In Search of Harry Potter: Part 1

It’s almost October. Halloween vibes are filling the air along with the fall changing of the seasons. In honor of October, I thought I would share my experience with the Harry Potter Studio Tour outside of London.

The studio where the tour is given, Leavesden Studios, is an active studio much like Universal Studios in Hollywood. In fact, they were currently wrapping up filming for Fantastic Beasts and where to find them when I was there.

Getting There

The studio is easily accessible by train from London. From experience, I want to make a point to mention that you should always ensure you are aware of any possible construction projects or planned closure before you go. There has been a lot of work on the Underground train lines and on a lot of the overground tracks during the past few months. In my most recent visit, I had to figure out three different transfer points to reach London Euston station due to planned closures. 

The studio is located closest to Watford Junction. Watford Junction can be reached by utilizing the London Overground service or National Rail (Northwestern or Southern Services). Virgin Trains maintain a presence at the station as well, but are ineligible with any Oyster card usage. 

What is an Oyster Card? It’s a pay-as-you-go smart card that is usable on many different forms of London transit (ie: buses, Tube, trains, etc). More specific information can be found here. In short, just know it makes life a lot easier to get around and in the long run will save you money. I would highly encourage the use of the Transport for London (TFL) website to help find the best routing for you.

I didn’t want to bother with the London Overground service since it’s a lot slower than the National Rail service. I was glad I had my phone with me on the train. It made time go a lot faster with the free wifi! From London Eusotn station, I’d say it took me about 20-25 minutes to arrive at Watford Junction. Give yourself at least an hour though in case there are any problems or delays. 

The moment you get off the train it’s apparent why most people are traveling to Watford Junction. Harry Potter studio tour signs line the perimeter of the station. If you aren’t sure where to go, don’t worry. The giant signage makes it hard to miss where you can catch a bus to the studio.

Taxis are also available, but the bus has the most affordable option. I thought I may have to visit a ticket kiosk to buy a ticket, but all you need to do is wait for the bus to arrive. You’ll see a big double decker bus with Harry Potter scenes covering the front the moment it pulls up. The bus driver will ask you to show your ticket and time for your entry to the studio. The ride to the studio is technically free there, but the return ride is not.  

The return ticket costs 2 pounds and is cash only. You will be given a receipt to save for later as proof of payment. Make sure you keep it in a safe place. If you don’t want to figure out how to get to Watford Junction by yourself, you can book a direct bus only or package options from several tour companies. They are more expensive, however, and will put you on a time limit. I don’t think it’s worth being rushed.

The bus will play a short video about what to expect upon reaching the destination. It drives through the down of Watford is is a pleasant journey lasting about 10 minutes. It will drop you off right in front of the Harry Potter studio tour entrance. You will see several giant chess pieces, posters and people. The urge to take a lot of photos will be overwhelming. I would get in line to exchange your voucher first. If you got your tickets though the mail, then take the time to enjoy the outside, you’ll be dead tired by the time you finish.

Entering the Studio

There are three main types of tickets: general, deluxe, and “special-event.” The general tickets are just what they sound like, general admission. The deluxe ticket is 4 times I amount of the general ticket. This was the package I booked. It include a tour guide through the attractions, photos, lunch and the chance to go back into the experience after the guided tour. The “special-event” type tickets generally include the same things as the general admission tickets with a behind-the-scenes specific experience. Right now, for example, the experience is an hour tour of the costume shop.

The deluxe is well worth the value if you want to splurge. I’m a Harry Potter nerd and this was going to be a once in a lifetime experience for me. I felt like the value far exceeded the price of the experience. No matter which option you choose, you will have an amazing time. 

After you have your tickets in hand, you’ll go through security screening and enter a nice long hallway of posters to get to the actual entrance. If you are on the deluxe tour, you are greeted at the ticket window by a staff member who personally escort you through security and a shortcut to the entrance. They will let your tour guide know you are here upon arrival and will let you know when to meet back for the tour if you’re nice and early. 

