I was 11 when I was first introduced to Harry Potter. I had just had my 11th birthday and my best friend's mum had bought me two books, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, knowing there was nothing that made me more content than burying my head in a book. Little did I know when I began reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that I would become so utterly besotted and obsessed with the world of Harry Potter, a book series which has not only remained one of my favourite book series' of all time, but went on to become one of the biggest book-to-film adaptations ever created.
I think it's safe to say pretty much everyone on this planet has heard of, read or seen Harry Potter. It's by far the biggest phenomenon throughout my 27 years, something which has captivated the hearts and imaginations of people of all ages from all over the world. Harry Potter is something I can't wait to introduce our baby to, and I can't wait to start reading them my very own Harry Potter books which have lasted over 16 years already.
Ever since the Warner Bros. Studio Tour first opened back in 2012 it's been somewhere on my 'have to visit' list. I'm sure any Harry Potter fan will agree, that going to the studios where the films were created and being able to see everything for yourself is a pretty massive thing. Last Sunday I got the chance to do exactly that, heading down to the studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, with a friend for a day of Harry Potter fun. I live in the East Midlands smack bang in the middle of Nottingham and Leicester and journey wise, it wasn't too bad. It took us around 1 hour and 40 minutes to get there, using the cars handy sat nav, it's very easy to get to once you get off of the motorway and well sign posted the closer you get. As soon as we reached the last bend and the studios came into sight, I have no shame in telling you that both Charlotte and I let out some very excited squeals!
The studios are incredible. As soon as you arrive you can feel the magic in the air, there's a buzz of excitement from everyone around you and it just feels so wonderful as soon as you set foot in the studios. The Harry Potter films were made at the studios in Leavesden over a 10 year period and many of the now iconic sets, props and costumes for well-loved characters have been kept in pristine condition in the studios for Harry Potter fans like myself to see up close. The studios consist of two sound-stages, a back-lot which is full to the brim with original sets, props and costumes as well as interactive areas for you to create a little bit of your own magic, as well as animatronic creatures and a whole host of special effects.
The tour starts out in the same way for everyone; after queuing up with your time slot, passing Harry's cupboard under the stairs on your way, you enter a screen room where you are introduced briefly to the studio tours by a guide before seeing a short movie on several screens around the room which introduce and explain the Harry Potter phenomenon. The movie is only a couple of minutes long and features short interviews with the team who decided Harry Potter should be adapted from the books to the movies, and the way the Harry Potter craze reached all corners of the earth.
After this you move through to a cinema room; it really felt like a small intimate cinema with very comfortable cinema chairs and a huge screen where you watch another short movie about the Harry Potter movies. This one is more in-depth and is introduced by our 3 favourite Harry Potter characters themselves, Harry, Ron and Hermione. Once this movie is over the screen lifts and you are presented with the doors to the Great Hall - and yes, I felt like a kid at Christmas by this point, it was like we were stepping into the movies! I know it sounds obvious, with the studios being the original sets and full of the original props and costumes, but when you reach those doors you feel as if you could really be at Hogwarts about to start your first year. It's amazing.
Once you're in the Great Hall there's a guide who talks you through everything in the Great Hall, as well as letting you know what to expect as you move around the tour itself. You have free reign to move around the hall as you please, so of course I was going up and down repeatedly marvelling at every last detail of the feast on the tables and the detail in the costumes and house emblems. I was so happy to spot the house point hourglasses, which were tucked away in one corner. The detail on every single thing inside the hall is amazing, things you might not pick up on in the films but when it's right there in front of you, it just looks breathtaking.
From this point onwards, the tour is more of a 'look around and do as you please' kind of tour. Of course, as you would expect, there are notices and barriers to stop you touching any of the sets and props, which is completely understandable. It's not the usual protocol to keep sets and props from movies and so it's incredibly important that they are kept in pristine condition for the tour to even exist. There were a lot of people on our tour and visiting the tour in general, and everyone was being super careful not to touch anything - even when it was really tempting! There's also some lovely tour guides situated throughout the tour who can answer any questions and give you more in-depth information about certain sections and features of the tour.
