime you enter a small lobby that holds the toilets, cloakroom and a place to obtain digital guides. Walk through this and you enter a large auditorium. Here you find access to the shop, food area and the tour entrance itself.
About 20 mins before your time slot you need to start to queue. This takes you into a holding area. Here you are welcomed by a very enthusiastic staff member who tells you you that staff are all around the tour and are called ‘Interactors’. They are Harry Potter nerds and can answer questions and provide secret bits of info and basically, please talk to them. After a short video you are through to a cinema style room. Here another Interactor quips a few jokes and another short, but excellent video plays. After this you start the tour in the first ‘great’ room of the site. My only criticism at this point is that the room you start in is timed. It feels a bit rushed and there is so much to see. Once you are through this everything else is done at your own pace.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that the electronic guide is superb so think about getting it as part of your tickets. The tour is split into numbered sections and the guide provides further details and videos on each section.
The tour then flows through how Harry Potter came to be, producers directors, through to various wardrobe make up, massive sets and some of the thousands of props created. You can also pay a extra and experience flying on a broom through London via green screen. Once you are through a couple more massive sets (or avoided at least one of them if you don’t like spiders!) you find yourself at the half way point. Here you can grab food and drink some Butterbeer. The only way I can describe Butterbeer is to ask you to imagine Ironbru with whipped cream on top.
The next part is outdoors where you will find some famous buildings and a certain purple bus and blue car. From here you enter the creature shop and prosthetics where you will meet several goblins and a House Elf! Next, you find yourself walking through a very decadent bank. A trip past some treasure and a very angry dragon leaves you walking ‘diagonally’. You then take a look at some pre set designs and then it’s off to Hogwarts for one final magical experience and the tour is over.
If you think this all sounds like its over quick, its not. I would suggest that you allow somewhere between 3 – 6 hours to see everything, and even then you would probably have missed some things.
I mentioned earlier that the thought of a memorabilia exhibition didn’t excite me too much, but how wrong I was! The tour is amazing! It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting because you’re a fan, love films or simply tagging along. If you are interested in how films are made they have tons of information from producers and directors. Interested in set design, the insight you gain is superb. I especially liked finding out how paper is turned into marble! If you like to make models the model set concepts are so intricate. If you like to paint, the pre visual artwork is fascinating.
What amazes me is the level of attention to detail that has gone into every single prop on display, if you scale this up to every conceivable department, the detail is astounding. This is no memorabilia exhibition. It’s an exhibition and testament of hundreds of people’s love and attention to their craft and to the Wizarding World that makes Harry Potter. I don’t think I will look at movies the same way again.
As with all good tourist attractions you end up in a shop (a few times). Each shop is an extension of the tour with loads of great touches. It’s also a tad pricey so you will need a fair bit of cash.
One final thing to mention is the food. We popped into the food court for a bite to eat. It’s typical burgers and pizzas type food. Nicely done and at a price point to be expected, around 11 quid a meal.
The Good Points:
- Well organised
- Fantastic self guided tour
- Great for all ages of Potter Fans
- A few extra activities that can be paid for while walking around the tour
- Easy to get to
The Bad Points:
- Sells out quickly, booking may be needed several months in advance
- Although your booking is via an allocated time, it can seem crowded
- The extra activities and shop can be expensive
Former community radio producer and presenter, and currently an office worker by day and blogger by night.
Garry is the creator and writer of The Silver Hedgehog. A Sci-Fi geek (don’t mention Terry Pratchett or Isaac Asimov unless you have a spare hour) and avid lover of all things film and TV fan . Garry enjoys writing reviews, blogs, chatting to people and now hosts a podcast in his spare time.
He is now waiting for the day he gets paid for it!