London, United Kingdom; Day 4

Yesterday, we visited the West End to see a stage production and talked about the kid’s current obsession with Percy Jackson and the Olympians. But before Percy, there was obsession with Wings of Fire. Before that was Lemony Snicket and his Unfortunate Events. But the big one, the one that started it all, is of course the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So today we did what you can only do in London, we went to see production stages on a studio tour – for Harry Potter.

Everyone was excited to see the sets, props, and other movie magic used in film adaptations of the 7 Harry Potter books. The studio is about an hour away from Central London so the Adventurers hopped on a chartered bus to get there. The movies were filmed over 10 years here and many sets and props were used in multiple films so they were well preserved and for several years have been on view for the public. Needless to say, our kids (and Tiffany) were not the only major Harry Potter fans on site today.

The front door of the castle – and the tour

The tour launches in one of the few sets which appeared in all of the books. The Great Hall is large and very realistically decorated. The center rows of tables were removed to provide additional room for the visitors to wander. When filming, the ceiling was green-screened to give it a bit more height and to add floating candles and other Hogwarts magic but the flagstone floor is quite real and solid and just like you’d find in any other castle.

This tour had a significant number of familiar sets from the films. These two below are recognizable as the Potions Classroom and the Headmaster’s (Dumbledore’s) Office.

They had lovely exhibits of some of their most important props. Here is a glass case containing the wands used by the various characters. Each is fairly distinctive.

The tour isn’t really guided. There is a movie to introduce you to some of the geography of the place but then the rest is divided into two large sound stages which allow visitors to explore at their own pace and to see items of interest to them. There are also a number of ways fans can interact with the exhibits which the kids especially enjoyed.

At the end of the day we surprised ourselves by learning about some sets that were favorites of some Adventurers that other Adventurers had missed completely. It is a pretty vast area and there were a lot of cool things to see. And the kids were so excited to be immersed in this world they love they were struggling to take it all in.

Suaram’s Favorite Set was the Forbidden Forest
Brian’s favorite was the Gringott’s Bank

Tiffany and CreeperKitty were taught some basic dueling techniques from one of the self-described “certified professional Harry Potter nerds”.

Suaram got a chance to pluck a Hufflepuff Cup from a stack of treasure using the Sword of Gryffindor.

There was even a full size train for the Hogwarts Express with a platform too. The kids enjoyed walking through that brick wall pushing their luggage cart.

Between the large studio buildings were some of the outdoor set pieces. There was a pair of homes on Privet Drive. We also saw the purple Knight Bus.

This bridge was used several times as a location for key dialogue.

CreeperKitty drove us in the Weasley’s Ford Anglia. Luckily, he didn’t end up getting whomped by a willow tree.

The kids also got to try Butterbeer – mixed reviews on how well they liked it.

Butterbeer in front of the Burrow

We got to see Diagon Alley which is a bit smaller than you might have imagined. Most of the marble was actually painted wood but this street, like the floor of the Great Hall, were real stone.

In Ollivander’s Wand Shop the tour listed the names of all of the people that worked on the films on the thousands of wand boxes which filled the shelves. We found Gary Oldman’s name (he played Sirius Black) but most of the other names were unfamiliar to us. The number of people it took to bring the movies to life go well beyond the main actors.

The end of course was the giant model they used to film exterior shot of the Hogwart’s castle.

We enjoyed all 4 hours that we were there. The kids loved to see the props for some of their favorite characters. After some shopping and the purchase of at least one chocolate frog, we headed back into the city.

We ended the day with a great treat – Tiffany got to introduce the family to a friend of 20 years who’s been living in London almost that long. Karen was kind enough to come out on a school night to hang out, reminisce and share a couple pints. What a great way to end the day.

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