I’d like to tell you that my 10 year old Harry Potter fan jumped through the ceiling with joy when an invite to visit the studios North West of London popped into my email inbox.
But that would be a lie. It was me who whooped, who did a little dance, who made a silly little noise and giggled.
For I don’t mind telling you dear reader, I ADORE Harry Potter. The books and the movies alike, I’ve been hooked since back when book two came out and children QUEUED to buy it. Children queuing to buy a book – who ever heard of such a thing? And I was there too, elbowing them out of the way.
So would I like to visit the studios and review them? Hell yes please.
Last year we all visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida and absolutely loved it.
Dan stood there outside a huge model of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with is mouth agape, his eyes wide as saucers.
So we couldn’t wait to go and see what the UK had to offer in celebration this very British phenomenon.
First of all let me please say, if you don’t want anything spoiled about the studio tour then don’t read on.
That is the first and only time I will ever tell readers not to read on in this blog! But if you want a surprise and don’t want any secrets revealed before you go, then stop right now! Then come back after you’ve visited and tell me what you thought!
Inside you are basically taken on a tour of the Harry Potter filming experience. At the studios where the films all began.
You will see original sets, costumes, props, creatures, models. You will discover secrets, tricks they used in filming and a whole load more movie magic.
It’s a long day – I guess it took us more than 3 hours to complete the tour – but there is so much to see and do it could easily take you longer.
The great thing is you can take as long as you like. You aren’t being marshalled around and hurried on so you can enjoy it at your leisure.
What I would say is it’s probably best suited to children eight and above. Dan and his friend were fine (at age 10), but seven year old Mia struggled a bit after a couple of hours.
What I can also tell you is this: There is SO SO much detail which went on behind the scenes of the films that you probably would never have picked up. The tour far exceeded all my expectations.
So, what can you expect once you enter those sliding doors at the entrance in the photo above?
Let me walk you through . . .
There are roughly three main areas to the tour – the first is accessed through, obviously, the huge doors of the Great Hall of Hogwarts.
Here you are shown where they actually filmed, the costumes, the gargoyles, the flagstone floor. The oak tables created for the films which were then aged using axes and chains. They even encouraged the Hogwarts pupils to carve their own graffiti into the wood to make it feel more like a school. It is so impressive. And then as you leave the hall to enter the rest of the sets you literally see what lies behind the scenes of those great stone walls which, let me tell you, when you’re stood a mere foot away STILL look totally real. Clearly they’re not!
Next you enter an Aladdin’s cave of iconic sets and props and information. There is so much to see and do here, so many things to learn, that you need to take your time.
You will see wigs (and learn how they were made – fascinating), see the Gryffindor common room (complete with a portrait of the young Prof McGonagall), the boys dorm, the Potions Classroom, the Ministry of Magic – there is just SO much going on and so many secrets to learn. You can pay for a digital guide but if you don’t, there is lots of information written down for you to read, and if you ask one of the guides who are often wandering around, they are also willing to share little titbits. Like the fact that on the wall in Dumbledore’s study, alongside all the portraits of great wizards past and present, there is also the portrait of a very famous British comedian hidden in there . . .
And did you know that as Dolores Umbridge became more and more powerful, her wardrobe became progressively pinker . . .?
What I really liked is, you can get up close and personal. You can’t touch many of the sets but you can get within breathing distance of them. You can touch the beams above many of the sets which you will SWEAR are wooden, but are in fact a foam which they carve and paint to look like paint.
In this section you can also discover the magic behind Quidditch and ride a broomstick for yourself in front of the magic ‘green screen’, or the whole family can take a journey in Ron’s blue car.
Then you can obviously buy a photo of your experience afterwards. Quite pricey for one, but if you buy a couple the price is much more palatable.
Next up you are in an outside area, where you can stop for a drink and a snack and wander around various sets and props. The 22-foot tall Knight Bus, Hagrid’s motorbike and sidecar, the house at Privett Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge. And what’s great is you can actually climb on them and have your photo taken – no kept within breathing distance of them from behind a barrier.
You can also get a taste of Butterbeer here if you wish – but as you can see, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!
After spending an AGE taking your photo next to every set you possibly can (!) it’s on to the final section, which features creatures and scale models.
The creatures are nothing short of amazing. A troll’s head here, a mermaid prototype there, a giant snake’s head bearing down from the ceiling; an animatronic Buckbeak sat right there in front of you with the full body of feathers they hired a ‘feather expert’ to help them build so they would know exactly how they would lie, if a Hippogriff were real.
The attention to detail is phenomenal.
Aragog bears down on you, an animatronic figure so complex that nearly 100 technicians were needed to operate it. The giant spider’s hairy look was created by covering it in yak hair, sisal and hemp from brooms.
And then you’re walking down Diagon Alley. And it looks nothing like you’d expect (it’s indoors for a start) and yet it looks exactly like you’d expect- with Gringotts Bank at one end and the Weasley brother’s joke shop at the other.
Then you turn a corner and see this. The actual model of Hogwarts used in the movies. And it’s impressive. It’s a bit of ‘gasp’ moment and I love the fact that you can walk all the way around it taking photos from various angles, and see up close how detailed and magnificent it really is.
Is it for you?
We are a household of movie and Harry Potter fans so this is so far up our street. However Dan’s friend Toby who we took had only just discovered the joys of Harry Potter (he crammed his homework and watched the first three movies back to back just before we went!). He loved it too. In fact he wanted to watch the next movies as soon as he got back home!
What’s the cost?
You can’t actually just turn up on the day and visit the studios. You have to prebook your tickets on the website. Which is actually a brilliant idea because it means there are only ever a set number of visitors at the studios at any given time, so you never feel like it’s too busy.
We went on the first day of the February half term and it didn’t feel over crowded at all. We got to see everything we wanted to see, have photos taken on the sets we wanted to and the queues for food/drinks/souvenirs weren’t that bad at all.
A single child ticket is £21.50 and a single adult ticket is £29. A group ticket for a family of four is £85.
Tickets can be booked in advance at www.wbstudiotour.co.uk. You also have to book a timeslot to visit, but you can do this any time after buying your tickets.
The gift shop is VERY expensive. A wand will set you back £25 and a small packet of Every Flavour Jelly Beans is £8.95. Although bringing them home and playing at was just THE best laugh. Dirt flavoured bean anyone?
You can get an audio guide for £4.95 or if you really want to push the boat out, you can hire a (very knowledgeable) guide for around £50.
NOTE: There is only one way around the tour, so once you pass the cafe at the entrance there is no where else to eat. There is a snack and drink area half way around, but nothing substantial.
The entrance cafe is really rather good, so make sure you plan your visit around your stomachs! Or you can take a picnic and eat it in the (outdoor) snack area.
The gift shop is at the start of the tour, but you also end up here too, so buy your gifts at the end so you don’t end up wandering around all day with them – you will need your hands for other things!
Also note, if you are travelling by train, there is a really handy shuttle bus which takes you directly to the studios BUT it costs £2 per person.