If you’re not in to Harry Potter or good old cheesiness, then look away now. However, if you are a fan of the books and films of everyone’s favourite boy wizard, then you are going to LOVE this place.
Warner Bros. Studio Tours is located in Leavesden film studios where all eight Harry Potter movies were filmed. This is the sort of place you will either love or hate. It’s bright, busy, and wall-to-wall Hogwarts and everything in it.
Located just outside of Watford (which is a few miles to the north of London, despite the name), it’s easy to get to by car (plenty of parking) or by shuttle bus (for a small charge) from Watford Junction railway station. The bus is every half-hour and takes around 10 minutes each-way. It’s spanking and has seat belts too.
You have to pre-book tickets through the website or booking line, and you choose a half-hour slot. You have to arrive in that half-hour slot to gain entry. Audio-tours can be hired from the front desk at £4.95 each. They are worth getting, but a bit fiddly. Mine ran out of power mid-way round, but I grabbed a member of staff as advised, and the unit was replaced within three minutes. Very impressive.
The tour works like this – once your allocated time-slot arrives, you join the queue to go into a presentation room, about 150 people at a time. You are shown a short AV presentation about how wonderful the Harry Potter phenomenon is (if you’re in any way cynical about HP, you’ll detest this bit). Then you are ushered into a cinema room, where you are shown a short film about the making of HP.
Then it’s on to the Great Hall interior set. The tour guide points out a few interesting things and then leaves you to wander and take as many pics as you want. Your time in this area is limited, so don’t waste it.
Then you move on to the main exhibition. Once you’re through the doors, you lose the tour guide and go at your own pace. Be warned though, once you exit each part of the attraction, you can’t go back on yourself, so spend as much time as you need in each part.
First are the interior sets. These are the actual sets, props and costumes from the making of the films. There is the Gryffindor common room, the boys bedroom, and the potions classroom.
Some of this is interactive, like the kitchen of The Burrow.
There are also display cases with artefacts such as The Philosopher’s Stone and various other intricate props. It truly is immense and there is so much to see, so I’ll try not to spoil it.
Then it’s on to Visual Effects with the large-scale items used, like the broom-flying rig, and the door to the Chamber of Secrets.
Through another door there is the photo studio, where you can don Hogwarts robes, and fly a broom on a green-screen. The photos cost £12 each (with the usual reductions for more than one). We didn’t stop for this, though the queues weren’t too long. If you don’t fancy a broom, you can try a flying Ford Anglia instead (seats two or three).
After this, there are sets and props from the Ministry of Magic, such as the large sculpture from the atrium, and Dolores Umbridge’s office complete with kitten plates.
Then it’s on to the outdoor lot, with the Knight Bus, a Ford Anglia and the full-size studio-build of 4 Privet Drive, and more. There is also the Hogwarts Castle walkway, which had a queueing tape ready for busy periods, but seriously, it’s not worth a very long wait. We got straight on but I would have a bit underwhelmed if I’d had to queue.
In this part, there is a covered area with tables and chairs and a snack van. We daren’t look how much the food cost but we did sample a butterbeer, which was £2.95 for a half-pint. Expensive and not to my taste, but it had to be done. This was also the biggest queue of the day, at five minutes.
Back inside, you visit the creature shop exhibition. This has Aragog, Scabbers the rat, and various goblin heads. There is an AV explaining how things worked on the film, presented by Warwick Davies. Again, there is some interactivity, like this animatronic mandrake. Cute. Don’t start the teeny, foetus-like Voldemort off though – it’s WAY too creepy.
Shortly, you visit Diagon Alley, which is good, but a bit of a disappointment. You can look at the shops and into the shop fronts, but you can’t go in or touch anything or get up close.
Next it’s the art gallery, with a display of original concept art and blueprints for the model-makers.
After this is the best part. I won’t spoil it for you but it is quite spectacular. Get your cameras ready.
A quick look at the wand-box display (everyone who worked on the movies at some point has their own wand-box, and there are four walls of them), and then it’s on to the gift shop. This is quite simply, the most fantastic and most expensive gift shop I have ever seen. We didn’t buy one single thing, which is very unusual, despite there being a veritable hoard of things to choose from. But you won’t find chocolate frogs, or Hogwarts house robes anywhere else, so if you really want to purchase something, just take plenty of money.
And that’s it – it took us four hours from start to finish, but it wasn’t particularly busy. We went on a school-day, term-time. Allow more time for school holidays and weekends, especially if you want to do the broom-flying thing.
Is it suitable for children? – In a lot of respects, yes. There are lots of toilets, places to sit, baby changing facilities and a treasure trail thing where you collect stamps on a card, which children love.
However, the number of buggies allowed in is limited and you must pre-book. Double buggies are not allowed at all. Children under four are free, but you still need to book them in. The changing facilities are clean and tidy. There are bottle warming facilities in the cafe (in the main atrium, but not en route).
|A selection of Hogwarts art.|
There were children in when we visited, from school parties and otherwise, but they were clearly not all enjoying it. While some were obviously big HP fans and were absolutely enthralled by it, others were not and just ran riot, getting their treasure trail cards stamped and generally being annoying.
I would say that if your child does not know who HP is and has not seen any of the films, then four hours is a long time to make them look at stuff they can’t touch and have no idea what it is. It’s not really an age issue, more that a knowledge and interest in the exhibition items is a pre-requisite for a visit by someone of any age.
However, if you are a Harry Potter fan, then I can’t recommend this place enough. At £28 per adult, and £21 for a child (aged 5-15), it is terrific value and you will remember this trip for a long time.
For more information, you can visit their website.
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Written by Joanne Brady