Iconic Film Sets and Butterbeer: Does the HP Studio Tour ruin the magic?

Harry Potter Studios Leavesden hp studio tour
Outside the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden
Me and my mum reading to go inside HP Studio Tours! hp studio tour
Me and my mum ready to go inside HP Studio Tours!

Despite living right around the corner from The Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden, my best friend being a supervisor there, and being a decent fan of the whole saga and infatuated by film, it has taken me 2 years to get there. I guess when it’s right on your doorstep it doesn’t seem as pressing to get there.

As you expect, the outside of the studios is pretty industrial looking and it’s similar inside too, but you can’t help getting caught up in the excitement of it all, especially with the kids in our tour group waving magic wands and shouting out spells. After some awkward chattering from the tour guides and a cringy short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talking about their “life-changing” experience, a pair of large wooden doors creak open… to reveal the first iconic set of the tour: The Great Hall.

hp studio tour The Great Hall, complete with goblets and cutlery, as well as a cluster of babbling house elves in the corner
The Great Hall, complete with goblets and cutlery, as well as a cluster of babbling house elves in the corner

I was quite distressed at the non-existent ceiling of floating candles; I guess CGI just doesn’t happen in real life. There’s also something kind of creepy about the Hogwarts professors being faceless mannequins, though I suspect it would be worse if they did have faces.

Inside the Great Hall hp studio tour
Hogwarts professors’ costumes stand at one end of the Great Hall

hogwarts professors hp studio tourThe guided tour abruptly ends in the Great Hall and you are left to wander as slowly as you please through the rest of the rooms of sets and props. One of the first and one that caught my eye was the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore says the mirror shows the “deepest and most desperate desire of one’s heart.”

Mirror of Erised hp studio tour
Me looking into the Mirror of Erised

That’s me, looking in the mirror through my camera lens – can you see it reflecting my deepest, most desperate desire to travel endlessly?

The mirror is followed by the Gryffindor dorm rooms…

gryffindor_boys_dorm hp studio tour
Gryffindor boys dorm where Harry and Ron slept.

Dumbledore’s office… complete with strange Dumbledore mannequin (wasn’t he in the Great Hall before?)

Dumbledore's Office hp studio tour
Dumbledore’s Office… Can you spot the sorting hat?
pensive dumbledore's office hp studio tour
In the corner sits Dumbledore’s pensive, glowing a surreal blue colour

Out on the backlot (yes, there’s an outdoor section, and it’s freezing on a February evening in the UK!) sits Privet Drive, the Knight bus, the Ford Anglia, and, a little bizarrely, the Hogwarts Bridge.

Hogwart's Bridge hp studio tour
The Hogwarts Bridge is a bit out of place in the middle of a big outside lot
knight Bus HP hp studio tour
Me jumping out the back of the Knight Bus

Apparently the Knight bus is constructed out of 3 London buses. They had to add extra weights to the bottom of it to stop it from falling over.

hp studio tour
My mum flies the blue Ford Anglia.. oh, wait…

Out in the backlot still, part-way through the tour, a sign reads:

“One of only two places in the world you can taste butterbeer”

However, the internet tells me Starbucks are selling (read: branding) something very similar. That said, I promptly pulled out £2.95 (stung) and bought a butterbeer. It wasn’t hot, or out of a barrel, and even worse, it wasn’t in a bottle.

“What in this?” my mum asked. The resident house elf, tall and specky in a black HP cap, replied, “It’s a secret recipe. I can only tell you that it has a taste like butterscotch and a hint of shortbread.”

“Is it alcoholic?” I asked (stupid question). “No…”
“It’s not really butterbeer at all then…” I thought to myself before I smiled at the guy, and stalked off over to the knight bus.

Butterbeer stand at Harry Potter studio tours, London
My Mum tries some butterbeer and tells me it’s really sweet, like a cream soda

Fortunately, the rest of the Harry Potter studios tour was better than the butterbeer!

And the tour continues! Onto Diagon Alley, which was so much smaller than you would expect:

Diagon Alley
Me in Diagon Alley. It’s a bit awkward, because I’m a muggle..

And the coolest of it all: the model of the Hogwarts Castle.

Hogwarts Castle model
The Hogwarts Castle model fills a whole room!

I hate to admit that even after seeing all these incredible, iconic sets and props, I still left the studio tour a bit disgruntled. Why? Because the tour ends with you being forced through the tacky, overpriced gift shop selling cheap, poorly packaged chocolate at unreal prices. As with most things in the UK, the tour was expensive (£30 for an adult ticket) and you’re always trying to be sold something for more than it’s worth (without being allowed to barter for it). But I can’t deny that being able to traverse the sets of Privet Drive, the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, as well as see how Quidditch was really filmed, definitely enhanced rather than ruined, the filmic world of HP. In the end, the magic certainly hasn’t been ruined for me. Oh, and finally my hometown of Watford has something to put next to it’s name!

Have you been on the Harry Potter studio tour? Did it enhance or ruin the magic of HP for you?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

6 thoughts to “Iconic Film Sets and Butterbeer: Does the HP Studio Tour ruin the magic?”

  1. I loved HP studios when I visited just before I left for Korea. I have been a hugeeee HP fun since I was 10, and I still can’t get enough of it. I was so excited to get a glass of butter beer (even though it wasn’t alcoholic and came in a plastic cup). I need to make it back again!

  2. I’ve been wondering what the studio tour is like. I just visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando and enjoyed wandering around their recreation of Hogsmeade. However, I thought that visiting the studio and seeing sets might be even better.

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