I shall announce with shameless pride that I recently visited the Harry Potter Studios completely sans child. Nobody paid me to go (I paid to go), and another completely adult friend joined me. I know some people who just don’t “get” why adults like Harry Potter. Well, the adults who do like Harry Potter don’t “get” why there are any who don’t! At the studios, there were actually more grownup visitors than there were kids.
These are the actual studios where all the films were filmed. They are a piece of filmmaking history. However you might feel about the films themselves, it is wonderful to see all of the work, imagination and pure craftsmanship that went into the making of them.
The practical stuff
The question I always ask when it comes to stuff like this is, “Is it worth the ticket price?” Tickets for this attraction cost £35 for an adult and £27 for children aged 5-15. Children 4 and under go free. These prices sounded very expensive to me, but now that I’ve gone, I can say that you definitely get enough entertainment to make the price worthwhile. It is also useful to know that the attraction is very buggy-friendly so you could easily bring an under-4 along without it being too much of a mission.
It’s worth noting that you need to purchase tickets in advance – you can’t just rock up there on a whim and buy at the door.
It’s pretty easy to get to as well. I took a train to Watford Junction and caught their shuttle bus up to the studios. The bus costs £2.50 return. If you prefer to drive, there is loads of parking on-site and right next to the entrance. You could always fly there in your Ford Anglia.
What you get to see
I took a hundred photos but I won’t share them all with you for the sake of surprise. But for the sake of proving it’s worth the ticket price, here are a few highlights.
They tell you at the beginning that the tour lasts about 3 hours. My friend and I went through a little faster than that, but you could easily spend longer than us. We didn’t queue up for the green screen room, where you can get a photo of yourself riding a broomstick (among other things), nor did we get a video of ourselves riding the Hogwarts Express.
Just about all of the iconic sets and props that you could wish to see are there. All of the costumes on display are the ones that the actors actually wore. I’ve been to Universal and Hollywood Studios in Orlando, but this tour is more real movie history than I’ve ever seen.
You start the tour with a stroll through the Great Hall at Hogwart’s, which has real York flagstones on the floor. I rather liked the fetching mannequins of Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall standing at the front.
After the Great Hall, you move on to a massive room which has various sets from the movies along with hundreds of props, costumes and models of fanciful creatures. Some highlights for me were the potions classroom and the painting of the Fat Lady who guarded the entrance to Gryffindor House.
I was also amazed to see the set of the kitchen at The Burrow (The Weasley family’s house). I’d always assumed that the knife that chopped by itself and the brush that washed dishes on its own were powered by some sort of digital trickery. But actually, they were mechanical, and you can watch them chopping and washing away completely independent of human intervention.
I also enjoyed laughing at the profusion of Kitten plates in Umbridge’s office.
When we finally left the massive room full of sets and props (and we could easily have spent much longer in there), we emerged into a room that was much more exciting. It contained…
THE HOGWART’S EXPRESS!
I had no idea before going that they would have the whole train there, waiting there on Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, giving off steam. You can walk on actual train carriages which are dressed to match the various scenes that happened on the train throughout all of the movies. I was very surprised to learn that there was so much realism in these scenes.
After the train, you have a chance to get some refreshments at a little cafe and sample some Butterbeer. I’m not sure if I can recommend it, but there are only a few places in the world where you can try it, so you might as well have a go.
You then proceed outside to a backlot where you can see the actual Knight Bus, the Dursley’s house on Privet Drive, and the crooked bridge from Hogwarts. I was always rather enamoured of the look of this bridge and was very excited to be able to walk on it.
After the backlot, you can see a creature shop that shows how they made lots of the fantastic beasts from the films. Then, finally, the piece de resistance: Diagon Alley. I’m not even going to put a picture of it because it can’t do it justice. The detail of this set is absolutely staggering. You will feel as though you’ve been whisked away into the Harry Potter world, a muggle no longer!
And just when you think it doesn’t get any better, you emerge to an aerial view of a huge scale model of Hogwarts itself. We spent ages looking at the incredible details and craftsmanship that went into this model, and enjoying the unique atmosphere provided by the lighting and the music in the background.
Finally, of course, you emerge into the gift shop. There are so many fun things in here so as to completely bankrupt you. I managed to restrain myself to purchasing only a chocolate frog.
I was interested to find that you can buy an illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I might buy that for my son’s 5th birthday to introduce him to the series!
I’ve only touched briefly on all of the astounding details of this attraction. It is probably one of the most interesting places I have ever visited. These films were clearly produced by a team of people who were both incredibly talented and who cared deeply about their work. I know that it’s a money-making venture, but I still think it is unusual and generous to make all of this behind-the-scenes film history available to the public.