The magical world of Harry Potter has captured the world’s attention. Seven of the eight films rank in the top 50 grossing films ever, and this is arguably the most successful film franchise in history. From the very first book, we were captivated by the story of the little boy wizard. When we learned we were coming to London, there was no question that we’d visit Warner Brothers for a Harry Potter studio tour.
The studios in Leavesden, England, where Harry Potter was filmed have a long and rich history. Located 20 miles from London, this vast plot of land was once a military airfield, then an aircraft production facility, and it was finally purchased by Warner Brothers to create one of the largest film studios in the world. It takes a lot of space to create an entire world based on magic that is inhabited by witches, wizards, goblins, and other magical folk. So it’s good that there’s a lot of space in Leavesden.
We opted to travel to Leavesden on our own (details for a self-guided trip are below), which gave us maximum schedule flexibility. We’d read a lot about the studio tour, but didn’t have a good handle on how much time to allow for the experience. The answer is: you need a minimum of three hours for the studio tour, plus transit time.
On arriving at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio, we were carried away to the magical world created by JK Rowling. We were escorted into a small holding room in Studio J where an employee explained the few rules (don’t touch anything, take as many pictures as you’d like, and don’t act like a muggle prat) before we saw a very brief film (highlights from all 8 films in about 90 seconds). The screen pulled up into the ceiling and it revealed the front door to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Once the heavy wooden doors were opened, we wandered straight into the Great Hall (modeled after the Great Hall at Christ Church College in Oxford). An employee gave a preamble to what we would experience throughout the rest of the studio tour.
The Great Hall really is just as big and as magical in real life as it appears in the films. Each of Hogwarts’s four houses was represented and clothes from all of the principal characters were on display.
Once past the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is entirely self-guided. Studio J is comprised largely of the highlights: the original sets for the Gryffindor Common Room, the Gryffindor Boy’s Dormitory, Dumbledore’s Office, the Potions Classroom, The Weasley’s Burrow, Hagrid’s Hut, the fireplaces and offices from the Ministry of Magic, and even the dining room of Malfoy Manor.
The final room in Studio J is the massive Hogwarts Express train, where we were able to walk through one of the carriages. Along the way, all the original movie props are displayed: the horcruxes, the self-washing pan in the Burrow, Dumbledore’s collection of memories, and all the costumes worn by the actors. The Studio J building is about 65-70% of the entire studio experience, so visitors should pace themselves accordingly.
After Studio J, there is a Backlot Café, where we had lunch. This also gave us a chance to try Butterbeer! It was fantastic!
The back lot of the Warner Bros. studio has the Knight Bus, two of the recreated homes from Privet Drive (including 4 Privet Drive), the Potter family home from Godric’s Hallow and the Hogwarts Bridge (which was not actually in the book, but was added later for the films).
The second building, Studio K, is largely devoted to those “magic makers” – the behind-the-scenes crew that makes everything look so real. There are special effects, robotics, set design, art, and other departments. The big highlight in Studio K is the Diagon Alley soundstage. It looks exactly like it does in the films, although a lot smaller. It’s hard to imagine how they packed so many people into such a small space for the crowded street scenes.
The second highlight in Studio K is the massive Hogwarts Castle model. The lighting follows “a day at Hogwarts.” It starts dark, the sun rises on the castle and then ultimately sets – all in the length of time it takes you to walk around it.
The Studio K building ends with visitors walking through a recreated interior of Olivander’s Wand Shop, which has a wand box for every member of the crew who works on the films. It’s a touching finale.
However, no tour could be complete without…the gift shop. And the Harry Potter studios has the gift shop to top them all. If you can imagine it, they sell it. They go way beyond t-shirts. You can get authentic film-based souvenirs like the ugly sweaters that Ron’s mom gave to Harry for Christmas, or replicas of your favorite character’s wands, or even authentic robes. Everything is available!
As long-time fans of both the books and the movies, we let our geek flags fly! We absolutely loved every minute of the tour.
Visitor Information for the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour
Harry Potter Studio Tour Hours
The Warner Bros. Studios are generally open from 10:00am-8:00pm, with the last entry taking place at 4:30pm. Visitors should arrive at least 30 minutes before their time slot to pick up their tickets, check coats/baggage (although it is possible to take it with you) and use the restroom before getting in the line.
Suggested Length of Visit for The Studios
Plan on 3-4 hours in the exhibits.
£47.00 for adults and £38.00 for children.
Getting to the Harry Potter Studios
There are several options to get to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio in Leavesden:
Public Transit to Harry Potter Studio: From London’s Euston station, take the national railway to Watford Junction Station (£9.00 each way using Oyster card). At Watford Junction, exit the railway station, turn slightly to your left and look for the bus shelter that has a giant Harry Potter on it. Queue for the shuttle bus operated by Mullany’s Coaches (it’s a giant, double-decker Harry Potter-branded bus) that makes the 15-minute trip for £3 roundtrip . According to the Warner Bros. Studios website, the buses are timed and run four times per hour. Our experience was quite different and there only seemed to be two buses per hour. Visitors should allow ample time if using public transit.
Direct Bus: Warner Bros. has chartered Golden Tours/Grayline to run direct transfers from London Center. The cost for this transportation-only option is £40.00, but does save you some hassle at over twice the price.
Private Car: For those who have access to a private car or rental vehicle, there are nearly 500 free parking spots at the Harry Potter Studios.
Private Transfer: If mingling with the masses isn’t your idea of a good time, you can book a private transfer from London to the studio and back.
Concessions at the Warner Bros Studio Tour
There is a coffee shop just inside the main entrance, but all food and drink must be consumed before entering the studios. Mid-way through the tour, there is the Backlot Café, which serves Butterbeer, along with various food options including a hot dog and a pulled pork sandwich. Also, it is possible to self-cater or take a picnic with you. You can’t eat in either Studio J or Studio K, but you can use their tables on the Backlot to enjoy your picnic.
Photography on the Tour
Photography is allowed and encouraged throughout the whole exhibit. There are only three rooms where photography is prohibited and each is clearly marked.
Where to Stay
London has a ton of hotels, although the city is known for being very pricey. We’ve found some sites that you may want to check out that offer good London hotel deals.
We were the guests of the Warner Brothers Studios. As always, all magical opinions are our own.
And here’s a few more photos from our tour:
Do you love Harry Potter as much as we do? (Please say “yes.”)