London: In Which I Take a Trip to Leavesden and the Magic of Harry Potter Comes to Life

I, like all reasonable people, am a huge Harry Potter fan. And so, visiting the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden (about 20 miles from London) has long been on my wishlist. Just one problem: I always forget to book ahead. For years now, every time I visited London, I would remember to check for tickets far too late, and slots for the days of my visit were always sold out. This time around, determined to not make that mistake again, I booked my tickets last summer for a December 31st visit. That was probably way sooner than I needed to, but this time, I was not leaving anything to chance!

Tickets secured, I made my way to Leavesden to visit the Warner Brothers Studios. All the Harry Potter movies were filmed there, and an incredible amount of stuff – sets, props, costumes – was preserved and is now on display. Getting to the studios via public transportation sounds kind of onerous (I took the Tube to Euston station, the light rail to Watford Junction, and a shuttle bus to the studios), but it was actually super easy, and in about an hour’s time, I joined the queue to head into the studios.

The tour starts with a little film featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint reminiscing on the time they spent in Leavesden. It made me a little emotional! Then, a guide escorts you to the doors of the Great Hall, which are shut. The drama builds, and at last, the doors open and you see the Great Hall before you, completely empty of other tourists and looking very majestic. I got chills! It was such a cool moment, particularly since the Great Hall was still all done up for Christmas.

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From that point forward, you’re left to explore on your own. My first impression was just how incredibly detailed everything about the Harry Potter sets is. Take, for example, the tables of the Great Hall: they’re positively filled with things, from elaborate food dishes to place settings to Christmas crackers.

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After the Great Hall, you enter a gigantic room containing bits and pieces from all of the iconic sets. One of the first things you encounter are displays from the Yule Ball – and these were some of my favorite parts of the day. The Yule Ball refreshment table – filled with beautiful crystal goblets – was stunning.

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It was cool to see all the Yule Ball costumes too, from Hermione’s lavender gown….

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To Ron’s frilly dress robes!

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I wandered past a wall of the Hogwarts portraits (and rest assured that the Fat Lady, though not pictured below, was on display too):

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And popped into Professor Snape’s potions room:

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I stopped by the Gryffindor common room, all decked out for the holidays:

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And made my way to Dumbledore’s office, too:

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There were bits of “magic” scattered throughout the sets, from self-stirring cauldrons to Quidditch trophies with twirling tops to the self-chopping knives in Mrs. Weasley’s kitchen:

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There was a section filled with “Dark Magic” sets, some of which were kind of grim (a dummy figurine of the Muggle Studies teacher hanging over the Malfoy’s table….eesh!). And then there was Umbridge’s office, which was just as luridly pink as I expected it to be.

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The Hogwart’s Express was there too, of course. As you walk through the tiny, cramped train, each compartment is decorated in chronological order to reflect scenes from the films. At the end sit Harry and Ron, right next to the sweets trolley!

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As I mentioned before, the thing that amazed me throughout my visit was the level of detail. For example, one of the guides told me that they hand wrote inscriptions on 17,000 wand boxes (!!!) for the films. Is that even possible? The graphics department, in particular, seems to have earned their pay, and I loved the exhibit filled with various bits of graphics created for the films – everything from newspapers to letters to game labels. So cool!

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Midway through, you wind up in a little cafeteria. I paused here to have a butterbeer and, just as I remembered from my visit to Orlando many years back, the whipped cream is delish, while the butterbeer itself is….not so much.

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A portion of the tour is outdoors, on the backlot. There, I found a bunch of the most recognizable sets, including the Knight Bus:

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(Nothing underwater)

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Number 4 Privet Drive:

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The Hogwart’s Bridge:

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Lily and James’s little Godric’s Hollow cottage:

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And the Flying Ford Anglia:

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Next, I walked through Diagon Alley. I loved peeking in all the windows here; continuing the theme of the day, everything was just so detailed!

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The next room was filled with “white card models,” which are basically little replicas of sets used to plan for camera angles. These were so intricate; I can’t imagine how much time it would take to create them (let alone create full size sets for filming!)

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Next was a large-scale model of Hogwarts (it filled a huge room, to give you a sense of size), which was covered in snow for the holiday season. This was – dare I say – a bit magical.

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The last room you come to (before the gift shop, of course) is Ollivander’s, which is filled with thousands of wand boxes lining the walls. Each box bears the name of someone who worked on the film. I thought this was a lovely tribute to all the incredibly hard work that so many people put into these movies.

Hanging on the wall just before you leave is a quote from J.K. Rowling: “The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

I swear that didn’t bring tears to my eyes. Seriously. Not even a little bit. Nope.

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