Recently we had a “fall break” with two extra days off from classes over a long weekend. Everyone in our group planned exciting trips all over Europe—from Barcelona to Budapest, from Amsterdam to my own weekend excursion in Paris. But for the first part of the weekend, I decided to dedicate an entire day to what I love most: Harry Potter.
My friend Jasmine and I took a 50-minute aboveground train to Watford Junction, just outside the city of London. We then hopped on a double decker bus and pulled up to Warner Brothers Studios (while trying not to scream from the sheer overwhelming excitement coursing through every fiber of our beings). From the minute we stepped through the doors, we were mesmerized by the magic within.
The starting point for the tour begins with the original set piece for Harry’s cupboard under the stairs, a nod to the beginning of Rowling’s story. Guests are then ushered into a theatre to watch Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson introduce the tour on screen. In the video, they are standing in front of the huge double doors at the entrance to the Great Hall. Once the screen is lifted, the ACTUAL doors are revealed behind it. We passed into this hallowed space with our jaws agape.
Inside The Great Hall we found the original tables used for each house, covered in dining set pieces. Lined up at the front of the room were costumes for each of the Hogwarts faculty members (such as McGonogall, Snape, Trewlaney, and even Quirrell) flanking a costume created for Albus Dumbledore. The details were utterly breathtaking.
We exited the Great Hall and passed into an enormous chamber sectioned off into full-sized sets. I was particularly taken with the potions classroom and Dumbledore’s office, and token items such as Hermione’s dress from the Yule Ball and The Mirror of Erised. There were numerous interactive elements as well, and Jasmine and I made a beeline for the broomsticks that sprung up into our hands on command and the wand dueling instructional station.
To celebrate the anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, there were several exclusive pieces on exhibit that are new to the public and only available for a limited time. My absolute favorite was the paper shooting machine that spit dozens of Hogwarts letters into the mail slot of #4 Privet Drive. Guests watching the machine operate were allowed to take home a Hogwarts letter of their own, so naturally I made sure to snag one.
Next our journey took us to Platform 9 3/4, where we were greeted by the Hogwarts Express. (At this point in the tour I probably should have stowed away in one of the compartments and kissed the Muggle world goodbye.) We snapped away with our cameras until our memory cards were sufficiently overflowing, then embarked on a quest for Butterbeer.
For just over £7 we each purchased a frothy mug of Butterbeer in a plastic souvenir cup at the cafe inside the studios. Fortunately it was pretty filling, because we were 3.5 hours into our tour and still had more to see! We opted out of the overpriced food options and saved our cash for souvenirs from the gift shop.
The next leg of the tour was comprised of larger-scale outdoor components, such as the Night Bus, Privet Drive, Hagrid’s Motorcycle, and Wizard’s Chess pieces. For us, that meant even more photo opportunities. On the opposite end of the courtyard was the “creature shop,” displaying the design behind the costumes, props, and animatronics used to create the wide array of magical creatures from the stories. One of my favorites was animatronic Buckbeak the Hippogriff. I always assumed most of this work was done digitally with CGI, but to my delight there were more tangible elements than I ever could have imagined.
We turned the corner of the creature shop and were greeted by Diagon Alley sprawling in front of us. After meandering past the numerous shops (and longing to go inside and discover they were real), we had almost made it to the end of our tour. Waiting for us in the final room was the most beautiful sight we’d seen all day: a scaled down model of Hogwarts castle twinkling in the dark.
Naturally, the tour finishes by spitting visitors out straight into the gift shop. We struggled to show (some) restraint and only purchased a few small souvenirs. I shamelessly bought a Ravenclaw keychain to display my house pride, and a chocolate frog to unwrap and enjoy on the way home. Mischief: managed.