Fans of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter book series know that Harry is “the boy who lived.” Harry Potter definitely lives on at “Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter,” where fans get a close-up look at magical beings, artifacts, and sets from the Harry Potter movies. Here, ten things not to miss at the studio tour.
1) Dumbledore’s Office
Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, the headmaster, retreated to his quiet office for studying and peace. Located in one of Hogwarts’ highest towers, his office housed hundreds of books (which are actually British phonebooks covered in leather), alongside astrological trinkets such as telescopes and star charts, a nod to Dumbledore’s fascination with the skies. Keep an eye out for the Memory Cabinet where the headmaster kept his memories and those of others. It’s filled with more than 800 tiny, handmade, and hand-labeled vials next to the Pensieve. Eagle-eye visitors will also spot the Sorting Hat and the Sword of Gryffindor, which are situated in the office, too.
2) Diagon Alley
Although Muggles (those without magical powers) couldn’t access Diagon Alley in the books and movies, they can finally get a glimpse of it now – without knocking on the special brick three times inside the Leaky Cauldron. Check out Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes shop, a three-story orange storefront with a 20-foot mannequin above the entrance, where Weasley twins Fred and George designed products reflecting their love of trickery. Be sure and see Ollivanders wand shop, home to more than 17,000 individually labeled wand boxes.
3) The Great Hall
When J.K. Rowling took the studio tour and saw the Great Hall, she said it was like “walking inside” her own head. The Great Hall (at capacity, it can seat 400 children) set the stage for many bountiful feasts at Hogwarts. Today, you can walk on the actual solid stone floor and admire the wooden tables, crafted for the films and aged with chain and axe marks. (Who got that job?) Look for graffiti carved in the tables by Hogwarts pupils (aka child actors) throughout the years – they were encouraged to make their mark by production designer Stuart Craig.
4) Forbidden Forest
Hippogriffs, unicorns, Acromantulas, and other peculiar creatures live in the dark, hazy Forbidden Forest. Here, you can see one of Rubeus Hagrid’s original costumes on display, and walk beneath towering trees where the studio can change the weather like the filmmakers did. Watch out for a full-size Buckbeak (make sure to bow to him), and don’t get scared when you come face to face with Aragog, the Acromantula with an 18-foot leg span who appears before visitors with his spiderlings.
5) Gryffindor Common Room
In one of the series’ oldest sets, Harry, Ron, and Hermione plotted out many of their adventures. Portraits on the walls represent the Gryffindor Heads of House, such as a young Professor Minerva McGonagall. See Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, one of several made for the films – some cloaks had green fabric lining to allow the visual effects team to create the sense of “invisibility” on screen. Walk up the spiral staircase to see the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory, with Harry, Ron, and Neville’s original beds. You might notice how small the beds are – filmmakers had to get crafty with camera angles as the boys outgrew their beds.
6) Potions Classroom
The Potions Classroom contains roughly 500 potion jars, each with its own unique label. Look for props like baked animal bones from a local butcher shop and dried herbs. Inscribed on the archways you’ll see the English and Latin names of potions, selected from ancient alchemy recipes.
7) The Backlot
The Backlot is home to exterior sets like Number Four, Privet Drive – home of the unbeloved Dursley family who raised Harry. Check out the 22-foot tall purple shape-shifting Knight Bus from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was created from pieces of three old London double-decker buses. Two versions of the bus were built: a motorized, working one, and a stunt version that spun on a turntable.
8) Platform 9 ¾ and Hogwarts Express
Harry Potter himself doubted its existence for a brief moment, but Platform 9 ¾ is real at the studio, now available for us Muggles to see. Most of the track scenes were shot on location at King’s Cross Station in London, but the station platform was created on a soundstage for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two.
9) Creature Effects
On set, the Creature Effects team made magic to create the sounds of squealing Mandrakes, or the giant serpent Basilisk. They also created the makeup effects for characters such as Griphook the goblin and the Dark Lord himself, Voldemort. Throughout the series, the team made hundreds of creatures and detailed prosthetics, including a life-size version of Dobby (the Malfoys’ house elf) and three animatronic (lifelike robot) versions of Fawkes the Phoenix.
10) Hogwarts Castle Model
Building the model for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry took time and enormous effort – 86 artists worked to capture every single tower, courtyard, and turret of the castle for the first film. The team would later add and enhance effects for the final movie. Artists installed more than 2,500 fiber optic lights, which mimic lanterns, torches, and students walking the halls. They used real gravel for rocks and boulders, and live plants for landscaping and trees. If you add up the actual labor hours that went into its construction, the sum totals more than 74 years.
**Tickets for Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter are available at www.wbstudiotour.co.uk and must be booked in advance. Tickets are not available for purchase on site.
Your travel advisor can work with one of Virtuoso’s on-site connections to craft a customized England [or U.K.] tour that includes tickets to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, along with visits to real-life filming locations such as Leadenhall Market and Millennium Bridge.
All photos by Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter.