Hogwarts in the Snow is a must see for any avid Harry Potter fan or anyone with a keen interest in cinematography. The Warner Bros Studio Tour has been on my bucket list since it opened and last month I finally got a chance to visit. I grew up with Harry Potter, counting down the days until the next book or film release and desperately awaiting my own Hogwarts acceptance letter. Alas, my letter must have got lost in the post but that didn’t stop me fully getting lost in the magical wizarding world every evening I could. My dad would pre-order me a copy for release date which I would usually have read cover to cover in a matter of days, desperate to find out what Harry, Ron and Hermione had been up to on their next adventure.
We weren’t planning on visiting until next year but we both had holiday to use up at the end of November and on a whim I checked to see if they had tickets available for one of the days. We managed to bag two afternoon tickets to visit the award winning tour during the Hogwarts in the Snow event which is running from Saturday 17th November to Sunday 27th January 2019.
For the studio tour tickets must be booked in advance online as there is no option to purchase upon arrival. Although they do nearly always sell out a few months in advance make sure you keep checking back because they often have last minute cancellations crop up. Tickets are currently £43 for an adult and £35 for a child with children under the age of 4 going free (although you will still need to reserve a ticket for them). The tickets are completely non-refundable but you can alter the date of your visit for a £10 administration fee. For the Hogwarts in the Snow event there is no additional cost, simply visit within the dates above to see the Great Hall and many other iconic sets transformed for the festive period.
When checking out you are given the option to add on the paperback souvenir guidebook (£9.95) and the audio visual guide (£4.95) but we opted for neither. The tour is self guided but we found there was enough information throughout and so the audio guide wasn’t necessary plus the staff dotted around provide inside facts and knowledge should you ask them. If you do decide later on that you want to add either of these options, you can purchase the audio guide on the day of your tour from the booth next to the cloakroom and the guidebook is available in the gift shop right at the end.
The tour itself is based in Leavesden Studios in Watford which is about 20 miles north-west of London and less than 3 miles from the M1 and M25. If you are driving the studio offer free parking, you just need to show your tickets at the entrance and you will be directed to a space. If you are travelling on public transport the nearest railway station is Watford Junction which has a direct line to London Euston taking around 25 minutes on the direct train. Watford Junction is actually in Zone 8 so make sure your travel-card covers this zone to avoid being scolded at the barrier.
Outside the front of the station you will find the studios shuttle bus which you really cannot miss. The buses run every 20 minutes with the journey averaging about 15 minutes traffic dependent. Purchase your tickets for the shuttle onboard with a single for £2 or a return for £2.50, make sure you have put some cash aside to cover this though as you cannot pay using debit or credit card. The last bus back to the station is at 6pm for the final tour of the day at 3pm. There are some days when the tour is open later and so the buses run later.
The shuttle bus drops and picks you up directly outside the tour so you don’t have to worry about finding your way to the entrance or walking far if its raining. On arrival you will find two options to collect your tickets; either queue for one of the staffed windows or use one of the automated kiosks. They advise you should plan to arrive about 20 minutes before your allocated start time to allow plenty of time for ticket collection, security checks, restroom breaks and visiting the cloakroom. There is a free cloakroom where you can leave your bags but as part of the tour is outside they advise you keep any coats, scarves etc on your person during the colder months.
When booking your ticket you have to select a timed entry slot – spaces are limited in the studio so they stagger the entries in order to manage the amount of visitors throughout the day. Your allocated slot gives you a half an hour window on which to join the tour. Take into account the line can get very busy during peak season and on weekends so make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare as you don’t want to be rushing and worrying about missing your slot or miss a chance to gawp at Harry’s cupboard under the stairs. Although you have to enter the attraction at a specific time, there is no limit on how long you stay so its better to book onto an earlier tour so you can spend all day exploring the many different sets and studying the hundreds of props – especially when the Hogwarts in the Snow event is on and everything feels even more magical. Most people spend around 3-4 hours on the tour although you could spend even longer because there is so much to see.
the tour itself
The tour starts off with a brief introduction and a short film about the history of Harry Potter. You are then led into a larger, cinema room where you will watch a slightly longer film touching on all 8 of the films with cast interviews and behind the scenes snippets. Once the film is finished the screen lifts up to reveal the doors to the Great Hall itself which were used in 6 of the films. This is the only part of the tour where your time is limited as there is a speaker so you want to try and squeeze in first to get pictures before it fills up or hang back at the end when everyone starts to move on.
