If you spoke to me at all before I left for England, you know the only thing I would’ve been heart broken to not do in England was the making of Harry Potter tour at Leavesden Studios. Shortly after I got here my boyfriend and I were looking at the website and realized the only times we could go were at the end of the month or the upcoming Thursday. People are not joking when they say it books up fast! Buy your tickets as soon as you know when you can go. It was quite a mission to get there from where we’re staying, and was made even longer because the trains in England are a hot disaster right now. We left the castle at 10am, and didn’t get to the tour until 3pm… For our 2pm tour. Thankfully they were so understanding and moved us to the next available tour with no issue! To avoid ending up like we did, make sure you get on the London Midland train from Victoria to Euston. We took the overground train, and it took us almost 40 minutes longer.
As soon as we got there, all the stress faded away and I was immediately so excited! The lobby is full of huge portraits of all the characters, and a few smaller props. It’s also home to the smallest set they constructed for the movies – the cupboard under the stairs.
From there you join the queue to go in, which moved relatively quickly. You start in a large room where photography is not permitted. The basically just explain the rules to you, when you can take photos, where you can eat food, things like that. They show you a short video about how the story came to become movies, and then you move into the actual movie theatre. They show you a short film about the making of the movies, and then it’s time to start the tour! The screen comes up, and you start your journey the same way the first years at Hogwarts started theirs, in the Great Hall!
From there you move into the first of two studios, this one containing all of the sets constructed for the films, as well as props and costumes. This is the one we spent the largest amount of time in – just about 3 hours. They tell you to budget about 3 and a half for the whole tour, which I think would have been doable had I not wanted to take so many photos.
In between the two studios is a cafe area, where you can purchase food or eat something you brought from home. We were too late to get any hot food (the kitchen closes at 5), but they did have sandwiches and salads available. And of course you can’t go to the Harry Potter tour without trying butterbeer! I was very nervous about it as I had heard some pretty unflattering reviews, but it was actually really tasty!
There must be a different recipe between Universal Studios and this tour, because we both found the butterbeer just tasted like cream soda, with a thick vanilla cream on top. There’s also a small outside area there, where they have the Knight Bus, the Hogwarts bridge, Potter cottage, and 4 Privet Drive. We were lucky enough to visit when Privet drive was actually open for visitors, so we got to see inside the Durselys home. They also have a replica of Hagrid’s motorbike and the Weasley’s Ford Anglia that you can take photos in.
From there you enter the second studio, which has all of the art and special effects from the film. This area took much less time, and we had to pick up the pace a little bit to get the last shutle bus back to Watford Junction. Here you learn about special effects makeup, as well as some of the creatures like Dobby, Buckbeak and Aragog that they built as well as animated. You also get to see how they created a lot of the visual effects.
There’s one more set you still get to see, one of the most spectacular – Diagon Alley! All of the shops are totally intact, and it was so incredibly cool to get to peek in all the shop windows and read the signs.
This studio is also home to the art department, where you get to see tons of concept art by various artists, as well as to scale mini versions of a lot of the sets. This area was tricky to take photos in and not terribly interesting to me, but it certainly would be for some people! The final area of the tour is the most emotional for most people, and that is the full scale model of the Hogwarts castle.
The castle was built for the first movie, and was used through the whole series for outdoor shots and photography. It’s quite an overwhelming experience, as the castle is absolutely massive, and they have the lighting set to change from night to day. They’ve also managed to choose the most emotional of all the songs on the soundtracks, a tear was definitely brought to my eye.
The only thing that remains after that is the wand room. It’s designed to look like Olivander’s Wand Shop, and contains a box with the name of every single person who was credited on any one of the films. We definitely could have spent a ton of time in their trying to find everyone! The employee in there was actually very impressive, there wasn’t a single person she was stumped on the location of.
And then like any self respecting tourist attraction, you have to exit through the gift shop. And what a gift shop it is! It’s truly massive, and they have just about every souvenir you could hope for.
Overall it was an incredible experience I would recommend every Harry Potter fan take part in if you get a chance! Tickets were £35 each, but totally 100% worth it.