I couldn’t go to London without making the trek out to Leavesden Studios. Since filming of the Harry Potter movies concluded , the two studio stages, J & K ( See what they did there?) have been turned into permanent and interactive museums for Potterheads around the world. And in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m quite the Potterhead.
Missing the Train
I carefully booked my tickets a month in advance. I would avoid crowds by going on a weekday and would arrive by noon so I would have no trouble getting there and back using public transportation. My tickets had a 30 minute entrance window and, not wanting to miss the experience by being late as usual , I looked up directions ahead of time and planned to arrive an hour early.
After a leisurely morning in the hostel , I headed out to the Waterloo Station nearly three hours early…plenty of time to catch my train from Euston Station to Watford Junction and catch the shuttle bus to my destination.
After a series of missing trains and stops, I realized London was in the middle of a tube strike that restricted service and made my preplanned directions useless. After an hour and a half of waiting, pestering tube workers, and waiting in long lines to buy tickets I arrived at Euston just in time to see the tail lights of my train as it swerved around one last corner. I spent 30 minutes waiting for the next train and staring at the time on my phone in disbelief. There was no way I should have made it. But by some miracle, I did, and with a whole ten minutes to spare.
I picked up my tickets, joined the entrance line, and within seconds had forgotten the whole transportation ordeal.
I hadn’t even entered the exhibition and was already surrounded by the props I grew up seeing on the big screen.
And on the other side of the room, Hogwarts was waiting.
Meeting Tom Felton and The Great Hall
After two short movie presentations, one that showcased the franchise’s popularity with movie posters in different languages and another in which Harry,Hermione, and Ron ( Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint) prepare you for the upcoming magic, the audience was invited to push open the doors to the Great Hall.
Inside, the Great Hall was immortalized just as it was during filming. Giant spotlights shone down on long wooden tables that were still set with paper cereals and plastics eggs. The different house tables are also flanked by their famous characters’ uniforms.
Rightfully at the head of the hall, the ever-present Dumbledore, Mcgonagall, and Snape kept a watchful eye over the students.
After ten minutes in the Great Hall, the guided portion of the tour came to a end. I turned on my audio guide, which is narrated by the movie’s Draco Malfoy himself, and got ready to explore.
As Tom’s voice guided me from set to set , I discovered some some well-guarded HP secrets. Did you know that…
Most of the Burrow’s magic ( like the self-stirring pots and knitting needles) are controlled by touch panels ?
The staircases lead to nowhere and most don’t move until post-production?
In some scenes, you’re looking at a robotic Hagrid and a completely mechanical Buckbeak ?
There are magnets on the other side of the Chamber of Secrets’ door that make the snakes slither?
Green screens are used to create everything from flying scenes, spells, and even Harry’s invisibility cloak?
Costumes, Props, and More
The next three hours were spent browsing the many sets and costumes that make the movies so loved. There were personal details and stories to accompany nearly everything.
My favorite story came from the Gryffindors’ dormitory. Each bed had small accessories to identify their owners ( like a stationary football poster over Dean Thomas’s bed and Ron’s Christmas sweaters). The same beds were used throughout the eight movies and while the boys fit perfectly during the first movie, by the time filming wrapped their legs stuck out of the beds. That explains why we only see the boys from the chest up when they’re snuggled in bed.
The most impressive and beloved prop of all -the Hogwarts Castle itself – was the final stop of the tour. Although much smaller than the castle we’re used to seeing surrounded by lush green scenery , this version still takes up a whole room on its on. I followed a three-story ramp from the roof of the castle to the base.Breathtaking views and photo ops awaited at every angle. I took over a dozen photos in this room alone and each of them captured a unique and beautiful viewpoint.
After making sure to get a proper photo in front of the castle ( selfies wouldn’t do this justice) and a quick browse through the wand room – where everyone involved with the 10 year production is honored – I exited through the overpriced store and started the long trip back to my hostel.
The Harry Potter Studio tour at Leavesden is a must-do for the films’ hardcore fans. If , like me, you’re a bigger fan of the books and how a writer built this entire universe with her mind, you’ll appreciate how even the most miniscule of details transpires perfectly from thought to book to real-life recreation. Either way , it’ll be very hard to not enjoy it.
Directions to Leavesden Studios: From Euston Station , take the train to Watford Junction. From there, go upstairs and take the shuttle bus leaving from platform 4.