The last part of my London adventure, after Oxford, is the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden! I’ve got details on how to get there, what to keep in mind on your visit, and what’s worth doing. As a slightly neurotic, lifelong Harry Potter fan, I hope you find this helpful!
If you don’t want to see spoilers, stop reading now! If you are a parent or elder millennial wondering if the Harry Potter studio tour is worth the money, you’ve already been and you want to relive the memories, or you simply can’t wait until “one day” comes to get a glimpse—read on!
(NONE of this is sponsored. But if anyone from Warner Brothers management is reading this and would like to invite me to a VIP tour, I WILL jump on a plane.)
Yes I am one of those adult fans of Harry Potter
(If you want to skip right to the functional information, skip this part!)
Sarah and I grew up during the peak of Potter mania. From the years the books were published—1997 to 2007—I was aged 5 to 15 and Sarah was 7 to 17.
Sarah discovered The Sorcerer’s Stone first and thought it was just about the most incredible thing she’d ever read. I followed a year or two later. Being two years behind Sarah in age, it was hard for my little kid brain to get past chapter 1 with all the mean Dursleys taking center stage. But on my second try, I realized just how amazing it was. Sarah likes to gloat that she knew what was up from the get-go.
After the first book, nothing was more special than opening our front door and seeing an Amazon book wedged in the storm door. (This was Amazon’s early days when it was just books! Yes, we’re old.) We would scurry over, rip it open on the spot and then disappear into our bed covers until the book had been read cover to cover.
When The Goblet of Fire (4th book) came out, I remember Sarah and I sitting on the couch—she would read it out loud, and I recall being quite scared at the scenes with Voldemort.
A year later in 2001, I remember watching the first movie in the theater as a family. My mom gasped (the whole theater could hear her) when the food magically appeared on the tables of the Great Hall!
Then there were the years when the midnight releases of the books became a huge event, and we were old enough to go. I still remember driving by a Barnes & Noble and gawking from the backseat at the mobs.
While I wasn’t able to get my hands on the fifth book immediately, I remember walking through a ShopRite, badgering my mom to drive me to a bookstore, when I turned to the magazine section and there it was…gleaming among the mass market paperbacks! I snatched up a copy and had to resist the urge to start reading right there.
We waited in a line that snaked through a giant Borders bookstore to get our hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I even got a promotional poster! A day or two later, I was at a gathering with some of Sarah’s friends and very rudely ignored everyone so I could read. I think everyone implicitly understood.
Stories like this are a dime a dozen, of course, but it’s fun to walk down memory lane. And years later, the staying power of Harry Potter really is remarkable.
Warner Brothers, Take my money!
It’s not hard to see why this is. Lol. While I love the books and periodically listen to the audiobook version with Jim Dale’s incredible narration, the movies will always be so comforting.
Half the time, I have them playing in the background while I work, and the first thing I did in uh…March of 2020…sitting alone in my apartment was embark on an extremely thorough Harry Potter marathon of the movies and audiobooks.
Sarah’s always been more of a purist fan, and she doesn’t enjoy the movies as much as I do, but I love them as a companion to the books. So it’s no surprise that I made it a big priority to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden!
The first time I visited was in July 2017, and it was so exciting!!! I didn’t quite know what to expect the second time around, but I’m pleased to report there was lots of new stuff to see!
a glimpse of the Harry Potter studio tour
You can see more live shots of the studio tour in the Harry Potter 20th anniversary special on HBO Max. Many of the spaces they interview in and walk through (e.g., Dumbledore’s office, the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, Gringotts, the Hogwarts Express) are in the tour, as it is very much the place where the movies were filmed!
How to get to the Harry Potter studio tour
From London, we were going from Euston Station to Watford Junction. It’s only a 22-minute ride. Just be sure that you get on the fastest route and not a local train. There’s more info on other transit options here.
As with most train stations around the world, a giant (albeit orderly) crowd stands in front of the departures board eagerly waiting to see what platform they should head to.
My cousin Kim and I are halfway to being old ladies, but a lot of squinting got us through. There was a close call in which Kim thought we should get on what appeared to be a local train, but we ended up looking more closely at the stops and opted for the more direct one.
When you get off the train, it’s extremely obvious where to find the bus to the tour, because there’ll be at least a small gaggle of tourists heading in the same direction (in addition to the many signs). You walk a short ways out of the train station and will see a giant double decker bus emblazoned with Harry Potter.
How can I get tickets?
Here you can find all the available ticket packages. I just got the basic one, and my advice is to book as early as you can, so you have your pick of dates.
We ended up going on a Sunday. On the weekends, the tour is open from 8:30am to 10:00pm. On certain days, the hours are 9:30am-6:00pm and during busy season, they’re open from 8:30am-10:00pm consistently, so check the hours before you book to make sure you have ample time.
