While travelling has been put on hold for now, no one has cancelled virtual travels and making lists of dream destinations for a better time; for a time when a trip to London is just a couple of clicks away. And once if you’re in London and if you happen to love Harry Potter, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour is a must – read more about this magical experience in the article by Kino Kults, created in collaboration with airBaltic!
There is one thing that has brought disappointment to every single fan of the Harry Potter world – the revelation that the magic created by writer J.K. Rowling only exists on paper or a screen. But there’s some good news too – not far from London, in Leavesden, there is a place where this magic comes to life. It’s none other than the Warner Bros Studio Tour of the Harry Potter filming locations. Members of Kino Kults have visited it not just once, but multiple times!
Leavesden, located about 30 kilometres from the centre of London, is the location where all eight Harry Potter films were filmed. When the filming wrapped up, soon thereafter a permanent exhibition opened up that features partially relocated sets, props, costumes, models and countless other fascinating items from the films.
Except for special group tours, the Harry Potter studio visit is not accompanied by a guide – it is a self-guided tour, with visitors able to explore the huge exhibition at their own pace and spend as much time at every exhibit as their heart desires. During one visit, a studio employee spoke about a girl who spent 12 hours on the tour and came back the very next day. What was the reason? She had not had enough time to have a proper look at everything the first time.
One of the first places the visitors arrive at is the cinema – a fitting location, as the films are the main heroes of the story. There, in a short film, the main trio of the Harry Potter world – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint – speak about what those ten years in the studio and the Harry Potter world meant to them. When the film is over, the screen is lifted and… the door to the Great Hall is unveiled. This is a proper goosebump moment as it means you are in Hogwarts!
However, this is just the beginning; when the door opens, we rightfully step into the Great Hall. To save space, only two of the long tables have been kept, but at the end of the hall the mannequins of the most famous teachers of Hogwarts are ready to greet us. The Great Hall is the only room with a time limit; guests can spend 10–15 minutes there as the next group is already on their way in.
Once the exploration of the Great Hall is over, the tour shifts into a higher gear. In this exhibition, everyone can find a piece from their favourite Harry Potter film – you can marvel at the beautiful outfits of the Christmas Ball, peek into the Gryffindor common room, have a look at Snape’s potion cabinet, drop by the cosy home of the Weasley family, stare at the Triwizard Cup and the Goblet of Fire, step into Dumbledore’s office and much more. Be ready to want to take photos of everything, and know that you can!
There’s a big focus on the work of the technical department – they were the ones who made us believe there’s a world full of magic behind an invisible curtain. All questions on how this or that was achieved will be answered. It is so exciting to find out that Mrs Weasley’s self-knitting needles are not a just jumble of pixels on the screen – lots of things have mechanics, trickery and true creativity underneath. How can you not believe in magic when you see a ladle in Snape’s office mixing up the contents of the cauldron by itself?
Every Harry Potter fan’s knees will go weak once they arrive at Kings Cross station platform 9 ¾ where the Hogwarts Express awaits. All of it seems as real as ever since there’s steam coming from the engine and the train whistles from time to time, inviting the pupils of Hogwarts to get on and head for their new school year.
The tour is contained in two soundstages, and one of them is devoted to the technologies used in the films. The examples of animatronics leave an unforgettable impression – you can hear the scream of a small Mandrake, get scared of the aggressive Monster Book of Monsters that wants to bite your hand (luckily, you’re separated by a glass wall) and recoil on realizing that the feeble Lord Voldermort doll seems to be breathing. As on the whole tour, it is crystal clear – the true witches and wizards in this story are the artists and other behind-the-scenes people that help the magic come alive.
A visit to Diagon Alley is another stop on the tour, but the emotional climax is the moment we actually arrive at the school of magic. The last substantial exhibit is a huge and extremely detailed model of Hogwarts. This is the place where Harry Potter always felt at home the most, and this is the feeling the tour instils in the visitors – everyone is welcome at Hogwarts.
The visit to Hogwarts that puts you on an emotional high is followed by a cunningly calculated last stage – the tour ends in the gift shop. Everyone has to cross it, and only the strongest willpower will help you leave the store without buying anything. There are countless trinkets to choose from, and you’ll want to spend all your Muggle money on souvenirs – blow it all on Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, if not anything else.
By the way, Butterbeer is available for tasting on the tour, but this could be the one thing that seems somewhat underwhelming as it is simply lemonade topped with a layer of delicious foam. And this drink will hardly warm you up like the one Rowling described in the books.
Without a doubt, there are lots of people who want to visit Hogwarts and the other magical locations – there are lots of Harry potter fans out there and their numbers won’t go down, so this visit must be planned ahead. J.K. Rowling’s world gets bigger every year, and the new films of the Fantastic Beasts franchise which is closely linked to Harry Potter are filmed here in Leavesden as well. For now, fans of Newton Scamander won’t have much to look at on the tour – as we’re not even half way through the plan of five films and all props and sites are actively used, just a few outfits from Fantastic Beasts are exhibited on the tour.
Most likely, in a couple of years’ time, the studio tour will be extended to feature the Fanstastic Beasts. Even now, visitors are treated to surprises on the regular – the Forbidden Forest is a recent addition to the permanent exhibition where everyone can meet Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Aragog the Spider. Themed attractions are also a frequent occurrence – the Great Hall is decorated for Halloween with carved flying pumpkins, and in the winter, Hogwarts is covered in snow and Christmas decorations. This just means you want to go back to the Harry Potter world in Leavesden time and again. And Harry will be happy to welcome all of us.
Text: Līva Spandega,