The character of Harry Potter, the international book and movie phenomenon, is about as British as it gets. So London offers plenty of Potter-themed attractions. Whether you’re just a casual fan wanting to stop by Platform 9 ¾ during your day trip around the sights of the city, or a more hardcore fan ready to sign up for the all-day Warner Brothers Studio tour, this classic city has something for the wizard in everyone.
As a Harry Potter fan on my first trip to London, there were a couple things I knew I had to do while I was there. Upon first arriving at Kings Cross Train Station (home of Platform 9 ¾ and The Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter novels and movies) you’re met with crowds of bustling people hurrying about to catch their trains to cities and provinces all over England. The station has been incredibly modernized over the years, and is easy to navigate, so it didn’t take long to find the swarming corner of the station devoted to Platform 9 ¾. Keep in mind it’s not actually on the real platform (in fact, the movie scenes were filmed on platform 1 and 2, because 9 and 10 are in a different section of the station) but is more like a small homage to the Harry Potter story in a significant landmark in modern London.
Once you get to the “platform” there are two options: a photo op and a gift shop. The gift shop is fairly large, with multiple rooms filled with every Harry Potter trinket you could imagine, from t-shirts and posters to wands and replica props. You can even find an array of Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts merchandise as well as all the books in the series in various editions. The employees are helpful and friendly and will attend to all your merchandise needs.
If you choose to wait in the photo op cue for a good 20 minutes or so, you’ll have the opportunity to take a picture with a Hogwarts cart (halfway through the wall, of course) with a wand and scarf of choice. The “scarf fluffer” on duty will first give you the option of choosing a house scarf to wear (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin). The fluffer will then proceed to toss the ends of the scarf into the air as the photo is snapped to give an illusion of it flowing in the wind. It’s an awfully simple gag that looks great on camera, as well as the mid-jump shots you can choose to take.
As far as the photos itself go, you have the choice to either have a friend or family member take them with a phone or personal camera, or buy a physical photo taken by the photographer. Either way they’re lenient and won’t push you to buy one, so it’s worth waiting in line to snap a quick Instagram photo to show off to your friends, even if you were only a technically a wizard for a couple minutes.
On a Double Decker to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour
If you want the full London Harry Potter experience, a fantastic fan opportunity that you’ll never forget, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour is the thing for you. If you’ve ever wanted to see some of the authentic sets, props and costumes from the Harry Potter films, this tour is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. After pre-booking the tour, you’ll meet at an assigned pick-up spot in the city to be swept away by a large double decker bus, the exterior decorated like the Hogwarts Express. From there it’ll be about an hour bus ride to the studio, but don’t worry, they show The Philosopher’s Stone (The first Harry Potter film) on little overhead TVs on the way there.
Once you get to the studio, after wait in the queue and scanning your tickets multiple times, you’re in! After a couple brief presentations (one by an employee and one pre-filmed by the stars of the films) you enter the Great Hall and your adventure begins.
Strewn throughout the rooms of the enormous property where many iconic Harry Potter scenes were filmed are sets, costumes, props, puppets, sketches, photos, and just about anything else you would ever want to see as a fan of Harry Potter—or even just as a fan of film. You start indoors with the interior-use objects and sets such as the Gryffindor Common Room, The Ministry of Magic, and the hundreds of costumes. Then you proceed to the new Forbidden Forest expansion, the train station, the outdoor sets, and the concept art and model rooms. It’s a lot to take in and takes a good 3-4 hours. There’s a halfway point cafeteria, however, where you can stop for a bite to eat or the iconic Butterbeer (imagine cream soda but more magical), feasting on your treats next to Privet Drive and The Knight Bus.
Exit Through the Harry Potter Gift Shop
Once you reach the end of the tour, past the rooms of prosthetics and drawings from the early stages of the films, you get to see the scale model of Hogwarts (the one they used for outdoor shots, it’s about 9 feet tall) before ending in the massive gift shop. Along with all the usual Harry Potter merchandise you can buy elsewhere—such as at the Universal Studios parks in Orlando and Los Angeles, or the Platform 9 ¾ store in London—they have an incredible selection of more authentic prop replicas in a glass case display in one of the shop’s corners. There you can get realistic-looking horcruxes as well as boxes of paper props which contain assortments of replica tickets, Azkaban posters, letters, maps, etc. But of course, if that’s not your thing and you would rather have your favorite character’s wand and a house scarf, they’ve got you covered for those as well. The studio is absolutely breathtaking, it’s really something that must be experienced in person to fully appreciate, so if you’ve got a morning free, don’t miss the opportunity to book a spot.
Overall, both these attractions are fun experiences to take advantage of, a little modern sightseeing break to differ from the classic London must-dos. Whether you have kids with you who are avid fans, or are one yourself, Platform 9 ¾ and The Warner Brothers Studio Tour are exciting for all ages, anyone who simply wants to go back to the magical world of Harry Potter, or even for those who never left in the first place.
IF YOU GO
Story and photos by guest contributor Alina Leffel, young adult author of the novel Demon High, available at Amazon.