If you are looking for the ultimate Harry Potter bucket list guide to London, look no further! There are so many cool things to do and sights to be seen in London for the Harry Potter fan. Luckily, I reserved plenty of time to do most of the best activities with my son. Admittedly, I was never very familiar with the franchise. I knew bits and pieces of the story line and had caught a few movie scenes here and there. But, I was convinced it was a story for kids. What could I possibly enjoy about it? Well, after being..how should I put it…harassed…for about a year by a friend who is probably one of the biggest HP fans around, I gave in. I started reading the books and became hooked almost immediately. I also realized it wasn’t just a book series for kids. The story line truly has more depth than I ever would have guessed. So, with the books came the movies…movies led to research about different activities in London, and that research led to some of the funnest times we had during our entire time in London!
Our first stop was House of Minalima, an exhibition/shop currently open and showcasing the designs of graphic artists Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima. Mina and Lima are the graphic prop designers for the entire Harry Potter film series and much of their work is on display in the funky, Soho residence that provides four floors of visual stimulation (with free entry!). As a side note, can we all just take a moment to admire the name ‘Miraphora Mina’? I mean, seriously, with a name like that was she ever really destined for anything other than Harry Potter greatness?
Next on the Harry Potter bucket list was the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, housing the original sets, costumes, props, and graphic displays from the movie series. The tour is self-paced so you can really spend as much time as you want taking in every little detail. In comparison to other London attractions, for the price of the tour and the amount of time you are able to spend and activities to engage in, I found the WB Studios Tour to be a much better deal and definitely worth the visit. Some of our favorite areas included the Great Hall, Professor Snape’s potions classroom, and Diagon Alley. The tour is broken into two parts so that you can visit some of the larger sets first, take a butterbeer break in the middle, and then complete the remainder of the tour focused on props and graphics. For the kids (and kids at heart) there are a handful of additional fun activities, such as passport booklet scavenger hunt for embossed seals, live wand lessons, and an opportunity to play your own part in a Harry Potter movie by flying a broomstick set against green screen through several different movie scenes. You can then purchase your movie and various pictures before leaving, which we did (no regrets!).
Wait, did I say something about a Butterbeer break? Yes!! What would a Harry Potter bucket list be without this loony libation? Half way through the WB Studios Tour you reach the cafe/tavern where you can grab a bite to eat or simply go straight for the Butterbeer. You can guess which path we chose! The tavern offers Butterbeer on tap and also sells butterbeer ice cream. Clearly, we had to try one of each. I wasn’t really a fan of the ice cream, but the butterbeer was really tasty and unique. Next time I’ll skip the ice cream and go straight for two butterbeers instead. My son, well, he’s a kid and it was sugar, so….
Following the butterbeer interlude, it was on to the second half of the studio tour where we saw some of the outdoor sets like the Knight Bus, the Dursley’s house on Privet Drive, Potter’s Cottage, and others. That led to the props studio which gave an in depth look at makeup and prop creation/design (one of my favorite sections) and then to the graphic arts displays created by the aforementioned MinaLima.
The studio tour was an absolute blast and provides so many fun facts that make you fall even more in love with the series. For example, did you know that the set for Ollivander’s Wand Shop held 17,000 individually labeled and hand dusted wand boxes? Or, that there were 40,000 Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products? Did you notice that as Professor Umbridge, the stone-cold witch we all love to hate, gained power her wardrobe became increasingly pinker? How about this fun fact…the beds used on set in the Gryffindor dorm room were never upgraded. By the end of filming the actors had to curl up under the blankets to keep from having their legs hang over the end. Those are just a few of the fun pieces of info we took away from the studio tour. We spent so much time enjoying ourselves on the tour that we actually ran out of time to fully make our way around the gift shop at the end. So, when you make your own Harry Potter bucket list, definitely make sure to include the WB Studios Tour.
One of the stops I enjoyed most on our Harry Potter bucket list was Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. It isn’t a huge, sprawling attraction like WB Studios, but the folks running the show have made this little area so fun for everyone. In a nutshell, it’s a great photo opportunity and a pretty cool gift/souvenir shop that has been fashioned to resemble Ollivander’s wand shop. King’s Cross is a sight to behold all on its own but once you make your way to the platforms you’ll easily spot Platform 9 3/4, as you would guess, between platforms 9 and 10. Realistically, you’ll probably see the long line of people waiting for a picture before you actually see any platform numbers. But, trust me, the wait is worth it. And, while you’re waiting you get to see all of the fun poses the people in front of you come up with. Once it’s your turn you choose your house scarf, your wand, and grab hold of the luggage trolley so you can be sucked through the wall to board the Hogwart’s Express train. Ok, not really…but, the camera crew has mastered the art of taking pictures at exactly the right moment to make it look like that’s what’s happening.
Last, but certainly not least, on our Harry Potter bucket list was the ultimate, most coveted, creme de la creme of any of the current Harry Potter happenings…that’s right, y’all, we went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play at Palace Theatre. The fact that I even got tickets to this currently sold out show was a stroke of sheer luck. The Cursed Child is the 8th story in the series and the first to be produced as a stage play. While we were in London the show had just begun showing and was still in previews when we left so the timing couldn’t have been more coincidental. The play is presented in two parts with each part being approximately 2.5 hours long. So, it’s really as if you are seeing two plays for the price of one. The story picks up exactly where it leaves off at the end of Deathly Hallows, with Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione at Platform 9 3/4 sending their own children off to Hogwarts. From there…well, you’ll just have to wait and see! However, the play definitely delivered a completely unexpected series of plot twists with action, emotion, cliffhangers, relationships, and the depth that has come to be expected of the series. The actors cast in the lead roles did a phenomenal job of capturing and becoming such iconic characters. I loved the show, but my son was in total awe and on the edge of his seat (literally) from beginning to end.
With so many Harry Potter sights and activities in London, this is just a small sample of what we consider to be the most fun and exciting. It was rare that a day went by where we didn’t see something familiar from the Harry Potter movies, from the Millennium Bridge to Piccadilly Circus, or Tower Bridge, Westminster Tube Station, Leadenhall Market, or even the Thames River. Multiple tours are offered throughout the city, or you can do what we did and just create your own Harry Potter bucket list. By the end of our time in London I was having a discussion about how much I liked all the Harry Potter activities we had done but that I wasn’t sure if I would call myself a hardcore fan. The immediate response was, “Well, you’ve read most of the books, seen all the movies, been on the studio tour, to Platform 9 3/4, gone to see the Cursed Child play, hosted a Harry Potter themed graduation party…..” At that point intervened, laughing, and conceded to the fact that, perhaps, I should consider myself a true, blue (Go Ravenclaw!) fan. Until next time, y’all, thanks for stopping by, and don’t let the muggles get you down!