Harry Potter Studio Tour Review
Thinking about going to Warner Bros. studio London for The Making of Harry Potter tour, but not sure if it's worth the rather expensive price or what to expect? Having visited there myself, I can tell you with certainty that the studio is an absolute must-see for every Harry Potter fan. And as for what to expect... Read my Harry Potter studio tour review for lots of useful tips, from booking your tickets to getting there and making the most of your experience. It's everything I wish I had known before going!
Buying tickets to Warner Bros. studio tour
In order to visit the Harry Potter studio tour, you must book your tickets in advance. Having a ticket is a prerequisite for being allowed on site, so you can't just show up and hope to be admitted. The tickets are timed, and visitors are grouped according to their timeslot and let inside at regular intervals.
When it comes to booking tickets, you have two options:
Buying tickets from the Warner Bros. website and making your own way to the studio. The pro here is flexibility - you can spend as much or as little time visiting the Harry Potter studio tour and leave whenever you feel ready. I have read very varying accounts of how much time people have ended up spending at the studio, so it's tricky to know in advance just how long you will want to stay for. However, with this option, it might not always be possible to get a ticket for the date you want, especially if booking at relatively short notice (and when I say short notice, I mean the next month or two).
Going through a tour company and getting a package of entrance tickets + bus transfer from Central London. The pro here is not having to worry about train + shuttle bus times, as you know exactly what time the bus leaves that gets you to your booked entrance slot. I also found availability of the package tickets to be a lot better than the tickets on the WB website. Picking this option does make it more expensive though, plus you are less flexible with your time at the Harry Potter studio tour.
Tip: If you decide to book on the Warner Bros website, but can't see any availability for your dates of visit, don't feel forced to book the bus package straight away. When I was booking our tickets, I discovered that availability changed every day and suddenly dates became bookable that had previously shown as full. So I kept checking, and, eventually, a slot opened up that worked for us. Of course, there's no guarantee that this will happen, but it's worth a try anyway.
Travelling to Warner Bros. studio from London
Warner Bros. Studio is located in Leavesden, which is quite a long way away from Central London. The best train station is Watford Junction, as there's a free shuttle bus from here arranged by the studio that ferries the guests back and forth at regular intervals.
If you decided to opt for a package of ticket + bus transfer, then not much to plan for you, as you will be driven straight to the studio. The tour company will give you the details of where the pickup point in Central London is. From what I've seen, the majority of pick ups are in the area of Victoria station, but there are a few other possible pickup locations, like King's Cross or Baker Street. All you have to do is find your way there, and also be at the collection point at Warner Bros Studio at the right time after completing the tour.
I chose to make my own way to the studios. The first part of the journey was taking the train from Euston station to Watford Junction. You can use an Oyster card or contactless for this journey, as Watford Junction is inside the London transport network. The trains are quite frequent and the journey time is around 15-20 minutes, and you can check the schedule in advance for your travel date.
The trickiest bit for me was figuring how to time arrival at Watford Junction, so that the wait for the shuttle bus would be minimal. The Warner Bros. website doesn't have a fixed timetable, instead saying that the buses run "at least every 30 minutes from 9.20am". Now, I don't know if they run more frequently, but I planned my timings based on 30 minute intervals, and there was indeed a bus there at that time.
The bus station is right next to the train station and it's easy to identify which stop the shuttle bus leaves from. You have to show your Harry Potter tour ticket to be able to board. Once you're on the bus, it will take another 15 minutes or so to get to the Warner Bros. Studio, during which you get shown a short intro video.
Tip: If you are travelling to Watford Junction using an Oyster card or contactless, make sure you keep your eyes open for where to tap in at Euston station. Usually, there are gates to pass through, where you use your card or ticket to open them, but the platform that we were assigned didn't have these gates in operation on entrance. There was a single tapping point pretty high up, which we completely missed, as it was hidden by the crowd of people streaming onto the train. So then we had to ask staff where to tap in, run all the way back up to do it and run back down to get on the train, which we almost missed as a result.
