10 Highlights from London's Harry Potter Studio Tour

Posted by Fodor's Editors on April 10, 2012 at 11:59:44 AM EDT | Post a Comment

By Maria Teresa Hart

Muggles, take note: The Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour is now open for wizarding business, to the delight of fans worldwide. Not to be confused with the theme park set in Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida (that one's dubbed The Wizarding World of Harry Potter), this new attraction is set just outside of London’s city center, and showcases the real sets, props, makeup, and special effects used in the eight movies. Even those who don’t consider themselves afflicted with Potter-mania will still appreciate the artistry on display and the astounding work that went into assembling the sets for the sorcery-infused saga. From the Great Hall of Hogwarts to a sundry of magical props, each set piece tells part of Harry's adventures—read on for the top tour highlights.

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1. Hogwarts Great Hall

Like any new student would, visitors begin their visit by crossing through the massive doors of Hogwarts into the Great Hall. Inside these looming walls, you’ll see each Hogwarts house represented by its costumes. (Don’t worry, there’s no sorting hat, so you can take your picture with both Gryffindor and Slytherin.) But it’s the professors’ costumes up front that inspire the most love: Seeing Dumbledore’s robe and hat upfront is almost like standing before the man himself (you'll just miss out on the fatherly advice).

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2. Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom

You won’t learn how to do a Patronus Charm here, but this classroom, with its piles of musty bottles and labeled jugs, is the most memorable in the films, and it’s well maintained here. Dank stone walls and an odd hodgepodge of cauldrons and roots will give you a strong desire to pull up a chair and start experimenting.

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3. Dumbledore’s Office

When looking for wisdom or comfort, Harry Potter retreated to Dumbledore’s office, and it’s easy to see why. The circular space feels ancient and inviting, and it so perfectly matches what was depicted onscreen that you half expect the paintings to move.

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4. Newspapers and Candies

The big bombastic set pieces command so much attention that it’s easy to overlook this cabinet full of printed props. But it’s here that you’ll discover just how rich and detailed the work on these movies was. The jumble of newspapers (The Quibbler and The Daily Prophet), candy wrappers, and letters were so small, at times they didn’t register on the film; but they always supported the actors and allowed them to believe in their roles of being a witch or wizard.

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5. Broomsticks

Don a Hogwarts robe and hop on one of the broomsticks behind a green screen to view yourself on a monitor as you zoom around various backdrops, including Hogwarts, the streets of London, and over the river Thames. (Tip: If you’re doing the tour with younger kids, you might want to head to this spot early on so they don’t get as frustrated with the other look-but-don’t-touch displays on the rest of the tour.)

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6. Game Pieces

Chess Club never looked so menacing: In the first Harry Potter film, Ron Weasley played a life-size game of chess against these game pieces and nearly lost his life to the queen. If it didn’t look brave on camera, it certainly will as you eyeball the spiked mace dangling from the knight’s hand. (Note: They do sell "Wizard Chess Sets" in the gift shop, but thankfully you won’t need a forklift to declare checkmate.)

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7. The Knight Bus

The world of Harry Potter is modeled after Great Britain, with a heaping dose of magic ladled on top, and nowhere is that more apparent than the Knight Bus. This overgrown city bus acts as public transportation for witches and wizards. Though, unlike its red double-decker doppelganger, this one goes to "All Destinations (Nothing Underwater)."

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8. Makeup Studio

In the films, characters would take a swig of Polyjuice potion and morph into another person. In reality, those transformations would demand hours spent in a makeup chair. Here, you’ll see the faces of goblins and elves and wizards as they would be applied to actors. Plus, you can also meet Harry’s owl Hedwig and a Hippogriff as they flap around. (Just remember to always show a Hippogriff respect.)

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9. Diagon Alley

Anyone new to Harry Potter’s world should make this alley their first stop, and although the path doesn’t branch off into small twisting cobblestones lanes, the personality of this quirky Main Street is all there, from the leaning tower of Gringotts Wizarding Bank to the jumbled clutter of Ollivanders Wand Shop. Don’t miss the merry Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop, topped off with a 20-foot ginger-haired mannequin.

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10. The Hogwarts Model

With the music swelling, you’ll come into the final showpiece of the tour: a 50-foot-wide model of Hogwarts. Meticulously created, miniature shingle by miniature shingle, and landscaped to include small bridges, hollows, and Hagrid’s cabin, this model alone is worth the trip. As the overhead light dims to reproduce night, little lights flick on in the windows: Don't be surprised if you find yourself peeking inside, expecting to spot tiny wizards and witches.

Making it Happen

Tickets, which are pegged to a 30-minute arrival time slot, must be prebooked online at www.wbstudiotour.co.uk, or via an approved vendor. Tickets cost $45 for adults, $34 for children, or $132 for a family ticket (two adults, two children; or one adult, three children). Allow approximately three hours for your visit (or longer if you’d like to jump on a broomstick or linger in the gift shop.)

Although instinct may lead you to platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross station, the real way to arrive to the WB Studios is by bus. From the Watford Junction station in London, you’ll take a 20-minute bus ride to the northwest of London. Or, if you rented a car, you can also drive the M1 and M25 motorways to the studio, where free parking awaits.

Thinking of a trip to London?

For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our London Travel Guide.

Photo Credits: courtesy 1. Warner Bros.; 2. Warner Bros.; 3. Warner Bros.; 4. Maria Hart; 5. Maria Hart; 6. Maria Hart; 7. Maria Hart; 8. Maria Hart; 9. Maria Hart; 10. Warner Bros.

Posted in Trip Ideas, News Tagged: London, Museums

Member Comments (1)  Post a Comment

  • Medusa_Jordan on May 4, 12 at 09:44 PM

    Watford ISN'T in London! It is about 20 miles away and you get a train from Euston (which is in London), about 15 minutes walk from Platform 9 1/2 at Kings Cross
    (9 3/4 doesn't really exist).

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