I was the last one in my group to check in. I thought that being 45 minutes early was plenty! We were given a brief overview of the lobby and told we had 30 minutes to explore before we would begin. The lobby has a beautiful goblet of fire in the center of it that is another moment where you will want to take a million photos. Resist the urge and take only a few. If you go too crazy in the beginning, you will run out of room on your memory card!

The lobby is the only place you will be able to use the restroom until you hit the center portion of the studio tour, the Backlot Cafe. Use it before you go in! You will see the giant giftshop, a cafe and a cloak room as well. If you are early enough, spend some time in the gift shop. You’ll have a brief idea of what to expect later, but keep in mind if you buy something, you will have to carry it around unless you check it in at the cloak room. 

I decided I didn’t want to bother carrying around my jacket and purse. I knew there was going to be a lot of walking and only kept my essentials, my camera, phone and wallet. I would never keep anything you don’t want to lose in a checked bag. The cloak room is complimentary. You will be issued a tag for your items; if you think you are likely to lose it, take a picture of the numbers on it for safe keeping!

If you are hungry, have a snack before you enter. There is no eating while moving through the studio and there are no restaurants until you reach the Backlot Cafe. The food there is worth waiting for. It can be pricey, but again you are paying for the experience and the convenience. They have many options for those who have allergies or special dietary restrictions. 

The First Few Sets

Everybody begins their tour experience the same way, but entering the screening room. You will be ushered into a room where a short video will be shown about the Harry Potter phenomenon. No photography is allowed there. If you don’t want to know what happens after this, good. I’ll save that secret for you.

The first room you will encounter is the Great Hall! This is the only portion of your tour where you will on a time limit. Take as many pictures as you can here. You can’t go back after your ten minutes is up. Even on the deluxe tour, you are supposed to be able to go back later for pictures, but there isn’t really enough time. Don’t be discouraged if you have people in your pictures. The room gets crowded and everyone is is trying to get photos as well.

The Great Hall was spectacular though! I’m really sad that I didn’t get to see it during the holidays. We were told there is a special Yule Ball overlay put up once a year. You will see two house tables that run the length of the room and the head table at the exit. The head table has all of the professor’s costumes behind it set as if it’s September 1st and you are joining the studios and teachers for the annual Welcoming Feast!

Once you are ushered through the Great Hall, you will be entering a large soundstage. People will start running and pushing their way through the to see the first few props and costumes. Let them rush out. Take a deep breath and wait; in less than 5 minutes you’ll be crowd free (until the next group enters the Great Hall). 

Our tour guide on the deluxe tour was an expert. She explained how the tour would work as we waited for the crowd to trickle by us. The tour group is limited to 10 participants. We had 8 on mine. We would be able to renter the studio later. Our guide recommended taking pictures the second time through so we knew what we were looking at. She wanted to maximize the stories she could tell us about each set, prop and costume.

In keeping with the Yule Ball theme, the first costumes you will encounter are those from the Goblet of Fire! The costumes for the Yule Ball and refreshment table. They certainly do not disappoint. You will notice the level of detail on the costumes in person that you may not have noticed on film. Continuing on, next you’ll come to one of the moving staircases and portraits from the first two films. 

Across from it is a rack of costumes and make up display containing all of the secrets of the films. Don’t let the containers on the table fool you! Every single one of them contains something and is from the film process. You may see Harry Potter’s scars, his glasses, Luna’s radish earrings or even Voldemort’s nose. My personal favorite piece was Luna Lovegood’s dress from the Half Blood Prince. We were able to see up close that the dress was shaped like a Christmas tree and lit up! The ends of each layer were covered in tinsel. 

Rounding the corner, you will run into the prefect bathroom’s fountain and a wand display with information about each wand’s creation. If you look carefully, each wand is individually crafted. This didn’t really become apparent until the 3rd film. Director Alfonso Cuaron really changed the game by insisting each character have their own designed wand. Daniel Radcliffe was known on set to go through the most amount of wands! He was, overly enthusiastic and careless at times.

My next post will continue my experience on the studio tour. I have a lot more to share! Until next time, happy travels!