On the way back to London, there is a screen in the cloakroom area of the WB studio that counts down the time until the next shuttle bus. That's where it all went a bit wrong for us. We exited when it said the shuttle bus would be leaving in five minutes and queued up at the collection point. However, the only shuttle bus that came dropped off the passengers from Watford, and then went and parked up at the charging point instead of picking us up. So we waited and waited, and the queue got longer and longer. There were only a few seats towards the very front of the queue under the small bus shelter, whereas everyone else had to stand the whole time. Plus, there is no screen at the bus shelter that tells you when to expect the next bus. I don't even know how long we stood there for, it certainly felt like an eternity, but when a shuttle bus finally arrived for the trip to the station, there were so many people waiting that not everyone managed to fit onto the bus, even though they allowed people to stand on the top deck, which is normally prohibited. I really hope the people who had to remain behind didn't have to wait 30 minutes for the next shuttle...
Arrival at Harry Potter studio tour
Whether you come on a tour bus or the shuttle bus from Watford Junction, you get dropped off in the parking lot of the Leavesden studio, from where you walk a short way through a wand alley towards the building entrance.
At the entrance, there are bag searches in operation, so be prepared for a short wait as the security men go through everyone's bags. After completing that, you end up in a very large lobby, with the digital guide station and cloakroom right by the entrance, plus as you walk further in, there are several cafes, toilets, the studio souvenir shop, as well as the queueing point for starting the tour.
Cloakrooms are free to use and will take bags and coats. If your visit is during the colder time of the year and you come wearing a coat, be aware that though most of the tour is indoor, some of the sets are outside, so the cloakroom attendant recommended keeping our coats on.
If you arrive with time to kill before your entrance timeslot, you could do your Harry Potter souvenir shop straight away and then leave the shopping bags in the cloakroom, so as not to carry them around. The souvenir shop is very large and has lots of different categories to choose from:
My tip: definitely get the souvenir guidebook! You can pre-buy it when booking the tickets at the Warner Bros. website, in which case you will get a voucher to show to the cashier. You will still have to pick the book up in the shop and queue up with the rest of the shoppers, so there is no advantage of pre-booking vs. just buying it when you get there. The book is a lovely memory and is put together in a great way, with lots of photos and interesting bits and bobs to know about each set. I love mine!
I opted for pre-booking digital guides as well, so we picked those up on arrival. You don't have to pre-book and can also decide to just pay for one on arrival, and it's the same queue for both. To be honest, my tip for you is to skip them. I thought the digital guide experience wasn't very cohesive with the exhibition. There is TONS of extra information on the guide, with many videos and photos, so you end up having to spend a lot of time standing around looking at a tiny screen rather than the exhibits. I found it rather overwhelming and time-consuming. There were a few extra bits on the digital guides we found interesting, like the talk about how the child actors were schooled during the filming, but by and large, we felt the actual sets and the information displays at the exhibition were more than enough to have a great experience. Plus, about halfway through the tour, my guide decided to give up the ghost. By that time, we'd given up on using them anyway, so it wasn't a big deal.
Food and drink at Harry Potter studio tour
For our visit, I booked the Warner Bros. studio afternoon tea in the Food Hall before starting the tour, and I can highly recommend it. The Food Hall is in the lobby area, so you can visit here either before or after the studio tour.
I'll be honest with you, I wasn't expecting much in terms of taste and quality as it's such a popular tourist destination, but the food was really excellent and the service very friendly. There were sandwiches, savoury pastries, sweet pastries and scones. The visual highlight was the golden snitch choux, which I stupidly forgot to take a close-up photo of... Not only was everything delicious, but, compared to what you pay for afternoon tea in Central London, I felt it was great value for money as well (£70 for 2 people when we visited in February 2023).
We went for a traditional afternoon tea, but there are also vegan and gluten-free options on offer. The portion size is generous and it's very filling, but if you can't finish everything there and then, the staff can put the leftovers in a doggy bag and even store it for you until the end of your tour.
During our session, there were quite a few tables still free and there was a sign inviting visitors to ask about the afternoon tea, so it might be possible to be spontaneous and get a spot on arrival, but booking in advance is of course a more certain way to guarantee access.
