Always There to Welcome Us Home
It’s easy to think that the Hogwarts castle only ever existed inside of a computer. After all, the silhouette of the school actually changed substantially from film to film early on, and its hulking exterior was never built (as these things never are for movies) because that would cost a fortune and be impractical. What I never realized, however, was that there has long been an enormous model of Hogwarts housed within Leavesden, which was used for flyover shots during filming. It’s a total misnomer to call it a “miniature” because it’s something like 20 ft in diameter, and seeing it was easily one of my absolute favorite parts of the Harry Potter Studio Tour.
The model is surrounded by a giant ramp that takes visitors from the model room before it down to the gift shop past it, and the lighting is designed to morph from evening to night to morning to day, and so on.
Every single detail you could possibly imagine is there. The individual windows across the castle each have lights so that they can be illuminated by the tiny occupants. The rooftops and stonework were also absurdly impressive and totally looked like a real building exterior.
It was so exciting watching the lighting shift as we walked around the whole castle, because it actually looks like daylight when it is all lit up — all you need is the green Scottish highlands behind the model to make it feel like you are right in front of the actual castle (just seen from a bit of a distance…).
Some of the details (like the greenhouses) reminded us of the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando. That attraction is extremely well-built when it comes to mimicking what Hogwarts would look like at full-scale, but there are some nooks and crannies that even it couldn’t really capture.
I’m particularly a fan of the owlery off to the side of the castle.
And here’s the boathouse, which I think was just added for the 8th movie as a cinematic place for Snape to die.
It becomes easy to appreciate how the castle originally took a lot of architectural inspiration from gothic cathedrals when you see the castle entrance flanked by these giant towers.
One of the most fun things to do is get up close to the model and put your camera within a scene. Suddenly, it feels much less like a miniature and more like an actual film set.
Hey, look — we were just on that bridge out on the backlot!
I love this window looking into the Great Hall.
As you come around the castle on the ramp, you can really appreciate the way that it’s set on top of these cliffs.
It was not easy to take a picture of ourselves with the model, but this was our slightly pathetic phone selfie.
The way they had the Harry Potter theme music piped in here made it all the more dramatic to round the castle. It felt like we were part of one of those sweeping shots with Hedwig flying around as the seasons changed.
For Christmas, they actually cover the castle in snow, which would be really fun to see sometime.
I can never decide which angle on the Hogwarts facade is the most iconic. I think this one is pretty memorable, though.
I love the little lamps along the staircase.
Here’s a quick video showing just how large the model really was!
After we’d had our fill of looking at the model (even though we probably could have stayed in that room for hours), the last stop was the gift shop.
I appreciated that the tour portion of the experience fittingly ended with this iconic J.K. Rowling quote.
We bought a whole bunch of merchandise at the end of the tour. The one disappointment was that I really wanted a Gryffindor jumper made by the same company that hand-knit those featured in the films, but they were all out of Gryffindor… It’s definitely on my list of things to buy next time. And speaking of next time, it feels like we already need to go back to the Studio Tour again because they have since opened the Forbidden Forest section — and what I’ve seen from sneak peeks looks awesome!
We probably spent at least 30 minutes wandering around the gift shop, and then we made our purchases and left. In the exit foyer, they have handprints taken from the trio, which seems like a very fitting parting sight.
It’s impossible to even sum up just how much I would recommend this tour to any Harry Potter fan visiting London. On the sliding scale of HP obsession, Tracy and I are probably pretty high (though I’m sure not anywhere near the top), so we were enthralled from start to finish. Similar to the Walt Disney Family Museum, our visit far exceeded the predicted length in all the guidebooks, and I still don’t feel like we actually saw/fully appreciated everything. If you are super into the books and movies, I would essentially recommend giving yourself a full day to really explore the Studio Tour and not feel rushed. Toward the end, we were definitely skipping a lot of the content on the Digital Guide (there is an absurd number of videos and amount of information loaded onto those things!), but we needed to get back to the city before it got too late.
The bus ride back to Watford Junction was relatively uneventful. We didn’t get the front row seats on the bus this time, so we could see the TV screens showing the farewell video. Once we reached the station, we had no problem hopping a train back into London pretty quickly. This day (and much of our trip so far) had been entirely devoted to Harry Potter, but now we were excited to see everything else London had to offer!
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