We arrived around noon, and stayed until 8pm or so. I think if a super fan were to go on one of the 9:30-6:00pm days—unless you got a top of the morning slot—it would have been stressful and rushed.
Christmas at Hogwarts
Now that I’ve been twice, my next goal is to make it to the tour during the Christmas season.
From mid-November to mid-January, they decorate for the holidays—Hogwarts in the Snow, and have special events like a Christmas Dinner at the Great Hall. They also have festive menu items like turkey, stuffing, etc. at the Food Hall!
Digital (audio) guide
Definitely get the audio/video guide, which looks like a regular smartphone and is very easy to use. It’s full of little clips and behind-the-scenes looks across all of the films from a variety of the actors and crew members, and it’s only £5.25. You can decide when you get there—they have plenty available.
It can be hard to juggle watching / listening to everything while you walk the exhibition halls (it’s packed with good stuff), but it’s well worth it. Try to follow the numbers, as it gets a little unruly if you don’t, but it’s easy enough to go in and out of order.
What you can expect
You can see a map of the Harry Potter studio tour here:
Things start off with a bang—a giant Gringotts dragon greets you at the entrance hall! If there is anyone who thought they were going to walk in and be bored, they’ll immediately know how wrong they were!
The first part of the tour is more theme-park-style guided. You’re ushered into a room, and then the tour begins.
Strictly speaking, I think it is a one-way system, and you’re not supposed to move against the current of people. In reality, it’s only the beginning when you walk through the Great Hall that they want you to keep moving—so you can make room for the next wave of visitors. But after that, no one ever rushes you or prods you onwards.
I won’t say much more about the start of the tour than that, because it is actually super magical!
After the Great Hall is a big area full of interior sets from the movies that is chock full of props.
Basically—if it’s on screen during the films, you see it in the tour. The common rooms, the Burrow, the door to the Chamber of Secrets, the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s Hut, the Ministry of Magic, Gringotts, Privet Drive, the Night Bus, the Hogwarts Express and Platform 9¾—it’s ALL THERE, and it’s incredible.
I loved the common rooms in particular, because all of the little details are incredibly ornate and cozy. See if you can spy baby Ron and Harry in the first picture on the left below!
It was really fun seeing the different eras on display side by side. Who else remembers the first-to-second-movie Draco glow up! I definitely had a crush on Tom Felton as a tween!
Dumbledore’s office is a highlight, and there are delightful props peppered throughout, like the Pensieve and little vials of thoughts. You’ll also run into the Mirror of Erised!
There’s also the potions dungeon, where pots are charmed to stir themselves. There are plenty of special effects like this throughout the tour, and it is truly a delight to see!
It’s super fun to just stand and admire all the little touches, especially on the Burrow set.
I know there’s already a ton of pictures, but please enjoy these detailed close-ups of a few exhibits I thought were particularly cool!
There’s also an outdoor zone—the backlot—where you can see Privet Drive, the Night Bus, and I believe, a new Herbology greenhouse area (this wasn’t opened when we were there, and Privet Drive was closed for updates). There’s also the bridge (notably, from the 3rd, 4th and 7.2th films)
There’s a break here for food—The Backlot Cafe—more on food in a minute.
Toward the end of the tour, after the Backlot, is where you start to get more into the technical aspects of the films. They have exhibits on Creature Effects and Artwork, which is really cool to see.
Throughout the tour, you may run into a few tour guides manning certain installations. They offer little tidbits of information and sometimes do interactive demonstrations. (For example, I saw a special effects demonstration of the machine they built to spit Hogwarts letters through the letter box at Privet Drive.)
Near the end of the tour, they even had production designer Stuart Craig’s desk completely recreated, including a cup of tea. I think it’s safe to say that every Harry Potter fan should have lots of respect for Craig’s instrumental work on the films! There’s also lots of concept artwork lining the walking paths.
The tour ends with a giant “miniature” of Hogwarts castle, while the movie soundtrack plays. It’s truly magnificent, and enough to bring a tear to a Harry Potter fan’s eye.
What to eat at the harry potter studio tour
Here’s an overview of all the spots to eat during the tour. Naturally I’ve dedicated a whole section to this.
If you want more British fare, eat earlier on at the Food Hall restaurant off the lobby, which I think has the best food (based on looking at the menu).
We were eager to dive into the tour, and we arrived at our assigned arrival time, but since we stayed until 8:00pm, we probably could have had lunch first and then eaten at the Backlot Cafe for dinner.
Later on in the day, we ended up in said Backlot Cafe, which definitely skewed more American. We got a hot dog (a Euro-style hotdog, not American), burger, and chili cheese fries, which felt comical being in the UK. It was decent, and we were ravenous, but I wish we had prioritized the British food for lunch before entering the tour.
The Backlot Cafe has butterbeer ice cream, which I completely missed and totally would have tried. The butterbeer itself is a tasty drink to try, but after going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal (in Orlando, FL) I realized I’m more partial to pumpkin juice myself…
Is butterbeer worth it?
If you like very sweet drinks and you want the free promo plastic cup, then yes. If you don’t, it’s better to pass and get a commemorative butterbeer glass flagon instead in the shop.
It has a butterscotch-ish short of taste that is super heavy, and after one sip it gets to be a bit much. If you want to taste it, order just one and share it!
As for the butterbeer ice cream, like I said, I completely overlooked it! It probably tastes like butter pecan ice cream sans the pecans. For reference, the Florian Fortescue’s ice cream at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando was absolutely delicious. What I mean to say is, the franchise seems to take its ice cream seriously.
As for pumpkin juice, it’s more of a refreshing fruity drink (tastes like a more muted apple juice), but it’s also quite sweet. I watered it down to make it a smoother drinking experience.
There are sweet coffee drinks and ice cream in the lobby too, which did seem to have more of a Florian Fortescue energy, but nothing caught my eye, and at that point I had spent a small fortune in the shops and I could feel the ghost of the chili cheese fries coming for me (technically I’m very slightly lactose intolerant hehe…).
The opening hours of the Food Hall restaurant vary, but the Backlot Cafe is open all day. For example, when we exited the tour shop towards 7:30pm, the Food Hall restaurant was very much closed. It’s good the check on the hours early in the day to game plan when and where you’ll want to eat.
If this has put you in the mood for Harry Potter themed foods, the blog Whip & Wander does some absolutely delightful Harry Potter-inspired recipes for the holidays! Check out her reels too!
Photo ops at the Harry Potter Studio Tour
There are plenty of free photo ops throughout the tour. We got these funny ones by the quidditch exhibit and in the Gringotts vault.
At many of the photo stations, there’s a stand for your phone to sit on for the perfect camera angle.
People definitely were chuckling at us as we took a few tries to get the right faces for this photo!
There’s also an entire photo and video green screen area where you can get photos and video of you riding a broomstick through London, Scotland, and Hogwarts.
Let me just say, don’t even think about stepping in front of a green screen if you want to save money, because you will want the photos and video! They are delightful and hilarious.
For example, I was adamant about not wanting to spend on cheesy photos. But Kim wanted to do it, and the guy convinced me to try it out (not in an at all unpleasant, overly sales-y way, but convince me he did). We walked away with the whole bundle. lol.
I framed this picture, and it makes me happy every time I look at it!
shopping at the Harry Potter Studio Tour
There are multiple shops throughout the tour, as you can imagine. Bear in mind, not all shops have all the same items. If you really love something, it’s best to grab it then and there. If you do end up having remorse, though, it is technically possible to ask employees to get something for you from a different part of the tour.
I can’t make guarantees, but I found all employees super helpful in checking on sizing and inventory. One staff member even who walked to a separate, nearby shop to grab something for me. They must have back door shortcuts!
They also had hilarious Hogwarts trunks that you could stuff full of merch for gifts. That was a bit much for me personally, but there were people springing for them, so you do you! You can also get it slightly discounted if you buy a certain dollar amount of other items, so keep that in mind if you have your heart set on one.
I indulged in a chocolate frog, which I’ve never gotten before, because I just can’t rationalize a big hunk of milk chocolate in a paper box when I don’t even LIKE milk chocolate. This tin version, however, was great and came with five wizard cards, which I planned to turn into Christmas ornaments with a hole puncher and some saved ribbons.
Can I get my merch online?
If they don’t have your size in something or you’re tight on luggage space, check the American Harry Potter online shop which has much of the same stuff (but not all).
You can also find merch at the NYC Harry Potter shop on Broadway and 5th Ave.
Is it worth it to go multiple times?
In short—yes. They continually raise the bar, and my visit this year felt meaningfully different from my visit in 2017. There were more sets and vignettes to enjoy, like the Gringotts dragon and Lestrange vault, the Slytherin common room, and the ministry of magic.
Like I mentioned earlier, they also opened a new section that’s meant to be the Herbology green house—complete with interactive mandrakes—which wasn’t installed when I was there.
They also very recently updated 4 Privet Drive. Now I know why it was closed when we visited!
Luckily, I was so thrilled overall that I scarcely noticed. I think they moved certain things around to the main exhibition hall. That’s where we saw exhibits like Harry’s cupboard under the stairs.
There are also different package experiences that you can enjoy like Afternoon Tea and Christmas dinner at the Great Hall (if you can snag one of the few tickets!!!). I’m not yet at that level, but maybe next time I’ll spend more time doing something like that!
After taking the train back to London, we headed to Chinatown for dinner with just enough time to do a little exploring and catch dinner before Dumpling Legends closed!
I hope you found this helpful! Share your HP experiences in the comments! We’d love to hear them <3