Well guys, it finally happened! After years and years of patiently waiting; I finally received my Hogwarts letter…just kidding! But, I did get as close to Hogwarts as a muggle can get while in England.
Back story: I went on a family vacation through Europe in the spring of 2011. It was my first visit to London and I was instantly in LOVE! The city felt like home to me, it was easy to navigate and so full of rich history. I was ready to move there and never go back to Canada. But alas, vacations always end and upon returning to Vancouver was when it was announced that Leavesden Studios, where the Harry Potter films were made, would be turned into an interactive museum. I very quickly told myself that if I ever had the chance to go back to London I would go to the studio tour in a heartbeat…and basically, GO TO HOGWARTS!
Fast forward now to the summer of 2015 and I find out I’ll be in Europe for work in September and I’ve planned a 3 day detour in London for myself. There was no doubt in my mind; I had to take the studio tour. There are lots of routes you can take to book yourself a time slot at the studio (as you cannot just walk in). You can book directly off of the Warner Bros. Studio website (keep in mind the price will be in GBP), or you can book through a consolidator like Viator (which will price in your home currency), or through a tour company like Golden Tours. I chose to book through Viator which as a result, partners with Golden Tours to provide your transportation. I had previously looked on google maps and transportation websites to see if I could take a form of public transportation instead of a tour bus. But it was proving difficult and the cost worked out to be less by booking it as a package through a consolidator. FYI, these tours WILL sell out so buy well in advance if you can. I chose to book a 9am departure so that I would still have most of the afternoon and evening to enjoy London after my tour was done.
Finally, the day arrives. I flew into London the day before, I should probably feel jetlagged but I’m so excited that I can hardly contain myself, I was up at 5:30am which is entirely too early when you’re sharing a hostel dorm with 11 other girls (sorry, not sorry). After a quick breakfast, I was blissfully on my way to the Golden Tours office to catch my train…erm, bus…to Hogwarts. After I arrived and checked in with a large group of other excited muggles (of ALL ages), out of nowhere this huge double decker bus pulls up that is decorated head-to-toe in Harry Potter movie posters. The driver hands you a “Platform 9 3/4” ticket which is essentially your entry into the studios, and soon you’re off and on your way. They even show the first movie on the bus as it’s about an hour drive.
Aside from the Warner Bros. sign on the outside of the building, it doesn’t look like much. But as soon as you walk in it is filled with smiling employees in Hogwarts robes, a very long queue and token memorabilia on the walls. You do have to queue for a while before entering but there is usually an employee doing trivia and the queue area is also where they keep the original “cupboard under the stairs” set so you can take pictures of it. From there you watch a short film and then the real magic happens: The film screen comes up revealing the ACTUAL Great Hall doors from the set. If you’re lucky enough you may be selected to open them, and from there you enter the Great Hall as it was set for a dinner scene and then you’re off on your own to explore the sets.
As I was alone, I opted to purchase the audio guide which actually was a great resource and offered a lot more information than you would get from just reading the signs. Everything is incredibly detailed down to the thousands of potions bottles that were labelled BY HAND! I could’ve roamed around there all day. Sadly, my camera battery died half way through and my remaining pictures were from my phone.
After you go through the first part, you basically turn a corner and suddenly you enter a massive room where the Hogwarts Express train is kept, and yes, you can walk through it. From there you go to a café where Butterbeer can be purchased. Yes, you should try it and yes, it is delicious! There is an outside section where the Privet Drive façade and Knight Bus are kept. After that you go into a room where all of the “creatures” are kept. After that you enter a huge Diagon Alley set and then the piece de resistance…the HUGE scale model of the Hogwarts castle. 3hrs later and you’re done. Of course there is a gift shop at the end and yes, I bought a souvenir for myself but how could I not? I did go to Hogwarts after all.
Leaving was bittersweet. I could have easily spent all day there! One day I’ll go back I’m sure. If you have the opportunity to London, I highly recommend visiting the Warner Bros. studio. Even if you are not a Harry Potter fan and regardless of age, there really is something there for everyone to appreciate.
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore
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