The tour is split into sections. After the great hall you enter a humongous room filled with props, costumes and the real sets used in the films; everything from Hagrid's hut to the Weasley's kitchen, to the office of Dolores Umbridge and much, much more. There's costume areas where you can see the costume wardrobes of different characters as well as makeup stations which look as if they have been left on pause, with the products and notes for each characters look. The attention to detail is mind-blowing, in every single prop and set - I was literally left in awe the entire time! There's cases and cases full to the brim with props of some of the most iconic moments in films, including the Philosopher's Stone and the Golden Snitch to name just a few. It's honestly just incredible being able to see everything in person, it takes the movies and Harry Potter love to a whole new level.
Another section of the tour is Diagon Alley, which was one of the most exciting parts for me. I'm not sure why but I expected this section to be outside, but it was actually inside. I'm pretty sure I am not the only one who wishes they could have gone shopping in Diagon Alley and seeing the shops face-to-face was just wonderful! This was by far the most magical part of the tour for me and I could have happily spent hours inside each shop, if that had been a possibility. Of course in reality there is railing to stop you going into the stores and touching the stores themselves, but the magical and exciting feeling that Harry would have felt on his first visit was still there; the excitement in this section of the tour was electric.
Another incredibly exciting section, and the newest addition to the studio tours, was the Hogwarts Express and station platform, which has more props and sets as well as a station shop. Seeing the Hogwarts Express up close and personal like that really brought out the kid in me, reminding me of all the years as a kid I used to wish Hogwarts was real, so I could get my ticket and board ready for a new school term.
The only outdoor section of the door is back-lot, where you can see famous sights such as Privet Drive, The Knight Bus and Harry's parents house, Potters Cottage. This is also your chance to take a taste of Butterbeer, something I personally absolutely loved, although I know many people find it a touch too sweet! I would have loved to have spent more time in this section of the tour but unluckily for us and typical of UK weather, it was raining and so we were pretty quick in having a look around as we hadn't come prepared for rain. Up until this point, if you're anything like me and spend ages looking at everything, the tour takes around an hour to get to this point so it's really handy that you can get some refreshments, both hot and cold, in the cafe situated just beside the outdoor section of the tour.
The final sections of the tour are, for me, some of the most interesting. Although they are not as 'cool' as seeing the sets, props and costumes close up, it shows the tremendous amount of time, detail and sheer hard work put into every single aspect of adapting the books to movies. You can see the replica small scale sets, the initial ideas before the most memorable and well-known aspects of each film was created, everything that started from the drawing board. It's fascinating seeing the intricate detail that goes into everything, and the incredible talent that comes from the hard-working teams behind the cast who we all know and love. The tour ends with a perfect example of this, in the form of the Hogwarts Set, which was unbelievable and completely awe-inspiring. It felt emotional walking into that last room as seeing this huge and incredibly detailed Hogwarts, which was used for all the aerial shots in the films. It's honestly something else entirely.
Depending on what time of year you go, there is usually a specific theme going on at the studios. For our visit the current theme, which is running up until September 6th, was 'Sweets and Treats'. A theme which has been at the studios all summer (so perfect for the school summer holiday visits), it's the first time the studio's have had the theme which focuses on how the food, both real and replica, in the films was created. Not only can you buy a whole host of the sweet treats on offer in the two gift shops throughout the tour, but you can also see some of the amazingly intricate sweet props up close as well as speaking directly to the makers of the sweet treats used on set and in the films, with a few fascinating demonstrations as you move around the tour. You can find out more about Sweets and Treats as well as the upcoming themes throughout the rest of the year, here.
Of course, one of the most exciting parts of the day was at the very end, when we reached the Studio Shop, which you can also shop online here. I spent a small fortune on sweets and chocolates and souvenirs, which I will be sharing in an upcoming haul - so keep an eye out! I also plan to get a few things from the online shop towards Christmas, as so many things available would make such lovely Christmas gifts for Harry Potter fans, as well as a few more things I'd quite like to treat myself to, too. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable day, and lovely to bring home a little bit of the magic I had experienced whilst there.
You can find out everything you need to know about how to get there, what's on offer, extras for the tour such as digital guides and souvenir books, as well as full ticket pricing and tour information on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour website.
*I was kindly invited along to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour as a guest.
All views are entirely my own - Disclaimer