For Hogwarts in the Snow The Great Hall has been transformed to resemble the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The tables are lined with one of Hogwart’s many festive feasts and the stage has been laid out with snow-topped Christmas trees, an orchestra of magical instruments and the iconic Yule Ball Glass decoration. Throughout the year the displays are updated in the Great Hall to reflect the season but seeing the glass Yule Ball display is truly breathtaking. Once you are done taking in every detail the speaker will give you some background about the Great Hall before ushering you on your way to start the rest of the tour.
The rest of the tour offers visitors the chance to explore two soundstages and a backlot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures and breathtaking special effects. I don’t want to give too much away to spoil your visit but the first soundstage features many of the iconic sets, props and costumes featured throughout the film series. Wander through the Gryffindor Common Room, Snape’s Potion Classroom, Dumbledore’s Office, The Burrow and many more while marvelling at the thousands of props used throughout the sets. All the paper props used in the movie were handwritten and you can really see the sheer amount of attention to detail that has been undertaken on every single piece used in the films. Take a stroll through the Forbidden Forest if you dare before arriving on Platform 9 3/4 to behold the Hogwarts Express in all its glory.
This marks the halfway point where you can grab a bite to eat or a rest room break before heading outside to explore the backlot. You cannot eat or drink on the tour itself but you can bring your own food to eat at the cafe or in the outside area located halfway through the tour. The Backlot cafe offers a range of hot meals or quick snacks from sandwiches to burgers to hotdogs plus you’ll have the opportunity to grab a much deserved Butterbeer! A frothy, non-alcoholic drink which is very, very sweet and similar to butterscotch in flavour. You can purchase in a souvenir tankard to remind you of your trip or pick up a Butterbeer ice cream if you would prefer a more indulgent option. I really enjoyed the outside part of the tour because you can really get up close to the sets! Take a wander through 4 Privet Drive and see the hundreds of letters, hop aboard the Knight Bus or take a ride on Hagrid’s Bike.
The second soundstage features more detail into the making of the film than the actual props and sets themselves. Here you will find more information about the special and visual effects, the creature effects and the technical drawings and scale models. You can see the development of every single creature featured in the films from goblins to house elves to werewolves. Follow the soundstage round and you will end up in Diagon Alley itself complete with Olivander’s, Flourish & Blotts and Weasleys Joke Shop. This was hands down one of my favourite parts of the tour and I could have spent hours admiring all the different shop fronts and interiors. The final part of the tour leads you into a large room with a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts standing at centre stage. I was so overwhelmed with the sheer size and the beauty of the model you really did have to stop to catch your breath. The model was used throughout the films and if you stick around you can see the lighting change to show you how the castle looks during both day and night. The attention to detail of this hand crafted masterpiece was second to none, so it is no surprise that this is the jewel in the crown of the art department. If you visit during Hogwarts in the Snow you will see this breathtaking model dusted with a coat of filmmakers snow.
The tour ends in a replica wand shop featuring thousands of individually labelled wand boxes each marked with the name of someone who worked on the film which really demonstrates the sheer size and amount of work that goes into creating the films. From the moment the curtain first went up you truly feel like you have stepped inside the magical wizarding world and experienced a little bit of magic for yourself. I cannot wait to go back to experience it all over again and to see what else I can discover. Don’t miss out on a chance to see Hogwarts in the Snow for yourself because it truly is mesmerising.