Harry Potter in London seems natural…at least to fans like me. Where else would smart and sophisticated wizards and witches be found? And, after 12 rejections, it was a London publisher who finally agreed to take a chance on a boy wizard with lightning-bolt scar.
Actually, for ten years, Harry–and his friends and enemies–were found about 20 miles northeast of London, in Leavesden, making eight films in a former WWII fighter airplane factory. After the astounding success of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, the idea to make it a film was obvious.
Everyone thought that Disney would be the logical winner of film rights. But when they weren’t able to agree with Rowling’s demands, including that all actors be British, Warner Brothers scooped up the deal for a measly $2 billion. By the time filming began in 2000, there were four books out–and Pottermania was epidemic. A major location was needed to accommodate the sets and everything that goes with movie-making. Leavesden was perfect…except for occasional off-site locations, everything from the books was faithfully created there.
When “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2” was finished in 2010, everyone looked around at a decade’s worth of sets, props, costumes, animated creatures, and elaborate workshops. It was too good to let go. Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour was planned and opened on March 31, 2012.
Harry Potter in London: Forget Universal Studios…this is BETTER!
No matter your age, when you take enter the studios (ALL tickets are sold in advance with timed entry.) you’ll keep saying, “Here’s Dumbledore’s Office!” “The Great Hall–it’s so big!” “So this is how they filmed Quidditch!”
Every set looks so different…and yet familiar. Stand in front of the Mirror of Erised. Climb on a broomstick and take a ride. Enter into a wand duel. Learn how special effects were made; even when you understand, you’ll still be in awe. Maybe even more, because it’s so amazing.
As you walk through the sets, notice that every prop is, well, proper. Dishes on the tables at The Burrow. Tiny handwritten labels on bottles in Potions Class. Embroidery on costumes. Engraving on cups. There is an entire room of hats. Items that were in the background or seen onscreen for a few seconds, it doesn’t matter. The attention to detail is beyond impressive.
One of my favorite displays was dedicated to Delores Umbridge and her fondness for kittens and all things pink. Dolores was saccharine-sweet, but manipulative. The sign by her display explains that as she gained power, her outfits became brighter pinks; I hadn’t noticed that before. The Props Department searched London for her fancy furniture. Special Effects added footage of romping kittens to the plates and photos around her office.
If there’s a scene from a Harry Potter movie you remember, there’s a set and props here. Even the Forbidden Forest! After the first movie was filmed on location in Black Park in Buckinghamshire, it became apparent that shooting in the dark with conditions that couldn’t be controlled wasn’t going to work going forward. So a “new” forest was constructed, complete with Aragog–and his 18-foot arm span. Hagrid’s shack? Ministry of Magic? Malfoy Manor? Privet Drive? Diagon Alley? Hogwarts Bridge? And of course, Platform 9¾ beside the big red Hogwarts Express. It’s all here…and more.
The creatures & the castle: two departments at their finest
As you leave the studios, you enter special areas showing the craftsmanship of Creature Effects. All those goblins, animals, and characters like Dobby, Griphook, Greyback…and Voldemort. Faces, ears, hands, feet–each one is unique. Even those in the background have individual features. Makeup and prosthetics, plus hours of application time, made each one look “real.”
Animals of all kinds, from Buckbeak to Fawkes, were made in different versions and stances. Even the plants–remember those screaming Mandrakes?–required a team to design, make prototypes, then produce the final product.
The crowning achievement of the Art Department was the model of Hogwarts Castle, used in every film after “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” First done in cardboard in small-scale, it has every detail of the castle: turrets, courtyards, windows, and doors. The landscape was copied from the Scottish Highlands. The crew of 86 included 2,500 fiber optic lights that can be programmed to simulate lanterns and torches. Fun fact: If all the man-hours that were put into the castle, from the first drawing to the final landscaping, the result would be over 74 years!
I’ll be honest: this is one of the best attractions I’ve ever been to. As a Harry Potter fan, I loved seeing everything that I’d imagined when I read the books. As a film buff, I was blown away by the information about how filming works, learning about special effects, and admiring the attention to every detail. I’d go again!
What to know before you go
The entire tour (although you are really on your own) takes about 4 hours. Because of timed entry, there is never a pressing crowd. Halfway through, there is a cafe to stop and enjoy a Butterbeer, along with Muggle food, British-style: hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, and soups. Bakery items and Butterbeer ice cream, too. A cafe in the entrance area serves breakfast items, light lunch food, and an afternoon tea for two.
Tickets must be purchased in advance! Basic admission is £47.00 ($59.00) for adults (over age 16) and £38.00 ($48.00) for children 5-15. Under 5 is free, but a ticket is still required. (2020 prices)
There’s an upscale package that includes admission, a digital guide, and very nice souvenir guidebook.£56.95 ($72) for adults, £47.95 ($60.50) for kids. (2020 prices)
Get there from London from Euston Station in a little more than one hour: Train (20 min) Walk (10 min) Bus (6 min) Walk (15 min). Or…find a tour company to transport you there and back–and book your ticket. That’s what I did: Viator, an online tour clearinghouse, charges about $110 for the trip (2020 price) including admission. (Food, drinks, and your own wand are at your own expense.) It’s a full day trip, and all you have to do is show up at Euston Station.
Updated July 13, 2020. Please check the Warner Bros “Making of Harry Potter” website for the latest information regarding tickets, safety, and your visit.
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