What if you could take a walk down Diagon Alley? Well, you can! I did, and it was a thrill. Warner Brothers Studios just outside of central London opened its doors on March 31, 2012 so that fans can experience the world of Harry Potter up close and personal.
I took the train to a nearby town, and double decker buses were right outside the station waiting to take us to the studio. Once inside the exhibit, we were shown a film in which Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson (who played Harry, Ron, and Hermione) talked about the family atmosphere on the set and the great talent of the artisans who created the sets and artifacts we were about to see.
Well, they weren’t kidding. The sets, costumes, props, masks, and animatronics on display were a tribute to the many designers who brought author J.K. Rowling‘s imagination to life. As I walked through the various sets and exhibits, I was continuously inspired by the creativity and skill of these people behind the scenes. Their attention to detail was, without exaggeration, staggering, and everyone involved with the films clearly took great pride in their work. Books were inscribed inside, for example, and each box containing a wand in Olivander’s was carefully created, labeled, and stacked. In Snape’s potions class, dust was deliberately placed on the bottles.
The first set you see during your self-guided tour is the Great Hall where the Hogwarts students ate their meals. It’s just as big as you would expect it to be in real life, and it’s still a “hot set,” which means it’s ready for shooting.
You’ll also see the cupboard under the stairs where Harry slept at his aunt and uncle’s house, the inside of the Burrow where the Weasley family lived, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor boys’ dorm room, Hagrid’s hut, the Ministry of Magic atrium, and more.
While not all of the sets still exist – some were built and torn down, as there’s only so much space on a film studio lot – Warner Brothers has left many intact. These sets and exhibits take up a great deal of room, but the ka-ching factor makes it all worthwhile. They will rake in an unfathomable amount of money from visitors, not just from admission sales but from the gift shop. They sell just about every Harry Potter-esque item you can imagine, from relatively inexpensive chocolate frogs to wands to sweatshirts to games to costume replicas that cost in the neighborhood of $150 U.S. and up. If your pockets are as deep as your love for the world of Hogwarts, you can walk away with just about anything you want.
Artifacts include the life-sized chess pieces from the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the flying car and the giant spider model (Aragog) used in the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and a multitude of costumes, wands, books, brooms, masks for characters like the goblins, and models for characters like the house elves from all of the movies.
For me, one of the most impressive works of art is the model of Hogwarts castle, which was used for many of the exterior shots of the school. The model is miniature but quite large for a model and exquisitely detailed. I walked all around it and took many photographs. In the image that follows, the people standing below it give you an idea of the scale.
Another of my favorites of the tour is the animatronic creature named Buckbeak, which was featured in the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The beast actually bowed to me as I approached it, and it looked so real that I could have easily convinced myself it was alive. The filmmakers wanted to make it easy for the young actors to believe, and I’m sure they accomplished that goal.
On the grounds of the studio lot outside the indoor sets, you will find two buildings from Privet Drive, including the home of Harry’s aunt and uncle. You will also find the Hogwarts bridge, the Knight Bus, the house where Harry’s parents lived and were murdered, and the gravestone where Voldemort attacked Harry in the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Even with all the wonder around me, Diagon Alley was still by far my favorite. The designers purposely made all of the buildings slightly askew, which gives you a feeling of being off balance. You’ll either hate it or love it (like me). As I strolled down that street (also a hot set), it was like entering a fantasy. All I needed was Daniel Radcliffe to stroll with me, our wands in hand. Of course, in this fantasy, I would also go back in time and become younger to even out our ages. But … ahem … maybe this is a separate fantasy that’s better kept to myself.
After completing the tour, I felt enormously humbled and overwhelmed by the amount of work that went into the films. You could spend hours looking at each item and set closely, but the average amount of time spent on the tour is three hours.
If you’re in London and you’re a Harry Potter fan, visiting Warner Brothers for this tour is an absolute must. You won’t be disappointed. You must buy your tickets in advance, however; no tickets are sold on site. Visit the Warner Brothers UK website for tickets and information about how to get there. And while you’re in London, check out Platform 9-3/4, which has been added to King’s Cross train station in honor of the books and movies.