My brother has always been HUGE Harry Potter fan, so when he came to visit the UK in June, of course we had to pay a visit to the Harry Potter Warner Brother’s Studio Tour. Located in Watford, it took roughly an hour’s drive to get there (Thanks cousin S for the ride!), though there are tour buses available from central London.
Guests enter in separate groups around twenty minutes in between. You’re then invited to watch a short film presented by none other than Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint themselves. There’s a tiny surprise at the end that I won’t spoil here, but after a polite warning not to touch or sniff (really) any of the costumes, we finally entered the set of the Great Hall.
Various costumes used in the films are displayed throughout the studios. Although I wouldn’t call myself a big fan, it was still interesting to match the clothing to the characters and their actors. Do you recognise any of them?
Whilst the costumes are impressive enough, it’s only when I saw the sheer amount of props displayed that it dawned just how much effort was put into the films. Whether the prop was a single cup, or a life-size robotic magical creature, they were all lovingly crafted to look incredibly realistic, even with no guarantee it’d even make it on the big screen. Seeing the detail really makes you appreciate the hard work of everyone behind the camera- even the food looked incredibly realistic up close.
The detail also extends into life-size sets of rooms and locations in the movies. There’s a small thrill to be found thinking how many celebrities from the movie franchise have worked on the very sets you can see.
There’s also a “green screen” section that shows how many of the more difficult scenes where shot. Sadly, I can confirm that real magic wasn’t used, but computer wizardry instead. You can opt to film a short clip of yourself inside the flying Ford Focus from the second film, or on a broomstick, but be prepared for ridiculous prices if you want to keep it.
I didn’t remember to take a photo of the lunch options available, being too hungry. Like most catering options in tourist spots, it’s heavily overpriced for what you get (I think I paid about £25 of meagre portions for four of us). However, the taste is surprisingly good, so it’s not all bad!
You can also buy butterbeer (though, why wouldn’t you…?). I’ve heard mixed reviews but personally I liked it! It tastes like a cross between cream soda and Iron Bru, with extra foam and vanilla syrup, so perhaps stick with the smaller size…
I feel like the studio is deliberately set to impress the further as you walk along. The larger set pieces include the Hogwarts train, the Knight Bus, Privet Drive (which looks so much like a typical English house, I wondered for a moment who lived inside the studio), not to mention a whole road that was built as the set for Diagon Alley.
Personally, my favourite part was the section that showed the architectural planning behind every single set. You can view the actual models that were made as well as original sketches that cover several walls and display units. Most impressively, a room displaying a scaled- down model of the entire Hogwarts castle and grounds which, fittingly, plays an emotional track from the film repeatedly. I say “scaled down”, but it’s still big enough to fill a large room a few floors tall. The model was built to film overhead shots of the castle which were later edited digitally for the final scenes. The amount of detail is stunning, and even if you loathe Harry Potter, you can’t fail to be impressed. It also gives a glimpse into JK Rowling’s expansive imagination to conceive such a detailed and creative universe.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without browsing the merchandise. Filled with souvenir t-shirts, sweets, cups, books, wands and more, there has to be something inside that catches your eye (or multiple expensive items, in my brother’s case). Being official merchandise, everything is high quality, though I did raise my eyebrows at a particularly tacky-looking plastic broomstick. The sweets are branded with a Honeydukes label (a sweet shop featured in the books), so don’t expect any superior taste; your money is mainly going to the packaging. Parents, a word of warning: there are a LOT of sugary items on sale. Best to distract your kids with the plastic wands instead…
The tour is unguided, so you can storm through and be done in thirty minutes or take your time and send the whole day there. It operates on a one-way system so make sure you’re definitely ready to leave before you do.
Even as a vague fan of the franchise, the tour was fascinating, and probably more enjoyable if I didn’t need to ensure my brother wasn’t making a public spectacle of himself. (Sorry, bro.) A must-visit for all fans of the books and films, and if you’re ever in the area, try to save a day to experience the magic for yourself!