I have always been amazed by humans creating stories that transport its fans into its make-believe universe. There are many great ones such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. But there is really something extra-special to me about the universe of Harry Potter. I also think that Harry Potter is especially accessible to girls, as well as boys. We visited England and it was high on my list to take my family to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour, the studio where the films were actually shot! You can also check out the other places in Europe that excited the Potterphile in us in Chasing Harry. We left with not only a really fun day, more Harry Potter knowledge, but also a better understanding of the immense effort it took to bring these books (as well as others) to life on film.
The website for the tour gives great directions, so I will speak generally. The studio is located 20 minutes northwest of London and is easily accessible by train with a connecting shuttle. We wanted to maximize our time at the tour, so stayed at the nearby Shendish Manor, an average hotel, but very reasonable and quiet.
You must buy tickets online before you visit. We bought our tickets months in advance and the first tour was already full.
How long do you need:
Even with tickets in hand, it took at least an hour to get into the actual tour. There are great pictures to look at and the Cupboard Under the Stairs. I was told the tour would take three hours, but we easily could have spent all day, even the kids. I would say four hours is a bare minimum.
The first half of the tour consists of many sets on the lot as well as tons of costumes and the Hogwarts Express. There is so much information to read and great exhibits. In the middle you will find Platform 9 3/4 where you can take some free pictures, unlike the real one in London which has a fee. You can also sit in the train car and take some pictures or do some shopping. Bring some extra money along if you want to get the pictures and video of yourself flying around Hogwarts and the English countryside. There is a cafeteria at the end of this section
where you must try Butterbeer, a bitter, foamy cream soda that I really enjoyed. I love ice cream and always try it, but missed the Butterbeer ice cream. I have since heard it was great! I guess I will have to return…
The second section actually ended up being our favorite and sadly, we were short on time for it. They won’t let you reenter the first section after you enter the second, but definitely give yourself enough time. This section contains Diagon Alley and creatures, but the part that interested us most was how the filmmakers work through ideas to bring these places and creatures to life. My husband teaches a film class and my sons are interested in film, so this place was our favorite and will delight any film buff, even if they are crazy enough to not like Harry Potter.
It is amazing that Harry Potter has been part of our world for so long and has had such an effect on it. In The Elephant House in Edinburgh where JK Rowling first sat to write this world into existence, the bathroom was filled with grafitti about how the books have encouraged people who were feeling left out, lonely or beaten down. What a beautiful gift to the world.