A trip to London means a trip to the Harry Potter Studios. At least for me. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of the books, but never liked the films all that much. Nevertheless, this is the closest I could get to Hogwarts, after my owl got lost approximately 17 years ago.
So when the Easter bunny brought me a plane ticket to Heathrow, I knew what to do. The tour was really exciting and totally worth it.
But first, there was a little preview the night before at King’s Cross Station, where the studio set up a shop at platform 9 3/4 – incredible sense of business.
This is where little wizards can go catch the Hogwarts Express.
And you can taste the one and only Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans (made by Jelly Belly) here. And they mean EVERY Flavor.
Here is an attempt at an accurate description of the experience:
- Soap – “Okay… tastes kinda clean”
- Earwax – “Lame. MY earwax tastes more disgusting than that”
- Sausage – “Wurstwasser.”
- Tutti Frutti – “Disgusting, but I knew that already”
- Earthworm – “The list of ingredients says beetroot, this must be it, it’s only beetroot, haha, yeah just beetroot, really”
- Vomit – “HOW do they do it? IS there an actual ‘vomit’ essence? This is very impressive, but far too real”
- Rotten Egg – “My taste buds have never in my life been thus insulted, get this abomination out of my mouth NOW, urgghghghg”
When we arrived at the studios the next day, everyone was psyched. Just look at the tiny superhero-wizards duelling!
Once you enter the building, there is a very well-designed gift shop with a corner that looks like Ollivander’s wand shop.
You can test the wands from different characters.
Guess whose wand sparked in my hand? 😉
Once more, with a flourish!
And the sorting hat got really confused: RAVENDOR! No, wait, GRYFFINCLAW!
Yeah, I’m too eccentric to be anything else.
Then you get to enter the tour by walking by the closet under the stairs.
Through an ante room with a Potter pop quiz (It’s Acromantula, how could I forget that?) and a movie theater, where the actors guide you through a short film about what to expect.
Then the screen lifts and you are finally allowed to enter the great hall.
Feeling the anticipation for the feast yet?
Then there is a room with an enormous collection of props, costumes, sets, and so forth. It is gigantic and truly special.
Fleur’s shool uniform
Boy’s dorm in Gryffindor tower
Self-stirring cauldron, anyone?
Yule ball ice sculpture
Makeup and props
The Leaky Cauldrom
Neville’s grandmother’s outfit
The moving portraits, some of the faces used in the paintings were those of film contributors, for example the head of set design etc.
#NotMyCommonRoom, but still nice
I haven’t seen all the movies, so there were some sets I had never laid eyes on.
Others were more familiar.
One of the coolest things was the life-sized Hogwarts Express.
You could enter the train and see different compartment sets from each of the films.
Sweets from the trolley?
There was also a huge collection of small-ish things designed, written and printed especially for the films.
And then, finally: BUTTERBEER.
I was really excited to try it, so I was a tourist and bought a cup for an exorbitant sum.
See the excitement?
Ah, the excitement!
Ok… so… Well, the best thing about this special beverage is the foam. If caramel fudge and whipped cream had a very bubbly baby, this would be it. The liquid underneath is a soda that barely has any taste. So once the foam is gone, the taste is gone too. My verdict: Very disappointing.
Nevertheless, the tour is a commercial enterprise and you can feel it. Pay (a lot) extra and ride a broomstick in front of a green screen, or sit in the Hogwarts Express compartment with yours friends and family. Uhm, nah.
The outdoor sets are pretty impressive, though. Here’s Privet Drive:
The Wooden Bridge
Then the technology department has its shining moment. This is probably my favorite part.
Warwick Davis, the actor who played both Griphook and Prof. Flitwick, is the virtual tour guide, who introduces you to all the secrets of the make-up department and the electronic gadgets. He is both hilarious and very informative.
And then there are the models
Dobby and the Monster Book of Monsters
That Grindylow is pretty cool.
And my favorite, the screeching mandrake. Doesn’t it look splendidly displeased?
There are also life-sized models of Buckbeak/Witherwings, Aragog and Hagrid.
Buckbeak was my favorite, he looked completely real, breathing, moving, blinking (don’t blink!). All the intricacy is pretty impressive.
Then there is Diagon Ally
What a shame I didn’t have time to go shopping.
Yet another absolutely stunning thing is the collection of film artwork:
There are some color paintings as well, but I absolutely loved the drawings.
The last part of the tour consists of to scale models.
The coolest piece of the entire exhibit is Hogwarts itself.
It’s huge (see the tiny human on the left?), totally stunning and very, very detailed. You get to walk around it and see the effects of different lighting. I took the time to watch a short film about the process and use in the actual films and found it really amazing.
When we got out into the real world again, the weather seemed to agree with us – we should not leave this magical place.