In June of 2014 my family spent a month traveling through Spain and London. Each week I’m highlighting our individual destinations, giving you tips on traveling with kids and sharing some of the best things we discovered. You can find previously published travel posts on my Travel Page. You can find all the photos from our trip on my flickr page.
If you have two kids that are both smitten with all things Harry Potter, you can’t very well take them to London and not pay a visit to the place where all the movie magic began. And so one of the very first things we did after booking our flights to London was to buy tickets to The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden (about 20 miles northwest of London). Needless to say, the kids were more excited about this aspect of the trip than any other, and will tell you that it was the best part of the entire vacation.
All eight of the Harry Potter movies were made at the Studios, which gives you an amazing and unique opportunity to not only walk where the actors walked, but to see the movie sets first hand. Beyond that, you are treated to an astounding collection of film props, costumes, artifacts, art and graphics, as well as intimate looks at special and creature effects. Like the movies and the books, the studio tour is done to perfection.
You begin the tour by watching a short movie about the making of the films. Once that is done, the movie screen disappears and you find yourself walking into the Great Hall. You get a short speech here, and then you’re set free to explore the rest of the Studios at your leisure. There is so much to see and do, with lots of interactive stations to keep younger fans happy.
About halfway through the tour you can explore some of the bigger props and sets outdoors, including an exact replica of 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, and the Weasley’s infamous flying car! You can also grab some butterbeer if you’re thirsty.
We all audibly gasped when we walked into this room, featuring the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts that was used for filming many of the exterior shots in the movies.
The end of the tour has you walking through the gift shop, of course, but it’s home to some of the coolest Harry Potter merchandise you’ll ever find. Elena found a Ravenclaw shirt that was making its first appearance in the shop that day. She loved the idea of having a Harry Potter shirt no one in the States had yet! Eli took home his very own wand. Elena got hers at Universal and he’d been envious of it ever since. (Funny story – Mike was in charge of bringing it back to the States, and it was the only thing he got pulled aside for at customs! They were very suspicious of it and thought it was a weapon. A weapon of the dark arts, perhaps! Thankfully they let him bring it home.)
Part of me wished I had let Mike and the kids enjoy this together while I stayed in London and visited a site or two they weren’t particularly interested in (Hello, Westminster Abbey! I’m coming back for you!). I’m one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t read the books yet. You see, all these years Harry Potter has been something very special between Mike and the kids. He’s read the entire series aloud to Elena, and is working through them again with Eli. It’s kind of their thing, and I want to let them have it all to themselves for as long as possible. I have seen the movies, though, and so from that aspect the tour was very interesting. As much as I would’ve liked some extra time on my own in London, I can’t help but be grateful for being able to tag along on this Harry Potter adventure. Seeing the joy in their eyes, watching them take it all in together, and having the opportunity to capture those special moments as the fourth wheel was certainly a blessing. It truly is a special place for any Harry Potter fan, and if you can fit it in your itinerary you won’t regret it.
Tips for Your Visit
Tickets: You must purchase your tickets ahead of time. You cannot buy tickets at the Studios. If you’re staying in London, you are looking at a bit of a commute to get to the Studios (about an hour and 10 minutes from central London), so keep that in mind as you purchase your tickets and choose a time of day to visit.
Getting There: Many, many thanks to Mackenzie for giving us the lowdown on how best to get to the Studios if using public transportation instead of driving there yourself. I’m simply repeating what she told us, which worked perfectly: