When I travelled to the UK last month it was after months of planning. And the first part of that plan? It wasn’t the plane ticket, or the Haggis tour. It was the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden, north-west of London.
This is where the cast and crew spent 10 years making the films, and they kept just about everything they every used and put it on display here for fans.
The first thing you have to know about this completely fantastic magical place is that you can’t buy tickets there. It’s not like an amusement park or museum where you can roll up in the morning and walk in. Tickets must be bought online, ahead of time. You choose not only what day you want to go, but what time, so it’s like making an appointment.
Standing in front of the doors to the Great Hall was the first thing that gave me shivers.
Because the tour just opened this Spring, tickets were sold out weeks in advance, so my friend and I bought these tickets first, then planned the rest of our trip around it. You don’t have to do it months ahead, but if this is something you really want to do in England, I recommend checking to see if tickets are available early in your trip-planning stages to avoid disappointment.
Another tip: Get tickets for the earliest slot possible. There’s a riddikulus… er, ridiculous amount of stuff to see, and aside from the first part of the tour where you watch a little film, you can go at your own pace. We were there for more than four hours and I’ve talked to other people who were there for close to five hours. So if your ticket is for the afternoon, you may feel rushed getting through it all before closing time.
Won Won was here!
As for getting there, if you’re coming from London, give yourself at least an hour to make it to the studio. You have to go to Watford Junction, which is about a 15 minute train ride from Euston Station. Once at Watford Junction, just step outside the station and you’ll see big double-decker buses covered in Harry Potter art. These cost £2 for a round-trip ticket to the studio and they run twice an hour, at 20 and 50 minutes past the hour.
So, if you have tickets for the 10:30 a.m. tour, for example, then you’ll need to get the 9:55 a.m. bus from Watford Junction, which means getting a train out of London no later than 9:35 a.m. It’s tricky, but just work backwards.
The Dursleys place
When you buy your ticket online you also have the option for the digital tour. This is like a little ipod they give you with interviews and videos about all the things you’re seeing. If you’re a casual fan you might not need it, but I really enjoyed hearing all the extras from the actors, directors and prop and makeup and set design people.
Once you arrive, get comfortable. If it’s a nice day you may want to take advantage of the free coat and bag check. There is an outdoor portion to the tour though, so if it’s chilly, keep your layers with you.
There’s a cafeteria (which seems like a huge missed opportunity, as they don’t sell cauldron cakes, pumpkin pasties or anything else that Potterheads might expect to find) and a Starbucks. No drinks are allowed inside though, so guzzle it down and hit the restroom before you start the tour.
Look up high or you'll miss it : Harry's lightening bolt scar template
As for the tour itself? I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say that it didn’t disappoint at all, even though I’d built it up to almost mythic proportions in my pre-trip excitement. At the end of the tour I even got a little bit teary.
Every important object and set is here, from the horcruxes to the wands to Ron’s Howler to the seven-layered box that Mad-Eye Moody was trapped in. There are costumes and wigs and even the templates that were used to put the lightening bolt scar on Daniel Radcliffe every day.
To see these objects that are so familiar to fans is very cool, but to see them in the place where all the actors spent 10 years of their lives, where all of the films actually took shape, was very moving. In a super geeky way.
And yes, there is Butterbeer.