Imagine it. It is 5.45am (!!!) and the alarm is going off. Southern Rail is striking yet again so we have opted to drive to Watford, meaning leaving the house by 6.30am. Calum is half asleep, Katie is far too excited. We eat our crumpets, shower, get changed and jump into the little ole’ Vauxhall to speed along to Watford. 30 minutes into our journey, we are at a standstill on the M25 and not impressed. Katie forgot to pack snacks and is starting to need a wee. But by the time 9.30am rolls around and we have arrived at Warner Brothers Studio, it all magically (see what I did there?) becomes worth it.
Yes, today was the day I could finally return to Hogwarts.
We queued up, listening to the various Potter Soundtracks, walked past the cupboard under the stairs and within 10 minutes we were being led into another room full of thin screens. Here, a guide talked us through the journey of how Harry Potter was chosen to be a film and its growth as a franchise since then.
If visiting, book the earliest tour possible. We booked 9am and arrived late at 9.30am but still didn’t have to wait for too long to enter. When we finished the tour at 12.30pm, the queue for the entrance was incredibly long and the wait was 45+ minutes.
Next, we headed into a cinema room and watched a video reflecting on all 8 movies with behind-the-scenes footage from the films. At the end of the video, you see Harry, Hermione and Ron head through the Great Hall doors before the screen lifts up and reveals the real Great Hall doors – queue for Katie to spring from her seat and rush to stand at the front. And so began the tour.
The Great Hall is the first set you walk onto, made with stone floors and decorated with Christmas trees and decorations during our visit. The costumes of the Hogwarts’ teachers are lined up across the front and props are displayed on the tables. The guide talks you through the creation of the hall and refers to some of the famous scenes based in the hall. You have around 10 minutes in the Great Hall before you are moved on for the next group to enter.
Some costumes and props follow this section, with the ‘ice’ sculpture from the Yule Ball and the incredible dessert props on display. You can also see some of the costumes and wigs worn by various cast members – who knew that wasn’t Bellatrix Lestrange’s real hair!? We also spotted the moving staircase along with many a portrait and the ‘rules’ from Professor Umbridge’s reign.
The Gryffindor boy’s dormitory was the next set we came across, with props reflecting each characters personality along with a few Christmas cards. There are loads of sculptures, models and smaller sets dotted around this first soundstage, showing what was used for establishing shots and settings. For example, that long corridor that appeared to get smaller in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie when he ends up at The Leaky Cauldron? Or the giant swinging pendulum that can be seen on the outside of the castle in many different shots throughout the movies. Or the Phoenix sculpture that transforms into a staircase to Dumbledore’s Office.
Other sets on this soundstage include the Gryffindor Common Room with the costumes of the main trio from the third movie and again, more Christmas decorations. One thing that stood out for me was the impeccable detail of all the sets.
Dumbledore’s Office can also be explored as well as the Potion Classroom complete with self-stirring cauldrons and hundreds of hand written labelled potion bottles. Hagrid’s Hut can also be photographed and there is some information on the different animals used throughout filming.
There is a Green Screen section where you can pay extra for a film of you flying a broomstick around the exterior of Hogwarts but we gave it a miss on this tour as the queues were already pretty long. You can also see the Weasley Living Room from the Bungalow as it is in the Chamber of Secrets movie. Wave your hand over different pillars across the front of the set and you can see self-washing plates, a self-ironing iron and a self-knitting scarf.
The next area showed that first scene from the last movie, with Voldemort killing a Hogwarts’ Professor above a long table under the watchful eyes of his Death Eaters. The detailing of the woman is haunting and there was something so sad about the blank expression of the Snape mannequin. The fireplaces and interior decor from the Ministry of Magic is displayed, as is the sign for the Borgin and Burke shop found in Knockturn Alley. Dolores Umbridge’s office looks spectacularly pink too.
We continued the tour to another room that was not there on our first trip in 2012. We were greeted with the spectacular sight of the Hogwarts Express in all its glory. There is a section for you to get your “pushing the luggage through Platform 9 ¾” picture and you can walk onto the train itself and see the carriages, made up as they were in the different movies.
By this stage we had been exploring for nearly two hours so took the opportunity to stop for a Butterbeer with a souvenir tankard. A normal plastic cup was £3.95 or the souvenir drink was £6.95 so we opted for the latter. Food was also available at the ‘Backlot Cafe’ but we felt it was far too expensive – £8 for a burger that looked awfully dry!
Thankfully it had stopped raining as we headed outside to some of the outdoor sets. I, of course, got my obligatory shot outside No.4 Privet Drive and marvelled at how tall the Knight Bus was! An additional set on our visit was Godric’s Hollow, the home of the Potter family before Voldemort’s attack. In this outdoor section, we also photographed the Hogwarts Bridge, seen predominately in the later films. You can normally walk down the bridge but it was too wet on our visit so they had closed it to visitors, but this did give us a better shot for our video. The huge chess pieces from The Philosopher Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone) were dotted around the outside of The Lot as was the blue flying car and Hagrid’s motorbike.
Next, we headed into the another sound stage and were greeted by the costume, make up and special effect sections. Here, actor Warwick Davis is shown on a large TV, explaining how the artistic designers spent hours creating prosthetic masks, electronic creatures and months in the design studio, creating the magical beasts and characters we see in Harry Potter.
The next part of the tour gave you the chance to walk down Diagon Alley and see popular shops and buildings like Gringotts, Ollivanders, Flourish and Botts and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes; complete with moving window displays. I will be honest, on our first visit to Warner Brothers in 2012, this was my favourite section of the tour but after visiting the Diagon Alley in Orlando’s Universal Studios, I was a bit sad I couldn’t walk into each of the shops like you can in America. However, knowing this was the original set did make it enchanting!
The final part of the tour really is the ‘grand finale’. An enormous, enchanting model of Hogwarts itself; used in the movies with a green screen for establishing shots of the school. Just wow! Because we visited at Christmas, Hogwarts was covered in snow. Couple this with the beautiful John William’s soundtrack from the movies and you feel truly like you are in the World of Harry Potter. As odd as it sounds, it is kind of moving in a weird, childlike, “I want to be a wizard” kinda way.
Lastly came the gift shop!
The gift shop sells everything you could possibly imagine, with so many different t-shirts, robes and wands available – they could barely fit in the store. You have your typical magnets, pens, notebooks etc and I couldn’t resist picking up some Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans and a Chocolate Frog (both for a whopping £7.95 each!). Of course, the gift shop is expensive but that being said, it was a busy, bustling place with lots of purchases going on.
So that was our trip to The Making of Harry Potter. I am a huge fan and loved it to pieces, Calum isn’t so fussed but still enjoyed visiting the sets and learning about the behind-the-scenes special effects. There are lots of things to do in London with children and this is definietly one of them!
Can’t visit right now? Check out this Harry Potter Virtual Tours guide to enjoy the magic from home.
Have you visited Warner Bros. before or is this on your bucket list? Any Potter related suggestions for our future travels? Share your love for Harry Potter in the comments below!