When Harry Potter first became popular in the States, I was 11 and obsessed with chapter books. I vividly remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in the UK) under my blanket with a flashlight like the little geek I was.
Because of the release dates of the books, I’m part of the generation that quite literally grew up with Harry Potter as the new books (and films) came out.
I even co-created a Harry Potter club on the playground in elementary school. There were ‘report cards’ for Potions and Defense against the Dark Arts and we also ‘sorted’ people into Houses.
nothing. Everything. NOTHING.
Anyways, now that I live in the UK as an American expat in the UK, I’ve had the opportunity to go to the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford a few times. Also, my husband was an extra in the movies so, you know, home sweet home to him.
Hey, sidenote! If you’re traveling to the UK or live in the UK, whether for a short period of time or as an expat, why don’t you join my Facebook group where you can ask questions, get advice or just look at pretty pictures of this part of the world! Just click here to request to join and I’ll add you!
Study abroad students in London should also check out my book on studying abroad in London for way more information.
Here’s my Harry Potter studio tour review to help you decide whether or not to splurge and make this a part of your trip to London, whether you’re a short-term visitor or a student studying abroad in London. Oh, and pro tip: it’s a great date option in London for a Harry Potter loving couple!
Harry Potter Studio Tour Review: The Experience
The line for the tour starts in the lobby. There are ticket counters, a gift shop, and a cafe in the lobby area where you can wander around until the start time on your ticket.
Make sure to scroll to the end of this post to see how to buy tickets, as this attraction sells out fast and months in advance, so the chance you can just stroll up on the day are minimal.
In the lobby area, they’ve got a few props dotted around to get you excited, and then, once it’s time for you to discover Harry Potter’s magical world, you enter two rooms.
The first part of the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour experience is a holding room where a staff member (dressed in Hogwarts robes, obviously) tells you to have a great time but DO NOT TOUCH BECAUSE THESE PROPS ARE BASICALLY NATIONAL TREASURES. This is the real set where the cast and crew filmed many of the scenes of the movies, and this is no Universal Studios recreation. This is the real deal.
You then go into a movie theater, where you watch a recording of Daniel, Emma, and Rupert talking about how they grew up at these studios. By this point I had already almost shed a tear, let’s be honest.
They do a really nice transition into the first room, the Great Hall, which waits for you just behind the massive set of doors you see in the movie theater.
This is where you are allowed to mill about on your own and the fangirling really kicks in. OH HEY, DUMBLEDORE, HEY.
It’s a massive space and has been laid out to make it easy to make your way around as fast as you want or just stop and stare with your mouth hanging open as you hate yourself for not being a child actor in England at the time of filming because you TOTALLY could have been Hermione.
These are really the “larger than life” areas that help bring the movies back to life for you.
I found it incredibly easy to take my time to wander around here, listening to the audio guide or reading the descriptions on the side of the set pieces. No one is there rushing you to continue on – it’s just you and Harry Potter bliss.
Another component of the first section is an exhibit on Platform 9 3/4, including the Hogwarts Express, plenty of chances to pretend you’re on your way to Hogwarts, and a reconstructed set on the inside of the train taking you from the gang’s first journey to the end of the series.
After the first rooms, you make your way outside to see the exterior sets. There’s a café and places to sit and eat in case you come around lunch or dinnertime, and you can try Butter Beer or Butter Beer ice cream.
If these are going to be an essential part of your trip to the Harry Potter studio tour, make sure you leave time as the lines can get long.
The exterior sets don’t lend themselves to being as naturally impressive as the interior sets, but there are great photo opportunities on the Knight Bus, in front of the Dursley’s House, and in the flying car.
Note that the Dursley’s Houses are very much open air sets – there are no coverings, so if the weather is poor then you’re going to experience that when trying to take your pictures of you knocking on the door.
The last time I was there, there wasn’t a sign that explained that the Dursleys lived at 4 Privet Drive, but I would imagine they’ve added that to help all of the people taking pictures of the “Dursley house” while standing in front of 3 Privet Drive.
They do look identical, but one was home to Harry Potter and one was probably home to an average British family who were too polite to ask their neighbors to calm it down with all the wizarding that went on after dark.
From there, you head into the “Creatures” section, which is a smaller room but is probably the best room for understanding the technical ways the crews brought the world to life.
If you’ve been to the Harry Potter area in Universal Studios Orlando, you may be familiar with some of the Diagon Alley sets as they have been recreated there.
However, these are the real deal, and one of the reasons why my review of the Harry Potter studio tour in London is meant to show you how this is the ultimate in Harry Potter fandom.
After the sets is the blueprints section where you see the architectural drawings for many of the major structures, as well as the concept art that helped them to get the tone and feel of the movies correct.
At the end, you might be dragging a bit after taking in so much information. It’s Harry Potter overload in the best way possible. You meander around the corner, wondering if this is the end of the tour.
And then, BOOM. You stumble upon the castle model and you start to get a tingle inside and soft music is playing in the background and the lights are dimmed.
The audio guide starts up with the “Final days” clips where you hear various actors and crew talk about how much of a family they had become, and suddenly you are feeling ALL THE FEELS. I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING.
Once you’ve wiped your snot all over your jacket and have already queued up all 8 films on your Netflix from your phone, you exit into a tribute to all of the cast and crew of the films (4,000+ wands in total).
And then it’s time for Harry Potter mecca, also known as the gift shop. The gift shop is moderately to expensively priced, with adult shirts ranging from about 18 to 25 pounds. But you can pretty much buy anything Potter related here, so if you want something to take home, you’ll find it here.
Overall, I would highly recommend the Harry Potter studio tour to any fan. It’s also great for any non-fans who are interested in movie-making, and you can easily take the whole family and have everyone enjoy it.
They say to leave 3 to 3 1/2 hours for the tour, and we took exactly 3 1/2 hours. They have a ‘green screen’ exhibit where you can ride on a broomstick, but this usually has a line, which would add time. We also didn’t spend that long in the gift shop, so tack that on as more time.
They offer an audio guide, and while it doesn’t necessarily make or break the experience, I found it really interesting and it has clips short enough so that it’s not droning on and on. Also Tom Felton (who plays Draco) narrates it, so, if he’s your thing, there’s that.
As JK Rowling’s quote says on the last wall as you exit,
“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
SORRY, BE RIGHT BACK, CRYING AGAIN. PASS ME MY WAND.
Harry Potter Studio Tour Prices (2019)
There are group ticket prices for the Harry Potter Studio tour, but if you’re heading there as an individual person or family, here’s what you need to know
Price for an adult ticket: £45.00
Price for a child’s ticket (5-15 years): £37
Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children, or 1 adult and 3 children): £148.00
Tickets are free for a child from 0 to 4 years old, so at least you can save yourself that expense. There is also an add-on charge if you want to purchase a guidebook and a digital guide.
How to Book Tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour
Tickets to the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour exhibit sell out fast, and they book well in advance. If you think you’re just going to show up randomly and be able to get in, clearly you don’t understand the absolute powerhouse that (still) is Harry Potter.
The best way to book tickets is to book either directly through the website or by purchasing tickets to Harry Potter studio tour in a package with transportation to and from London. If you’re unsure how to get around and want someone else to do it for you, this is the best way to book tickets. You can also book a fully-guided tour of the Harry Potter studio tour combined with transfers and tickets for the ultimate Harry Potter fan
Other special experiences when it comes to the Harry Potter Studio Tour include: