Updated: April 22nd, 2018
This post contains spoilers — but you should’ve already seen these movies by now, DAAYUM.
I remember the first time I heard about Harry Potter. It was 1997 and I was a freshman in high school just tryna keep my Tamagotchi fed. My friend was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (as it’s known here in the Muggle States of America) and was telling me all about it. She suggested I check it out and I suggested she never tell a soul she’s reading a book that thick… about WIZARDS!
Now, she’s a grown up, kicking ass and saving the world as an officer in the military with two adorable children and I’m over here in my Slytherin scarf eating jelly beans that taste like boogers.
I just… I don’t… READ BIG BOOKS KIDS!
If only I had known how things would turn out back then, back when all I really wanted was a goddam CD burner and a copy of the Space Jam soundtrack. Did reading the big books about kid wizards set my friend on a life path towards greatness? Did taking the “Do you have too much attitude” quiz in Seventeen Magazine tell me anything I didn’t already know?
In my opinion, Harry Potter is clearly good for one’s overall health and well-being–I just wish I had picked it up ten years earlier than I did, before Carson Daly had taken over as mayor in the part of the brain that controls the DUHHH factor.
DO THIS, NOT THAT // HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR
Now, I’m just a fan (a total Pott-head, if you will)–however a big one–looking in from the outside like a dementor through a train car window. Just like Dumbledore and his pensieve, I’m standing over here facedown in a bird bath trying to figure out what went wrong with that promising kid in high school. However, it’s not all bad because I recently took a Harry Potter Studio tour in London and MY FRIEND DIDN’T. To quote her text message on the subject last night, “So jealous ☺.” So there, 50 points to Slytherin!
Seventeen Magazine was right–I do have too much attitude. (And Jared Leto is totally crushable right now!)
DON’T WAIT TO RESERVE YOUR TOUR.
First things first, you need to reserve a spot on a tour and you need to have done this like yesterday. The Harry Potter/Warner Bros. studio tours book up MONTHS in advance so everyone grab your time-turners and go defy all the laws of muggle physics in the name of fandom.
As soon as you have even conceived the idea of traveling to London/Leavesden, head here and choose your time slot. If there are ten or more of you, head here for group tickets. And while you’re at it, pat yourself on the back for knowing all of ten people who will accompany you on a Harry Potter studio tour. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Pre-booking tour tickets online is the ONLY WAY to take a Harry Potter studio tour. You can’t just Slytherin on whichever day you choose. They do not accept walk-ins. They do not sell tickets on site. They also don’t send your confirmation letter via owl so there’s definitely room for improvement on their part.
- Main site: Warner Bros. Studio Tour, London
- Location: Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR ⇠ If you’re the kind of person who will be driving your own car there, then you’re also the kind of person who understands this nonsense. If not, I made this map for you.
- Hours: They open at the close, obviously.
- Tickets: My ticket (as a singular and questionable “adult”) cost £39.00. If you have children or are part of a family, you have a crap-ton more options to consider. Go here for that info.
- Accessibility: Totes accessible! Check out the Harry Potter studio tour’s accessibility guide here.
DO BOOK A TOUR AS EARLY IN THE DAY AS POSSIBLE.
As much as I’ll stress this point to you, I must not tell lies…
Unfortunately, I didn’t have MONTHS advance notice and had to take the only spot that was open, the second to last tour of the day (which, by the way, is different almost every single day. IDK, WTF WB?) And though I wasn’t actually, I definitely felt rushed. Perhaps it was my own sense of terror that they would close and I’d be trapped in there and–wait a minute, that would be freaking AWESOME! I’d sleep in the Gryffindorm and use the cloak of invisibility as a robe in the morning… I’d hit up herbology class, maybe sample some Gillyweed… all while wearing Snape’s wig of course.
Regardless, something like 700,000 props were made for the Harry Potter films (the actual figure could be closer to 70,000? I’m a horrible note-taker. Either way, it was costume-os maxima.) and many, many of those are on display on the Harry Potter studio tour. In short, there’s a lot to see so don’t be stingy with the espresso (patronum).
They say the average tour lasts about three hours but that the longest someone ever spent there was thir. teen. hours. (coughNERD) The earlier in the day you go the fewer people there will be and the better chance you have of breaking the 13-hour record because there’s nothing else to see or do in London. Just absolutely nothing.
But while three hours seems like a long tour for anything, it definitely isn’t enough time. I would have preferred to have gone first thing in the morning and taken my sweet ass time looking at creepy goblin heads and making the Weasley’s yarn knit itself some more. For real though, I cast a spell.
DO WATCH ALL THE MOVIES BEFORE YOUR TRIP.
You wouldn’t take a comprehensive, three-hour exam without cramming in all the material one last time, now would you? You’d never show up to class having not reviewed material you haven’t seen since the 25 Days of Christmas Harry Potter movie marathon on ABC Family. You’ll need to re-familiarize yourself with all the facts and figures, the sets and storylines, the characters’ names (some of which I still don’t know; I just call them all “that-one-who-must-not-be-named-’cause-I-don’t-know-it.”) and your elementary Latin for Charms class.
And I don’t care how many times you’ve seen these eight movies, there is still going to be stuff on your Harry Potter studio tour that you have never seen before. The fact that there are eight movies is another reason you need months of advance notice. We’re grown-ups; we have lives now. (Seeing how much stuff you can put on top of your cat before he wakes up totally counts, right?)
DON’T FORGET TO FULLY CHARGE YOUR CAMERA BATTERY.
…or better yet, bring a backup.
I thought my camera battery had enough juice. This was before I knew about the 7,000 things I’d rather die than not have photographed. I made it only as far as the invisibility cloak before my camera visibly croaked. Did I cry? No. Did I want to. YES GODDAMIT. You know how serious we nerds take our nerd-dom!
I figuratively kicked myself for not having completely charged it that morning–a mistake I’ll never make again. This point will explain why some of the photos in this post are great and some are clearly (unclearly) products of the craptastic low-light photographic quality of a cell phone.
It does not do to dwell on dead camera batteries and forget to actually look at shit.
DO START YOUR JOURNEY AT THE EMBANKMENT UNDERGROUND STATION.
To get from London Central to Leavesden where the Warner Bros. studios are located you’ll need to take the nearest Underground to Euston station. From Euston, you’ll take the Overground to Watford Junction where you’ll then take the Harry Potter studio tour shuttle to, umm, the Harry Potter studio.
Now I can’t speak for the other Underground stations, but should you begin your journey to Leavesden at the Embankment underground station (located just off the Strand near Trafalgar Square) your train will LITERALLY BE ON THE TRACKS BETWEEN PLATFORMS 9 AND 10. Life. Complete.
DON’T FORGET TO PRINT YOUR EMAIL CONFIRMATION.
From the train station at Watford Junction you’ll need to hop on the don’t-worry-you-can’t-miss-it Harry Potter studio tour shuttle bus. This ride will cost you £2.50 and THEY SAY you’ll need a copy of the email confirmation you received after booking your tour MONTHS IN ADVANCE, right class?
I don’t remember showing the driver my confirmation… but I also don’t remember the difference between 700,000 and 70,000 (it may have been 17,000?). Just stay on the safe side and bring your printed email confirmation that disappointingly did not arrive shooting violently down through your chimney.
DO SIT AT THE FRONT OF THE SHUTTLE AND PRETEND YOU’RE ON THE KNIGHT BUS.
Because you’re obviously a huge nerd and huge nerds love to have fun and pretend we’re actually in places more magical than a world where The Bachelor is a thing. Plus you’ve never been on the upper deck of a bus with TWO DECKS. It’s like, the scariest ride ever and not unlike Harry’s trip to the Leaky Cauldron. (That’s in London.)
Your days of trying to be the cool kid are over. You’re not fooling anyone anymore; you’re on a Harry Potter studio tour of your own volition. No one put a loaded wand to your head and forced you to be here. Embrace your fandom! Represent your Hogwarts house while you’re here. Make friends (or in my case enemies) and prepare to be publicly called out if you’re representing Slytherin.
Don’t know which Hogwarts house the Sorting Hat would choose for you? Let me help.
- COLORS: Sliced your hand open with a bagel knife red / Mustard yellow
- CHARACTERISTICS: the internet tells me that Gryffindors are brave, chivalrous, daring, valiant, courageous — ALL MEANING THE SAME THING. Gryffindors are clearly also resourceful when it comes to thesaurus use.
- MY THOUGHTS: The obvious, popular choice. Everyone wants to be the “Carrie.”
- GRYFFINDORS YOU KNOW: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley for some strange reason, that know-it-all, teacher’s pet bitch from high school.
- COLORS: Your hipster neighbor’s kale smoothie green / Voldemort’s face gray
- CHARACTERISTICS: Cunning, determined, ambitious, resourceful, accomplished, innovative
- MY THOUGHTS: I look good in green and I’m a natural blonde. I also put kale in my smoothies.
- SLYTHERINS YOU KNOW: Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape, Samantha Jones, freaking the Dark Lord himself, that guy who pretends to hold the elevator door open for you but actually pushes the “>|<” button then says “Oops” as it shuts in your face.
- COLORS: Yeah, uh-huh, you know what it is, black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow — Siriusly black, that is.
- CHARACTERISTICS: loyalty, tolerance, patience, hard-working, friendly, dedication
- MY THOUGHTS: Badgers? We don’t need no stinking badgers!
- HUFFLEPUFFS YOU KNOW: Cedric Diggory, Don’t-Call-Me-Nymphadora Tonks, Charlotte York, Wiz Khalifa, Milton from Office Space
- COLORS: Tardis blue / “I’ll take the lot” gold
- CHARACTERISTICS: Wisdom, intellect, cleverness, sharp-mindedness, logic, creativity
- MY THOUGHTS: You must suck at Quidditch.
- RAVENCLAWS YOU KNOW: Luna Lovegood, Ollivander the wand guy, Miranda Hobbs, that kid at the spelling bee who snaps and throws a tantrum on stage after misspelling the word “onomatopoeia.”
Expellicoatus! (DON’T PASS UP THE FREE COAT CHECK.)
You know what? I’m just going to call it a “cloak room” for the time being.
I actually missed this completely after entering and bolting straight for the tour line. Because of this I ended up wearing my full coat and scarf (like I was going to take that off) for the entire (quite warm) tour. I would’ve loved the opportunity to prove that I was actually wearing clothes under that coat. Peskijacket pesternomi!
When you enter the building, the line for your tour is straight ahead and the gift shop is to your right. I actually don’t know what is to the left but I know there’s something over there. Also to your right is the cloak room that you’ll never see–not because it’s a cloak room of invisibility but because all you care about it the cupboard under the stairs directly in front of you.
The coat check is free and they’ll also hold your shopping bags if perhaps you’re early and the magnetic pull towards the gift shop is just too strong to resist.
DO SIT IN THE FRONT ROW OF THE THEATER.
After you’re admitted to your tour, you’ll enter a room where they’ll show you a tiny, what’s-the-point-of-this production in a crowded room. Following that you’ll watch a much grander production in a much bigger room. This is the theater. You’ll want to be in the front row of this.
After you’ve watched all eight Harry Potter films… heh, kidding! After the short film they show, the screen will ascend into the ceiling as if by magic and you’ll be face to face with the doors to the Great Hall. You’ll want to be in the front for this because entering the Great Hall is freaking magical.
How are we going to get in the front row if there’s already so many people? Well, I guess we could politely– NO. Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to go all George Costanza-at-a-child’s-birthday-party and straight up shove little kids and grandmas outta the way for this. Prepare to throw dem ‘bows. Ascendio to the front of the line, snitches!
DON’T BE HASTY IN THE GREAT HALL.
This is the only part of the tour that is guided because sometimes even “adults” need supervision. It’s also because after so many minutes, it’s the next group of tour-takers’ turn to experience the magic of entering a completely empty Great Hall. However, you don’t need to leave until they make you so don’t just breeze through and continue on. Take your time checking out the room and all the props but, most importantly, hang back until everyone else is gone so you can get photos of the Great Hall without all those strangers and their snot-covered companions in them. (I will trample you in the case of an incendio spell, walker or no walker.)
DO GEEK OUT AS HARD AS YOU WANT – YOU’RE FINALLY AMONG YOUR PEOPLE.
