The Harry Potter Studio tour opened to the public in 2012 in Leavesden, about eighteen miles outside of London and since then I’ve wanted to visit with each trip to London. Sadly, my boss has had other ideas, namely meetings, dinners and such leaving little “free” time to explore the city. So on my “to do list” it stayed until my niece asked “can we go to London too” on our Paris tour. Now, I had the free time in the city and rather than go solo, I had the required child for appearances sake. Let’s be clear, I was more excited to go The Harry Potter Studio tour than she was given that I’m a film geek. I understand all the categories (even the tech awards) at the Academy Awards, watch all of the short films (animated and documentary) and yet never win the Oscar pool! I also love attending film festivals and have met many directors, actors and crew along the way.
So in addition to loving the Harry Potter films, I was loving the meticulous detail of the props, costumes, background, make up, set design, construction, art design, etc. My niece didn’t appreciate all the little details like I did – she saw the big things and just wanted her picture here and there which made sense as she is eleven.
Harry Potter Studio Tour with Golden Tours London
I booked with Golden Tours, the exclusive Harry Potter Studio tour operator in London. The Golden Tour cost was £69 Adult, £64 Child, which included admission and bus transportation from London. Upside is that you don’t need to worry about transit/shuttles, downside is that your visit is limited to three hours. If you want to stay longer, then either drive yourself or do the train/shuttle combo. Golden Tours offers a transport only option (you must already have admission tickets) for £31 Adult, children vary.
Traveling to Victoria Station from the Sheraton Park Lane, we of course, exited the wrong way, walked around the entire building before finding the Golden Tours office/queue (hidden in the courtyard). Despite our early arrival for the 10 a.m. departure, we were queued up toward the end of the line. We would be the last people on the double deck bus, sitting together on the lower level without a view. The rest of the folks were put on a regular tour bus behind us. The eighteen mile journey would take almost an hour, luckily we did not have to stop at the second pick up point on Baker Street as we were full.
TIP: Board at Victoria (or Kings Cross) to get seats together and arrive first.
Warning: This is a long post with many photos – if you want the short version – IT’S AWESOME! A MUST SEE! Visit the website for interactive fun facts or “read more” and enjoy my tour.
Let’s Start The Harry Potter Studio Tour
Despite the slow moving traffic, we arrived a bit early for our noon admission tickets, I was surprised that there were no crowds outside – I thought it would be mobbed on a June afternoon. It is quite nice that the tickets are capacity controlled and timed allowing for a nice visit without being overwhelmed by people. I paid for two digital tour guide rental, at the time under £10 – money well spent. The guide not only explained the attraction but had at least three/four additional informational videos per numbered stop. We were allowed to enter the queue earlier than our ticket time -the lobby as well as the queue was surrounded by props, posters and an original set – the “under the stairs” to whet our appetites for all things Harry Potter. The tour would allow entry of about 100 people at a time every 15-20 minutes approximately.
The History of Leavesden Studios
You enter a theatre to watch a short film about the history of Leavesden and then Harry, Ron and Hermione (aka Daniel, Rupert and Emma) appeared to talk about their time at the studio and filming the Harry Potter movies. The Leavesden history is fascinating – it started out as an airfield, Leavesden Aerodrome, before Rolls Royce bought the land to produce engines for aircraft in World War II and thereafter. Once Rolls Royce left, the airfield was abandoned before a few movie companies discovered its various uses. The airfield at Leavesden was so beloved that the final Concorde flight did a fly over which must have been cool. Warner Bros, the new owner, kept the control tower, original buildings and runway intact which is a nice tribute to the storied history of the aerodrome/airfield. Warner Bros. has now invested in Leavesden Studios to create multiple soundstages and sets for filming as well as dedicate two buildings, cleverly named sound stage J and K, for the Harry Potter Studio tour.
Entering the Harry Potter Great Hall
Once the film ended the screen rose and the doors to the Great Hall appeared, we were standing outside taking in all of the set design and details. It was an exciting way to begin our visit. The guide talked a bit more before the doors opened up and we were led into the Great Hall, past the fireplaces and dining tables set for a meal surrounded by props and costumes. The guide would provide more background about the films, the actors and pointed out the costumes in front from the main characters. He then opened it up to questions before we were let free to being our self guided tour through the two sound stages.
Here is where the fun begins!
Harry Potter Studio Tour – Original Movie Sets
There are a few original sets in the first soundstage like Dumbledore’s Office, the Gryffindor Boys’ dorm room (they used the original in all films so the actors had to curl up their legs to fit in as they grew), the Common Room, the Potions Room, Ministry of Magic, Hagrid’s Hut and the Burrow.
Strolling Diagon Alley
Diagon Alley was located in the second soundstage. In fact, Diagon Alley would be referred to as a “hot set” meaning that it was set up to film today if needed – watching the movies, I’m amazed that many extras were able to fit in the streets as they are not that wide. The fascinating piece of Diagon Alley is that each interior shop is filled with props, they were handmade not digitally added – no green screens here. That’s a lot of artistry and love of details for something that you barely see on screen. The crew were so dedicated to the little things over the ten years of production. How fantastic to care that much!
Harry Potter Studio Tour – The Animal Actors
My niece enjoyed the animal actor exhibit and reading about the various cats, dogs and owls actors. Lots of fun notes with each animal’s photo.
There is the interactive picture area – you can ride in the flying car and ride the broomstick through the movies – each is a photo/video you can choose to purchase or just enjoy the free rides as I did. My niece opted out of the broom ride and wanted me to as well. Of course, channeling my inner kid, I was game! It was silly fun. She would not join me in the wand competition so I skipped that activity (reluctantly). I was embarrassing her?!
We saw all the flying props in front of the green screen used for effects, here the quidditch broomstick.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour – Courtyard Sets
After the first soundstage tour was complete (once you leave you can’t go back in so take your time) we exited to the open air courtyard where we could see more backlot sets – Knight Bus, houses of Privet Drive, Hogwarts Bridge (much smaller than we thought), car, chess pieces – as well as buy a butterbeer, sandwich or snack. Nothing fancy here but a good rest stop with seating area and the sunny outdoors before the next soundstage.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour – Soundstage K
While the first soundstage was props, graphics, set design, costumes, makeup – the second soundstage was monster magic, art design, Diagon Alley, miniatures and the two story Hogwarts Castle model imagined. It was a nice blend/contrast to the first soundstage although more for the film geek than the child in my opinion (outside of Diagon Alley).
The two story Hogwarts campus model fully realized was a great way to end the Harry Potter Studio tour. You walk around it from top to bottom stopping, as we did, to look at the details on the model and the grounds.
Exiting was of course through the gift shop with all things Harry Potter but before we would get there we would walk through the wand room. The wand room contained a box with each crew member’s name on it – it was a nice touch.
The gift shop had every Harry Potter item you could imagine (I bought an old school paper guide book). The main lobby has a proper cafeteria and Starbucks for hot foods, coffees and sweet treats. But my mind was still processing all the cool stuff I had seen.
Final Thoughts – The Harry Potter Studio Tour London
The Harry Potter Studio Tour was a fantastic day out of London. Our bus was full of international visitors- at least six languages that I could discern but we all spoke Harry Potter and smiled at our souvenirs. I did love the studio tour more than my niece. She loved all the kids parts and I loved it all as a film geek knowing how much work and collaboration a film entails. All the little details that make it (and don’t make it) on screen could be seen on the tour. If you are a film fan, this is a must on any London visit (book your tour here with Golden Tours). If you are a Harry Potter fan, then get your muggles out to Leavesden asap to the Harry Potter Studio tour. Warner Bros. did a great job in my opinion of curating a fun visit for film fans of all ages while also celebrating the amazing crew that worked tirelessly for ten years creating memories!
Disclosure: I paid full price for our Harry Potter Studio tour. This post does contain an affiliate link with Golden Tours which may earn me a slight commission if you book with them. I only promote those businesses that I’ve had good experiences with and think you may like as well.