Whether or not you're a die-hard Harry Potter fan you can't have failed to notice the opening of London's big new attraction. The Warner Bros Studio Tour, to give it its official name, offers the public the chance to see the sets of the Harry Potter films and uncover some of the secret tricks used in bringing the now-billionaire JK Rowling's books to life on the big screen. So what can you expect on a visit to this much heralded addition to the London tourist circuit? I took a look to find out.
From the outset I should say that I'm not the biggest HP fan. I read the first four books more than 10 years ago and then stopped; I have only sat through a couple of the films. Perhaps I'm not the ideal customer, but with many blokes of my age likely to be dragged along by their kids in the coming years it's probably not a bad idea for the designers of the tour to keep the likes of me entertained as well. I'll summarise my overall impressions here but won't spoil the surprises of the tour by revealing all of its details.
The single element that most impressed me was the meticulous attention to detail. In creating the potions classroom, Hagrid's hut, the boys' dorm and many other sets the designers have gone to extraordinary lengths to create a likeness of JK Rowling's Hogwarts. Perhaps it was a result of the lavish budgets that were at their disposal after the phenomenal success of the first films, but for me it was the single element that made the most lasting impression. The biggest sets (the Great Hall, Diagon Alley and the model of Hogwarts) were the most striking, while I enjoyed scouring the details of the artists' drawings of the models and the displays showing how they were built.
One niggle I had as I passed through the tour was about how well it would appeal to the youngest visitors. There aren't that many interactive elements to the tour and apart from the photo opportunities there are relatively few things that kids can actually play with; not unlike a visit to Madame Tussauds I suppose. The most exciting part for kids is likely to be the chance to ride on a broomstick and have their picture taken, although be warned: the photos will add a hefty amount to the cost of your visit. Similarly the chance to have a taste of butter beer will appeal to many, but at £2.95 for a small plastic cup it doesn't come cheap.
The official literature states that you should expect to spend around 3 hours to complete the tour. We finished in two and we were the slowest of the group who were touring that afternoon. Perhaps a longer visit to the gift shop and a snack at the cafe would have stretched the visit out. When the studios are crowded it will also take quite a bit longer to see everything. The cost of the tour is priced in line with London's most expensive attractions (£28/£21/£83 for adults/children/family tickets). Tickets can be booked to include transfer from central London on the Harry Potter bus. I suspect devoted fans of the Harry Potter films will love the studio tour and will be thrilled at the chance to wander through the actual sets inhabited by Harry, Ron, Hermione and their friends (and mortal enemies). Model makers, movie buffs and techy geeks will also appreciate the opportunity to see some of the very real magic that lies behind the special effects of the Harry Potter films. Given the global success of the Harry Potter story, that should be enough to guarantee that the crowds will keep visiting the studios for many years to come.
Andy Jarosz is a freelance travel writer who also owns the 501 Places travel blog.