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Warner Bros Studios – Harry Potter Film Tour

Warner Bros. Studios
Where? Warner Bros. Studios Tour, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden · Web: Opening times? During school term (Mon-Fri): 9.30 AM to 8 PM; During school holidays and weekends: 8.30 AM to 10 PM; Closed (2nd week of Nov); Last entry 3-3½ hours before closing; Note: These times are a rough guide as they vary from week to week - check their website first Visiting hours may change Price? Adults £49.95; Children £39.95 (5-15); Infants free entry (under-5); Family ticket £159.00 Entry charges may change Time required? A typical visit is 5-6 hours (including travel time to/from london) Trains: Watford Junction Train fares

Craig’s review… Harry Potter had it easy because all he had to do was catch the magical Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross station, but in real life you have to catch a twenty minute chug from Euston and follow it up with a packed-out shuttle bus. And instead of ending up at a Neuschwanstein-like castle in the mountains you end up in… Watford.

The train ride isn’t the prettiest in the world. It’s all car parks and out-of-town shopping centres. It’s all power lines and dreary terraced housing. And then you get to Hogwarts… sorry… I mean Watford. Don’t bother having a look around Watford for chrissakes because that will be a total waste of time – just jump straight on the shuttle bus that will be parked up outside the station and get the hell out of there. You can’t miss the bus because it’s plastered with pictures of Harry Potter.

If you’ve got any delusions about being able to walk it from the station then forget it – it’s this busy shuttle bus or nothing. My bus was immediately heaving with people and fifty of them didn’t even get on. We just drove off and left them standing there to wait for the next one whist we started a long drive out of town standing shoulder to shoulder with someone’s armpit in my face, with excited kids jostling and telling their mothers they couldn’t see, or needed a wee, or asking how long would it take to get there.

Warner Bros Film Studios

The studios look like a big film lot, or giant airplane hangers, and right inside the front door is the world’s biggest Harry Potter gift shop. Obviously it’s all incredibly expensive, but that’s to be expected in a place like this.

The queue is snaking halfway around the grounds and is filled with visibly excited kids and adults. There’s a sweeping film score blasting out of the speakers and I’m actually quite looking forward to it now. Let’s hope the inside lives up to the build-up.

Once you’ve made it through the queue you’re herded into a little cinema with two hundred other people where you watch a big budget intro compered by Daniel Radcliffe. But here’s the exciting thing… all the time you’re watching it you’re very conscious of the fact that you’re sitting inside a film studios, and given that the room is very boxlike and bland you’ll have just a single thought in your head: what are they hiding behind the wall?

I was hoping the entire cinema screen would fall away and reveal a monumental film set behind… and it did! The guide invites you down from your seats and creaks open the heavy double door to reveal the Great Hall beyond – the exact same one that they used in the movies. As you’re walking around the Hall looking at all of the props and costumes the very excitable guide continues to jabber on at a million miles per hour. Luckily she doesn’t accompany you beyond the next-door so you can enjoy the rest of the place at your own leisure.

Film sets from Harry Potter movies

The next room is a vast hangar-like space filled with thousands more props and costumes and original film sets. Highlights include Hagrid’s forest hut, the Gryffindor common room, Professor Snape’s potions classroom and Professor Dumbledore’s desk full of dusty tomes and old oil paintings of long-dead wizards hanging on his walls.

They’ve got a few interactive exhibits and plenty of TV screens dotted around explaining how all the special effects worked, but they’re quite technical and seem to be aimed at the adults.

Harry’s house in Privet Drive

After that you head outside for some exterior sets where they’ve got Potter’s cottage and Harry’s house in Privet Drive (both full-size) and the rickety old wooden bridge that led everyone up to Hogwarts. You can even have a look around the purple knight bus.

Then comes a big exhibition of silicon masks and animatronics and blaring TV screens explaining how they created all of the faces. I thought this was a bit boring to be honest (especially for the kids) because it’s like a big technical lesson on modern-day movie making, but if that’s what you’re into then you’ll probably love it.

Walk along Diagon Alley

Next up is another highlight: a full-sized version of Diagon Alley with Gringott’s Bank, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and Ollivander’s Wand Shop. You can’t go inside any of the shops unfortunately… all you can do is press your nose up against the coloured glass and sneak a peek at the goodies within.

Then it’s back to movie-making school again with a gallery full of architectural plans and conceptual art. As I’m writing this I’m thinking there’s no way a little kid is going to be interested in this – even adults are strolling past without giving it a second look. It’s surprising how much serious stuff they’ve included in the studios, I reckon it’s probably split 50-50 between things that will interest kids (big props and monumental sets) and educational programs that are better aimed at adults.

Wizard’s School at Hogwarts Castle

The final room contains a gigantic model of Hogwarts Castle about fifty-feet across and when the room darkens down you can see all the little lamplights twinkling in the windows.

And that’s it. Then you get herded through the shop again so you can spend a bit more money.

It’s definitely worth a visit, but it’s basically just a lot of static sets, props and costumes, plus a few documentary-like movies about the film-making process. A lot of the sets are satisfyingly huge but they don’t actually do anything. All you do is stand there and look at them. So whether your kid will enjoy that or not, I will leave that up to you to decide.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… . If you’re a Harry Potter fan then you’ll want to have your photo taken next to Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross station (yes, it really exists!), and there’s a little Harry Potter shop nearby as well

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

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Your comments and questions

Sarah Hi, what is the best route from Raynes Park to Harry Potter studios? Many thanks.

Craig Hi Sarah. You need to get a train from Euston to Watford Junction (then catch the Harry Potter shuttle bus to the studios). So I would go from Raynes Park to Waterloo first, then catch the northern line to Euston.

Jim Hi Craig. It sounds like a long day, what is the quickest you can see it? My wife and kid are Harry Potter fans but I don't want to waste a whole day on it. What are the chances of getting there and back by the afternoon and still having time to do something in the afternoon. We're only in London for three days

Craig Hi Jim. Including the travel time from central London you'll be lucky to be there and back inside five hours. I always say five to six. The place is absolutely huge, it's not like walking around a museum. They are film set size, like airplane hangars. I think you'll enjoy it though. I'm not a Harry Potter fan myself but some of the sets are very impressive. And there are plenty of good places that stay open late in London, like the London Eye and Shard, so maybe you could save them for later

HG Can you buy tickets there or do you have to buy before

Craig Hi HG. You have to buy your tickets online in advance, and pick a date and time slot. You're not allowed to just turn up at the door and buy them on the day.

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