First, a few notes on getting there, tickets, etc. Get tickets early–at least a few days during the off-peak times, and possibly a week or two during holiday weekends and tourist times of year. I would recommend getting the digital guide along with the admission–you can get this ahead of time, with your tickets, or pay for it when you get there.
Speaking of getting there. Their website lists the ways it can be done. Coming from London, you can either take a coach straight from Victoria station, or take a train to Watford Junction and catch a special bus from there to the studio. I did the latter. When you exit the station, turn left toward the group of bus stops. You’ll know when you find the right bus.
Tickets are timed, so you may have to wait just a bit from arrival before you can go in. They have a Starbucks and you can access the gift shop while you wait.
You’ll be able to see Harry’s cupboard as you queue. Then you’ll be shown into a room and told to stand there–they’ll talk and show a video. I recommend standing all the way at the far end of the room, next to one of the three doors. Then you’ll be the first out.
…into another room where they’ll show a video. You get to sit down for this one! I recommend finding a seat in the front row, or very close to an aisle. But they will force you to move all the way down each row, so that may not be possible.
The reason you may want to pick a good seat is because of what you’ll see next. The Great Hall!
For the rest of the tour, you have as much time as you like, but in this room you are limited, so make sure you see everything you want to see. The house tables, the goblets and plates. The costumes!
They display them on slightly creepy mannequin things, but they are the real costumes. House robes, including the wee ones Dan Radcliffe wore in the first movie. Most of the staff are up near the head table, including Hagrid, Dumbledore, Filch, McGonagall, Snape, Flitwick, and Trelawney.
So make sure you get a good look around before they usher you into the next room. Also, note for photos: the whole place is pretty dimly lit. If your camera has a mode good for candlelight or low light, you may want to use that. I hate using flash when I’m in a space like this, but it is almost necessary for the photos to turn out.
The rest of the tour is just you wandering–this is when the digital guide comes in handy. You can hear about the specifics of different props or costumes, from the actors that used them or the people that made them. Quite cool.
You wander around a room with sets dispersed within it, as well as small nooks displaying more costumes, props, wigs, architecture. All of it just stuffed in a big space, like the room of requirement with all the junk in it. And it’s all wonderful. There are the Hogwarts gates with the 2 boars:
Then its straight to the familiar Gryffindor common room and boys dormitory, complete with some more costumes, some comfy armchairs by the fire, and personalized bunks for each of the boys. Dean’s has a West Ham blanket; Ron’s cubby area is covered in Chudley Cannons posters.
The next sets you’ll see are the Potions classroom, Hagrid’s Hut, and the Burrow.
Cheeriowls. Of course.
But you can see the pensieve up close.
In between all of these sets there is just a cornucopia of props, costumes, everything you’ve ever wanted to see. Here are just a few pictures of what is nestled in every corner. Ron’s dress robes. The robes of prominent and terrifying death eaters, and some of the Order of the Phoenix.
There are just tons of things, all over the room.
Also in this room, you can wait in line for a go on the CGI broom experience. I did not feel like waiting in line to make an idiot of myself, so I skipped this. If you don’t mind looking an idiot, it’s probably pretty fun.
The section of this room that I actually loved was all the print media and products that were produced. Books, the Daily Prophet, the Quibbler, anything with text. This one case was one of my favorite parts–these little props have so much detail, for minor use during the films.
Leave me alone and I could read those entire issues of the Daily Prophet. I’d probably enjoy reading the test booklet as well.
After the first building, you can proceed into the courtyard outside. This was home to some of the larger sets. You can walk across the Hogwarts bridge, take a look inside the Knight Bus, and knock on the door of 4 Privet Drive. And you can get some Butterbeer at the cafe. I really like Butterbeer.
They also have the chess pieces from Philosopher’s Stone, the ruined home of the Potter’s in Godric’s Hollow, and some of the other vehicles (motorbike, Ford Anglia) that you can sit in/on.
From here, you enter the second building. This one is more devoted to how they made things happen. The creature shop is a mix of CGI and lifelike models that is filled with extremely creepy things.
You get to walk through a life-size version of Diagon Alley, though this experience may be dwarfed if you’ve been to the expansion at the Wizarding World in Orlando. I haven’t yet, so it was pretty exciting for me.
And now you can start to see how Hogwarts was created, from drawings, and small models, to filmable miniatures. I found it really fascinating and would love to own some of the concept art they had on display.
And the big finale.
The final room you’ll see (before the obligatory stop at the gift shop) is a massive miniature of Hogwarts, in its entirety. It’s stupid large, and I would pay a lot of money to be shrunk down small enough to wander through it. The detail is too difficult to see from the viewing area, but apparently they made little torches to line the halls and everything perfectly to scale. Why hasn’t science invented that shrinking thing yet? Rick Moranis, where are you when we need you? The room also cycles through lighting changes, so that you can see the castle during daylight and at night, lit up by the many torches. It’s really lovely and hit me right in the feels, to be honest.
I really enjoyed the tour, and I loved seeing all of the little details that went into creating the movies, and making these worlds believable. Especially the real costumes. I’d highly recommend it to any HP fan within a 500 hundred miles of London.
That being said, I preferred my trip to the Wizarding World (and would probably prefer it even more now that it has expanded). The thing about this studio tour is that it is showing you exactly how everything was created to look good on camera. That’s very fascinating and I’m glad to see it. But, the Orlando Wizarding World is sort of saying ‘yes, it’s real, and here it is, and you can come in and have a look around’. And that’s preferable to the part of my brain that will never quite give up believing that it is really real.