Harry Potter Studio Tour in London with Kids
The Big Little and I have been reading some of the Harry Potter series for our night time read aloud. He happily fell into the magical world and his pretend play followed suit. Sticks are nearly always wands and he constantly asks for spells to do certain things. So, when we found out we would be in London for his birthday I knew I wanted to take him to the Harry Potter Studio Tour outside the city.
Getting tickets to the Harry Potter Stuido Tour can be a bit of a challenge. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are purchased for a specific date and time. By the time we had figured out our London dates and itinerary the tours for our dates appeared to be sold out. This apparently happens frequently. A percentage of the tickets are given to the companies that sell the transport to the studios. There are lots of theories out there about when unsold tickets are rereleased, but I was too nervous so I purchased the transport ticket combo through Golden Tours.
Our Golden Tours bus picked us up bright and early at Kings Cross Station at one of the bus stops outside the station. We arrived early and popped into the bakery at Kings Cross and picked up some sandwiches, snacks and drinks to take with us. Once on the bus we were given a packet with our entrance tickets and coupons for our butterbeer. The bus ride takes over an hour with traffic. The Big Little sat happily watching the first Harry Potter movie which was playing on the bus. Prior to this he had only read the books. I’m not even sure he knew they were movies, which was ironic given that we were headed to the studio.
The bus drops you off right in front of the studio entrance. We had to get in a rather long line to process through security. Then you head down another long hallway into the main entrance. Here you have access to the gift shop, a coffee shop, a cafeteria and bathrooms. You wait in this main entrance until your ticket time when you are allowed to join the queue.
This line snakes around allowing you to peek into the set that is Harry’s room under the stairs. There was enough going on to keep us all occupied as we waited. Some people had audio guides which they were listening to. I didn’t opt for the guide since I thought it might be too much for the Big Little.
Maybe a guide book would have helped me because the largest problem we had was managing our time in the exhibits. I wasn’t ever sure how much more we had to see so it was hard to gauge if we were moving too quickly or too slowly through the exhibits.
Once you’re at the front of the line you are shuffled into a large room displaying all the movie posters. These posters come to life with clips from the movies and premiers. Then doors open and you are ushered into a movie theater. Here you watch a movie about the making of Harry Potter. It is hosted by Harry, Ron & Hermione. When the movie ends the screen rises up and you see the doors to the Great Hall.
Our tour guide then asked if anyone was celebrating a birthday. My little guy shot his hand into the air, but due to the crowds that had pushed past us he couldn’t be heard. I grabbed him and held him up so he could identify himself again. He was asked to come up and help open the doors to the great hall.
It sounds so silly but I was teary-eyed as he opened the doors to the Great Hall. I had to run to catch up to him as he just walked into the Great Hall as if he had been there a thousand times. Kids are so funny.
You’re given some time to explore the Great Hall on your own. While we were visiting, the movie that was displayed was scenes and costumes from The Goblet of Fire. Apparently, the studio changes the theme movie from time to time.
I could have stayed in this room forever looking at all the props which were perfectly designed down to the littlest details.
Then we were all called to the front where the Goblet of Fire had started to smoke. We gathered around and out floated a piece of paper. Someone picked it up and opened it up to reveal the name “Harry Potter.” The lady turned to our Big Little and handed him the piece of paper to take as a souvenir. Then it was time to exit the Great Hall so the next group can open the doors to an empty room.
You end up in a large studio warehouse of sorts packed with sets. You’re now free to wander around and take everything in at your own pace. There are video screens playing clips and providing information on how certain things in the movies worked. Staff members are at some stations explaining things. There are groups getting live tours. It’s a bit chaotic and I was a bit overwhelmed.
I let the Big Little set the pace though. We wandered around in no real order following his whims to things he remember from the books. It was really fun to see it all come to life for him.
Some full sets are displayed and other pieces of sets are just set around for you to see. Here are photos of just a few of my favorites.
In this area there are a few interactive experiences. There is a large section dedicated to doing a movie of you riding a broomstick. They have 8 stalls or so of brooms in front of green screens. You ride on one and can purchase a video of you riding around Hogwarts. The Big little wasn’t interested in trying it so we bypassed that area altogether.
