I recently returned to the U.S. after a ten day vacation in Ireland and London (and the fact that I first typed that sentence as “I just returned to the States after a ten day holiday in Ireland and London” means that I’m still there in my heart, clearly). In Ireland, I did wonderful things like drink a lot of beer, hang out in pubs, and win tiny bottles of Bushmills on literary pub crawls with my mad literary knowledge (i.e. shouting “Beckett! Joyce! Beckett!” at every trivia question until something came up right). And in London, I visited Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Like you do.
First of all, let me just say that if you are thinking about taking the Harry Potter studio tour, DO IT. It is worth the price of the ticket. It is worth the price of the PLANE ticket. I have about a zillion pictures of it, and I’ll post many of them as I talk about the tour, but honestly, nothing can compare with standing there and seeing those things with your own eyes. If you are a spoilerphobic type person who would rather just experience the whole thing for yourself, you can leave this post right here with my full-fledged, Potter fan stamp of approval. Go do it.
But if you want to hear what’s in store for you before you start planning that trip to London, please follow me under the cut for a little play-by-play of what was truly a Potter fan’s dream come true.
First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, if you are staying in London and traveling via the Tube out to the studio, allow yourself plenty of time, especially if you are planning on riding the shuttle from the train station to the studios, which only leaves every half hour. We missed ours, but it was a fairly cheap and quick taxi ride over, and we got to ride in one of the gorgeous classic London taxis, so win! But if you don’t want to fork over the dough, plan accordingly.
Okay, logistics out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. The tour is mostly self guided. The only place where you have a limited amount of time is at the very beginning, in the Great Hall, but when you walk into that completely empty hall in all its radiance, you’ll thank the staff for hurrying the previous tour out. The Great Hall is gorgeous, and brimming with fun stuff to see. You get about ten minutes or so to browse around, and then off you go into the main area of the first soundstage, where the majority of the sets live. From there, you are on your own to spend as much time as you’d like.
We stayed for a little over three hours, including a break for some lunch and butterbeer (more on that later), but one of the staff members said that people have stayed up to seven or eight hours. I can totally see how. The place is amazing, packed to the brim with sets, props, constumes, wardrobe pieces – you name it, you can probably track it down.
While the Great Hall is the only set on this soundstage that you can full walk into, you are able to get up close and personal with some of the best loved sets from the movies.
- The Boy’s Dorm: I adored this set, mostly because they had so many fun little details added in, like sports memorabilia on Dean and Ron’s dressers and slippers next to Neville’s bed with his name written in them.
- The Gryffindor Common Room: Another favorite, if for the pure fact that it was so interesting to see how everything was laid out in the room. One of my favorite details was that they had costumes from Harry, Ron & Hermione from the final movie in the room with costumes of theirs from the first movie looking down from the dormitories above. It was an incredibly sweet way to show visitors how much they grew up over the course of the movies.
- Dumbledore’s Office: Interesting to see, but honestly probably the least interesting set to me, even though it was crammed full of coolness. Though spying the Sorting Hat was a bonus.
The Potions Classroom: OMG, so gorgeous. I was seriously in love with this set. Dark, moody, lined up and down with bottles full of everything imaginable. Favorite part was definitely finding a slightly, ahem, used copy of a certain Potions textbook on the table.
- Hagrid’s Hut: Amazingly full of all sorts of fun items, and it was so cool to see how big Hagrid is inside that tiny little hut.
The Burrow: Very interactive set, where you could make the knitting needles knit or the pot scrub itself. Again, every inch of these sets is crammed full of the most extraordinary things, more than one could take in at one time.
In between these sets was everything else imaginable from the movie sets. I won’t go into all the goods, but some highlights for me included the display of wands, seeing all the Horcruxes (the diadem of Ravenclaw was particularly beautiful), and the gorgeous display of paper art from the series, which included not only the Maurader’s Map and the original letters to Harry, but a letter written to Sirius from Lily that almost had me in tears (see picture). Throughout the displays, there are also tons of information as well as informational videos playing with backstage information from the actors, directors, and crew, which was a really fun touch and made everything we were seeing that much richer.
As we exited the first soundstage, we were standing in the small backlot, which housed, among other things, Privet Drive, the portion of the bridge to Hogsmeade that was actually constructed, and the Knight Bus. There was also a small concession area to rest your tired feet with some sandwiches and glasses of butterbeer. After a snack break and some posing in front of the Dursley’s, it was off to soundstage number two, which first led into the creature shop. It was fascinating to see how things like the Monster Book of Monsters and Scabbers the Rat worked, as well as some of the incredible work that was done to transform ordinary actors into goblins, Death Eaters, and some of the more eccentric professors at Hogwarts. You could even give Buckbeak a bow on your way to the second fully-immersed set – Diagon Alley.
Again, it was such an amazing experience to walk down the street and peek in all the shop windows. The attention to detail was incredible, and I know I’m not the only one that wanted to walk through the door to Flourish and Blotts or Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and take a little shopping side trip.
Up next was a room that made my little architecture-major heart soar – a room filled with gorgeous, hand drafted drawings of the sets, and then another with working scale models and renderings of sets and scenes. There was an incredible amount of artwork produced for the movie that most people never even see, but that helped the directors and art department plan how certain scenes would look. Sadly, I didn’t find any of the prints available for sale in the store, because I definitely would have purchased a gorgeous painting looking out through the clock onto the courtyard. Le sigh.
The final room of the tour was the one that quite literally took my breath away, and again, I’ll put a little pause here so that you can skip this part if you’d like. I won’t even put up any pictures. Just skip down to the last paragraph if you’re planning on going on the tour soon, because it’s an amazing surprise.
Are you sure?
Okay, here goes.
We turned the corner into the room and I literally stopped and gasped, because in front of us was Hogwarts. As in, the full sized, scale model of Hogwarts castle that was used in every wide shot for the movies. It’s about two stories tall, massive, and absolutely gorgeous. As you walk into the room, they are playing the “Harry in Winter” suite from the soundtrack to Goblet of Fire (yes, I recognized that piece of music because I adore it), and as you watch, the lighting in the room goes from day to night and all the little rooms within the castle light up. You are able to walk all the way around, taking in every detail, and I’m not going to lie – I got tears in my eyes as I stood in front of it. For that moment alone, it was worth the trip to studio.
Okay, everyone come back now.
I hope every Potter fan gets a chance to go and visit this amazing set tour. One of the guides at the end said that what was displayed doesn’t even make a dent in all that they have in storage, so there may be more to come as the years go on. But as it is, they have done a phenomenal job creating a truly magical experience that any fan would love.