A Potterhead Pilgrimage to London would not be complete without a trip to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour! About an hour commute north of London, Leavesden is home to the Harry Potter movie sets, which Warner Bros. has turned into a permanent exhibition of sorts. it's like Universal Studios but just for Harry Potter. I was overwhelmed by the realization that we were amongst the very props, costumes and set designs that set the stage for the movie series. Imagining Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Tom Felton growing up there made me a little emotional!
We signed up for a late morning tour, and it took just over an hour to get up there, mostly walking from the Tube to the train to the shuttle bus. There's a lot of uncomfortable human cattle corraling that is queuing up for the tour once you get there, but even that doesn't really take away from the fact that OMG you're there! And that is really the cupboard under the stairs that Harry slept in! That set lives in the queuing area at the beginning of the tour - from there, you're ushered into a couple of big rooms with a few hundred of your closest Harry Potter fans. Finally, you're greeted by the doors to the Great Hall at Hogwarts.
I can't describe the feeling of being in the actual Great Hall, with its long wooden tables, food props, life-size replicas of the Hogwarts staff and the Sorting Hat itself. I was a little heartbroken to learn that the Great Wall ceiling was all CGI, but I'll keep the magic alive and pretend I don't know that when I watch the movies.
After the Great Hall, the tour snakes through more of the legendary movie sets, props, and costumes alongside lots of behind-the-scenes video and stories from the movie's producers, directors, and actors. Winter Ball costumes, the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore's office, the Potions classroom, the Death Eaters meeting table, Ministry of Magic fireplaces - it's all there for you to take in.
There are plenty of interactive experiences (and photos to buy) on the Studio Tour. You can ride a broom, get your Undesirable mugshot taken, hang out in the Hogwarts Express and more. I just took the chance to avoid the lines at King's Cross station and get my pic taken at the studio's Platform 9 3/4. You can see how miserable I was to be there:
They say the average tour can last around three hours. For those of you wondering how to have the energy to spend hours there, never fear: there's a cafe at the entrance/exit of the Studio Tour, and another right before the backlot in the midst of the tour. Before you go explore the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the rickety bridge and the bewitched car that Ron and Harry stole to fly to Hogwarts, you can stop for a quick bite to eat, rest your feet and have a good ol' butterbeer. The butterbeer soda mix isn't bad, but the thick layer of butterbeer cream on top is reaaalllly sweet. It was a little much for me, but I enjoyed it anyway. You can also get butterbeer ice cream in a waffle cone!
There isn't a whole lot to the tour after the backlot, but the second part was probably my favorite. On this part of the tour, you can see all the special effects, like the wall of goblin and elf masks, the robots powering Hagrid's enlarged head and Dobby's little body and so much more. After that, you walk into Diagon Alley and a room full of design sketches for the various buildings, characters and more. The intricacy and attention to detail are really on display here! Turn the corner and you'll see a gallery of artist work inspired by the movie. This sketch of a Death Eater mask was probably my favorite:
The pinnacle of the tour comes at the very end. When I turned the corner and saw the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts, it literally took my breath away. Tears welled up in my eyes, all that. You can walk around the entirety of this scale model, and I just savored each step. I can't put into words how it felt to see all that detail come to life and to remember major scenes from the movies taking place in certain parts of Hogwarts as I walked around the model. What an experience!
Give it up one time for my fiancé who agreed to take the tour after like seven hours of the Harry Potter & The Cursed Child play the day before. Thank you for being such a good sport and letting me indulge my Harry Potter nerdiness. You the real MVP boo!