He was picked to help demonstrate how the brooms appeared to rise up to the wizards in the movie.
Another area shows how movie magic was used to help Hagrid look so big. A combination of forced perspective and changing the size of the tableware makes Hagrid look bigger than everyone else. They are happy to use your camera to take your photo giving it a try.
Then it’s time to walk through the Forbidden Forest. The ground is squishy and it is full of the creatures from the movies. This was the Big Little’s absolute favorite. He is currently obsessed with the illustrated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He bowed to Buckbeak and was amazed when he bowed back. We also ran into Aragog and his family members, but narrowly escaped. This section is dark with lots of strobe lights that might frighten some children. The Big Little though loved every moment.
The next warehouse is all about the Hogwarts Express. The platform and train are all set out for you to take a look. You can pass through the train and peer into the passenger compartments. Each compartment is set from a different movie.
They also have a larger half compartment they used for filming the scenes – it’s wider so you can actually get a camera in there with the actors. You can see this one up close, including the trolley cart!
The platform also has plenty of spots for you to get the iconic Platform 9 3/4 photo. There is also an opportunity to do a green screen of you in a train compartment. Again, the Little wasn’t interested so we opted not to wait in line.
We did spend a few minutes checking out all the fun treats in the gift shop here. The gift shop looks like a store that sits on the platform and specialized mostly in snacks you might want to take with you on the Hogwarts Express.
Then we headed outside. There is a small cafe here and a stand where you can pick up butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream. You should know that this is your only opportunity to get a butterbeer. We grabbed our butterbeers and found seats in the courtyard. We were glad to have packed our lunch as the options there were standard hotdog and hamburger fare.
With lunch finished we took some time to explore the amazing outdoor sets. We walked the Hogwarts bridge, the Big Little even ran down it a few times. These outdoor sets were some of my very favorites.
On the back of the Privit Drive exterior they showed how they created the weathered look of the buildings. I found it completely fascinating. Another little peek at movie magic
Inside Privit Drive is the much instagrammed room fo flying letters.
The next little warehouse you go into is all about magical creatures, animatronics and details. We watched a movie all about the live animals used in the movies. Fascinating. Then we got a peek behind the makeup, the robots and all the little details that made the movies something special. You get to actually see the movie props work and with all the wires running out of them. If Jeff had come with us this would have been his favorite part …and I was so immersed I took no photos.
The next little area was just packed with all the little details. The burnt Black family tapestry looks so real
The hats!! Each one has such incredible character. We had fun picking out our favorite and most beloved.
Then you turn the corner and you are on Diagon Alley.
It just continued to be incredible.
We saw lots of people hurrying through the next section, but we thought it was really interesting. It was a room full of the models and drawings of the buildings. So many different concepts and ideas as they brought J.K. Rowling’s words to life.
The final room is the full scale model of Hogwarts. This is exactly what they used for all those incredible shots of the castle in the movies. The walkway wraps all the way around the castle while descending so you can see every angle of the castle. Little screens on the walkway show scenes from the movies and explain little secrets of the models.
The lights in the room cycle through the day and night. The castle also lights up at night. It was really just so pretty. This is also where your tour ends.
The entrance to the gift shop looks like you’re entering Olivander’s wand shop. The gift shop is totally worth walking through just to see all the amazing Harry Potter themed products they have come up with.
We had fun playing with all the animals as if we were shopping for our own pet. We similarly tried out broomsticks and wands.
Just as we were about to leave we realized the Big Little had lost his birthday button. I inquired at one of the desks and they happily gave him another.
We finished our tour nearly an hour and a half before our bus’s scheduled departure time. Once you leave the tour there is no way to go back inside and really not anywhere to hang out. Instead of just sitting in the crowded cafe near the start of the tour we decided to take public transport back.
It was super simple. You’ll need cash to pay for the bus that runs to the train station from the studio, after that you can use your Oyster card for the remainder of the trip. I just followed the directions from Google to find our way back.
Overall the Harry Potter Studio Tour exceeded our expectations. I wish I had a better idea how to manage my time when we started the tour. I loved every moment of the experience and it only enhanced my appreciation for the films.