I’m not a Potter Head. I haven’t even read all seven books. But I still think the Harry Potter Studio Tour is a must-do for even the most casual fan. Or even if you’re only interested in Harry Potter as a phenomenon of modern British cultural history. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at something completely British that’s gone global to Beatlemania proportions.
There are many dramatic moments on the tour, starting with the grand opening of the doors to the Great Hall set. When I saw the Gryffindor common room set, with its shabby furniture and rugs, and cozy fireplace and blankets, I wanted to go back to school just to stay up until 2 a.m. talking about books and philosophy. But my favorite was near the end, when you turn a corner and see the magnificent Hogwarts Castle model, built for the first movie, much bigger than I imagined and lit to dramatic effect.
But before you get there, you’ll meet plenty of “Interactors,” who will quickly become your favorite people. I encourage you to pepper them with questions. They love it. They are obsessed. I talked to one who claimed he had seen every one of the eight movies 50 times each. So why does Harry’s appeal endure? “At the heart, it’s a story of growing up, and no matter where people come from or what their background is, people can relate to this,” said Interactor Jack. Another Interactor named Lauren told me, “Harry Potter is a reminder of the values in life that we all wish to have: love, friendship, and good winning over evil.”
Here are my tips for getting the most out of the tour.
- Allow at least three hours, plus more for a Butterbeer break. When I heard the tour would take three hours, I recoiled a bit. Three hours? I’ll do it in two, I thought, faster than all the slow people. But really, you’ll want more than three hours to properly enjoy and see everything, plus sit down for a pint of Butterbeer or a cup of Butterbeer ice cream. (They say it’s “reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch” and appropriate for kids and adults.) The two cafes outside the tour itself are also worth a coffee break, if only to admire the giant dinosaur-sized creature in the first room from different angles.
- You can’t miss the big attractions. Diagon Alley, the Great Hall, Platform 9 ¾, the Forbidden Forest, Dumbledore’s Office, Privet Drive, and more: you can’t miss the biggest, splashiest sets as you wind your way through the enormous soundstages. You join a big group at the beginning according to your ticket time, are shuffled through together past Harry’s cupboard room set, and through two different videos to amp up the excitement, and then you can take the rest of the tour at your own pace. The enormous Gringotts Wizarding Bank is the latest jaw-dropping set to be added, toward the end of the tour.
- But you’ll find the quirkiest, lesser-known attractions by talking to the Interactors. I was admiring Hermione’s famous Yule Ball dress when an Interactor appeared behind me. “Emma Watson was so nervous on the day of filming that when she arrived in costume, she took two steps and fell over,” he said quietly, his voice full of empathy. You look at her gorgeous dress a little differently. Then I asked him, “What is the most expensive single item on set?” Without missing a beat, he said, “Probably the telescope in Dumbledore’s office, followed by the titanium broomstick.” I probably would have missed the broomstick but went and found it after talking to him. Other fun tips that might lead you in a different direction: Daniel Radcliffe broke 80 wands while filming, 38,000 pieces of rubberized treasure were created for the Lestrange vault including 7,014 Hufflepuff cups, and the Gryffindor boy’s common room is decorated for Christmas with cards that the actors wrote to each other during filming.
- You’ll need time in the shops. Even if you buy nothing, it’s part of the fun to look through hundreds of Harry Potter items. The biggest shop is at the end, but there are also two shops worth browsing in the middle of the tour: the Forbidden Forest shop and the Platform 9 ¾ shop. Both offer items that aren’t available anywhere else. I bought several packs of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs, perfect gifts for Potter Heads. Interactor Jack’s top three souvenirs are a personalized notebook from the Platform 9 ¾ shop, a Nimbus 2000 broomstick, and an Elder Wand; Interactor Lauren picks the Defence Against the Dark Arts for beginners notebook for its “amazing design,” a philosopher’s stone, and a Slytherin cloak as her top three.
Travel advisors can book through these approved partners, as well as through certain preferred luxury on-sites. The Deluxe Tour is recommended for extra VIP guests or anyone who wants a more in-depth, personally guided tour. Book far in advance—ideally months, but at least six weeks.