I was also really looking forward to a break in the Backlot Café, which is located about midway through the tour. By that time, we were ready for a small rest after walking around for so long. The coolest thing about the Backlot Café is of course the famous butterbeer. Unfortunately, the queue was out the door and there weren't any free tables to sit at either, so we had to pass. That means I still don't know what butterbeer tastes like... *sigh* Therefore, my tip for you - if having a taste of butterbeer is a non-optional activity during your Harry Potter studio tour, be prepared for waiting, and you might have to drink it while standing too.
There are actually two queues in the photo above, one is for food + butterbeer, and the other one, on the right hand side, is for just butterbeer. Both queues were long and only got longer.
There are more cafés in the lobby that you can visit before or after the tour, but I didn't use them, so nothing to report here.
What happens during the Harry Potter studio tour?
The first (short) part of the Harry Potter studio tour is led by staff. After everyone has gathered for the current timeslot, you are ushered through the first few rooms as a group, with some staff announcements plus a video during those. The last staff-led room is the Great Hall. Here, you are given some time to take photos, after which you have to leave the room, as the next group will be coming along shortly. You can't come back to that first part of the tour afterwards.
After the Great Hall, you are no longer linked to your timeslot group and can explore the exhibition at your own pace, however quickly or slowly you want to do it. You can also double back if you want to see something again. There are members of staff around in case you have questions about any of the sets, but there's no guide assigned to your group. If you do want a guided tour of the Harry Potter studio, you might want to look into their deluxe tickets.
Most of the sets are visible to everyone. What I mean by that is that you are naturally walking through them (Forbidden Forest, Gringotts, Diagon Alley) or by them (Gryffindor and Slytherin common rooms, Dumbledore's office etc.) as you go through the studio tour. And my oh my is there a lot of awesome stuff to see and learn. The amount of detail that goes into making each of these sets is absolutely incredible! I don't want to give too much away, but here are a few photos to whet your appetite:
As you go through, you learn both things specific to the Harry Potter film franchise and also more generic things about film making. One of my favourite parts was discovering how the goblin masks were made - a truly fascinating and intricate process that is shown through a really well-made video.
Some sets have to be entered to be seen. These are the sets like the inside of Hogwarts Express, Privet Drive and the greenhouse. Because they can only take so many people at once, that results in queues to get in, which means we skipped those. Here's the queue to get on board Hogwarts Express, for example:
Also, the majority of the sets are of the 'you can look, but you can't touch' variety, but there are some very cool free photo ops where you interact with the set, like Hagrid's motorbike, Mr. Weasley's car and Bellatrix Lestrange's vault. There was hardly any queuing needed for those, and the photos turned out awesome. And speaking of which, photography during the Warner Bros. studio tour is not only allowed but also actively encouraged, so do bring along a camera to make sure you have plenty of memories to take home with you.
On top of that, in the green-screen experience areas, you can get transplanted into the Harry Potter world, flying a broom or riding the Hogwarts Express. There is no filming or photography allowed here, except for what is done by the staff. After filming, you can purchase photos or videos, but those come at an additional cost and are yet another thing we decided to pass on. If you do want to take part, there were hardly any people queuing, so you will be able to get your turn quickly.
Another fun part of the Harry Potter studio tour for me was the Activity Passport. The staff will tell you where to pick one up at the beginning of the tour, and then you can collect stamps at various points as well as answer trivia questions. The passport made for a really cool souvenir!
So how much time did all of the above take? I mentioned in the beginning of the post that it seems to be very individual, so I am not sure you can use my visit as a guideline for yours. For us, just the actual tour, excluding afternoon tea, browsing the souvenir shop and things like that, so just walking through the exhibition, took 3.5 hours. And that was skipping all the places with queues and the green screen experiences. There is a lot to take in and time sure does fly when you're having fun!
I hope you found this post useful and that it answered any questions you might have ahead of your visit. I thought that Harry Potter studio tour was absolutely amazing and hopefully you feel that way as well after you see it all for yourself! Feel free to also check out my other London posts to make your stay in the capital even more fun.