Your coworkers and family members don’t get you. Most of your friends don’t either. They think it’s weird when you tell them “Thanksssss” and when you burst into the cafeteria at work shouting, “Troll! In the dungeon!” They know you’re talking about your boss yet don’t find it funny in the least.
But finally, here you are. Nerd Mecca. Surrounded only by fellow pilgrims and the people they dragged there with them against their wishes. You’re among people that GET IT. People that you don’t have to explain every prop and every set to. People who won’t judge you for popping a squat right there on your tour… in front of the Mirror of Erised. And just sitting. They’ll probably wish they’d thought of that.
One of my horcruxes is my freak flag and I’m gonna let that sum’bitch fly!
BUT WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T CRY.
Tears of geek joy. Tears of I can’t believe I’m actually here. Tears of what do you mean you’re all out of elder wands!? Try to control yourself. I mean, you’re still an adult… out in public. Have some self-respect. Unless you’re still crying about Dobby–that’s OK because 😭 😭 😭!!!
Arresto Momentum! (DO TAKE YOUR TIME.)
There is so much to see on the Harry Potter studio tour–something like 7,000,000 props or whatever. I’m done trying to remember. It’s like someone put a goddam Gemino on the place. There’s not just one of this or that, there are 800 of them. And YOU NEED TO SEE THEM ALL. You need to examine every inch of the Burrow and especially Professor Umbridge’s office. Like, did you know the brooches she always wears have floofy little cats on them? Riddikulus!
There is so much detail that went into all 12 billion props and sets, most of which you would never, ever know of without taking a Harry Potter Studio tour and seeing it all up close. At the same time, it’s all so thrilling that you’ll want to just run through it like you’re being chased through the forest by a million spiders. Really try to take your time and absorb everything. Check out the labels on the flasks in potions class. Look at all the Harry Potter artwork in the design studio. Read all the placards to learn movie-making secrets. Apparently they have no problem with you extending your tour to equal the length of all eight movies combined. With commercials.
DON’T KNOW WHAT SOMETHING IS? DON’T WORRY, 10 PEOPLE AROUND YOU WILL.
I love the Potterverse but for Fawkes sake, I can’t remembrall the names, all the places, all the spells. I still have no freaking clue how Quidditch is played. I got 99 problems and a snitch is one.
When I got to the Gryffindor boys’ dorm I couldn’t remember who owned the trunk with the initials DT on it. All I knew is that he was recently #underthesheet and it was a VERY. BIG. DEAL.
Finally, I turned around and asked a kid behind me. Before I even finished my question she yelled, “Dean Thomas!” (Clearly a Ravenclaw…)
Seriously, what does a place like this even need tour guides for anyway?
DO DRINK THE BUTTERBEER!
Some people think Butterbeer is… weird. Personally, I love anything with the word ‘beer’ in it.
Butterbeer is kind of… cream soda-y? Butterscotch-y? It’s definitely unlike anything you’ve ever had before. But besides being delicious, it’s also a huge part of the Harry Potter experience. I’ve had Butterbeer a handful of times at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal in Orlando, Florida so I already knew I’d be all ERMAHGERD, BERTERBERR!
They offer a few different sizes and even a souvenir mug — which I already own that’s just as much fun to drink real beer out of.
For fun (serious Friday night aspirations) I just looked up a recipe for Butterbeer and learned it’s made from six ingredients: cream soda, butterscotch syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, butter and heavy cream. So… was the Warner Bros. production team just like, “OK, guys. What’s the closest we can get to actual crack?”
DO PLAN ON A RETURN VISIT.
Despite all my warnings, you are still going to miss SO MUCH. People are going to ask you, “Did you see the [thing]? Or the [other of the 7,000 things]?” and you’ll be both pissed and surprised to know that thing was even there in the first place. Speaking to EVERYONE BUT the girl who spent 13 hours there, there’s just no muggle way to see everything on the Harry Potter studio tour.
Like when you watch and re-watch the movies, do you not notice something each time that you had neville noticed before? I do this ALL. THE. TIME. I’m always, “I swear to God that scene wasn’t there last time!” (As if Saturday afternoon TBS is actually showing the raw, uncut version that no one else has ever seen or something…)
As soon as my tour ended my first thought was, “Shit. I need to go back through all that again.”
After all this time?
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