Having been to the Harry Potter World at Universal Studios some years ago now, I really wanted to go to the studio tour here and get the real experience of what everything was like when the actors were on set filming. In America, it was all very entertainment based. There were rides and you could go and sit in The Three Broomsticks and have butterbeer, part of the train was there to look at and a couple of shops in Diagon Alley were open. But the main point was to give you a fun experience. Whereas here in the UK, the studio tours are more about educating fans on how everything was pieced together. As you go around, you’re actually learning about how different parts of the film were made and what was used. There are lots of little interactive things to show you the animatronics of the creatures for example, or little videos on how they designed the common rooms and the costumes. So whilst you’re wandering around in awe of everything, you’re coming to understand how the magic of the films was actually made to look real.
In this post I’m going to upload pictures from some of my favourite parts of the tour. Just so you know, I took 618 photos, 50 of which will be uploaded in this post. Some of them are of me, in front of things smiling in the exact same way I always smile. I apologise in advance – I didn’t realise I smiled in the same boring way in every single picture… I also look so nerdy in my glasses, with my curly hair, but if there was ever a place to look like a nerd, then for me it was definitely always going to be the Harry Potter studio tours!
The tour is very much self-guided. Everything in the first part is numbered to give you some sense of direction as you wander around, but for an excited fan like myself, I didn’t really notice the numbers until I was a considerable way into the studio. I kept seeing things to my left and to my right and then just darting over there to take a closer look. There were little workshops going on here and there. I noticed a costume one and a wand etiquette one that taught you a sequence of moves to do so that you looked like you were performing a string of spells.
The common room and boys dormitory was probably one of the most interesting things I saw first. Considering that such a multitude of scenes across all of the films are filmed in these two spaces, it really felt enthralling to actually see the spaces up close. The boys beds were absolutely tiny! It’s a miracle they all actually managed to fit into them. The detail in the common room was all very well thought out too, as I’m sure you would expect. Furniture was distressed on set to make it look worn, instead of just finding old pieces to put into the room. And all of the paintings you see on the walls in the common room and along the stairs? They are all oil paintings that were specifically created for the films, which I think is amazing.
Coming up to the potions classroom, I was somewhat surprised to find that every single bottle had been labelled and had different things put into it to actually make it look like different ingredients. They also had some of the cauldrons mixing themselves which made it feel like you were actually in a potions class. I spent a lot of time at this part of the tour because everything had been designed so specifically, as you can hopefully see from the pictures, that I was actually trying to find some flaw. Maybe an empty bottle or one with a label that looked like it was writing, but was actually just a scribble. However, I was not disappointed to find that there were no flaws whatsoever.
There were lots of iconic rooms, like Dumbledore’s office and the staircase. We also got to see Umbridge’s office, which I absolutely adore. I love all the tones of pink and I even like her outfits as I’m pretty sure that’s how I’m going to be dressing when I become an old woman. You were also able to see and board the Hogwarts Express, which was very cool. The lighting inside is very dark so it’s not the best place for taking photographs, but it was definitely a great experience to be inside. It’s also a lot narrower than I expected!
Outside, you get to see 4 Privet Drive and walk through the house. In the living room they had staged the scene from the first film where all the Hogwarts acceptance letters were flying everywhere. Also outside was the famous Hogwarts bridge, the Night Bus and a part of Godric’s Hollow too.
Later on in the tour you’ll arrive at Diagon Alley, which I was so pleased about! It had all of the shops in it, even Gringotts Bank and the window displays, again, were incredibly detailed. It was very dimly lit which really gave the exact look and feel of how the alley was in the films. And of course, because of the window displays, with the wands and the school uniform and the school books and the owls, it all felt like this was an actual shopping alley that was in business.
As you approach the final parts of the tour, you find yourself learning about how all of the different creatures were animated. They also had a life size version of Professor Lupin as a werewolf which was pretty unnerving to see up close. I don’t think I ever realised quite how big he was. Moving through, you’ll get to see the full model of the Hogwarts castle, which they used for many of the establishing shots in the film. A photograph cannot capture how incredible this model is, it’s something you have to experience for real. The final two parts of the tour will take you through to some of the artwork associated with the films and some different models of things like the boat house and the Durmstrang ship, before you finally end up in the wand room where the tour ends.
Overall, the studio tours are definitely an experience. They show you absolutely everything you could think of and they do not disappoint. There are opportunities to get a video of yourself flying on a broomstick and some pictures in Hogwarts robes too. If you buy two pictures and the video it’s £40, which is what I did. You also get an experience on the Hogwarts Express, where again you can purchase a picture which was £7. There are plenty of opportunities to get professional photos that make you look like you’re doing wizarding things.
I have to say I was quite disappointed with the Forbidden Forest as it was just so simple! There were a few trees, some large spiders, sounds of thunder and lightning and then that was pretty much it. I wanted it to be bigger, I wanted there to be trees surrounding us and different routes that you could take to get through the forest. It seemed like a bit of a rushed job to me which was disappointing, as it was probably my most anticipated part of the tour.
The backlot café was very nice. I got myself a hotdog, churros and a butterbeer. The food was very tasty, but the butterbeer was honestly so disgusting. I have no idea what it is, but it just isn’t nice. The cream on top was delicious, but the drink itself sort of just tasted like fizzy water, which isn’t what I was expecting! I would suggest trying the butterbeer ice cream, as many people seem to prefer this.
Finally, the shop. There are several shops throughout the tour, but the final shop is really what you aim to save your money for. There is quite a bit in the shop and if you have a lot of money to spend, then you won’t be spoilt for choice. I took my time trying to pick as many things as I could for the money I had, as the shop is expensive. A hoody costs £70. These are the kinds of prices we are talking. In the end, I managed to get myself a t-shirt, a pair of slippers, a glass and a book, which all came to £83. I was pretty pleased with all of this as I was really trying to make my money stretch as far as possible. I wanted to get items that I knew I would use. I love my indoor clothes almost as much as I love a mini skirt, so the slippers and t-shirt were must haves for me. I love reading so I picked up the artifacts book and then finally, a nice glass which is again something that I will use again and again.
There is no reason for me to try and encourage anybody to go on the tour. If you love Harry Potter, you’ll be there – no persuasion necessary. But in terms of advice, this is what I’d say. I definitely advise that you wear jeans – it’s not easy riding a broom in a mini skirt, just saying! Bring a lot of money if you want to buy things. Food, photos, sweets and then gifts from the shop all came to about £150. Luckily, I had been saving up the money I win from work every week so that I could use it as spending money. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have been able to be so frivolous, Finally, trust them when they say the average tour will last about 3 and a half hours. I got there at 4 and left at 8pm – it’s tiring! But of course, just take your time and enjoy yourself as there is so much to discover there is no point rushing!