By Eileen Ogintz

LONDON (Day 3) — The  Woods family had flown 24 hours to London from Australia but they weren’t planning to see the Crown Jewels, ride the famous iconic London Eye or tour any palaces. In fact, they planned to take in just one site in their three days here—the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of the Making of Harry Potter, which actually is 20 miles outside of London at Warner Brothers Studios Leavesden (you take the fast train to Watford Junction and shuttle buses are waiting).  Book at

The Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express

“We made a detour from our trip to France and Italy just for this,” explained James Woods.  As we all know, kids are increasingly driving vacation decisions and Emily woods,13, and her younger sister Ella,10, are serious Harry Potter Fans.

(Those visiting to UK from Kurait, Oman, Watar or the United Arab Emirates need to apply an electronic visa waiver (EVW). Also, The British Home Office is planning to introduce the UK ETA application for non-visa nationals (NVN) by 2025.)

Emily has read the series seven times and seen the eight films at least 10 times each; Ella is right behind her. “We’ll see enough museums in Italy,” the girls said, sipping butter beer.

Unlike the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando—and coming to Universal Hollywood— which immerses visitors in Harry Potter’s world, this attraction enables visitors to experience the magic that went into the making of the films.

You’ll find out about the 4000 people who worked on each production, the video interviews with everyone from the producers and directors to those who created the costumes, sets and special effects. Let’s not forget the chance to “fly” on a broomstick in front of a green screen that “magically” is transformed as if you were playing Quiddich.  Of course the photos are for sale—and Ella and Emily Woods were pleased with theirs. “Really good to fly over a river!” Ella said.

“Our friends think we are pretty crazy,” Emily acknowledged.  But they couldn’t be happier on this day of vacation. “Amazing!” they agreed.

I thought so too. And it seems so do the 6,000 people who make the trek (actually pretty easy—a 20 minute train ride from Euston Station followed by a quick shuttle bus ride) from London. We step into the original Great Hall and see the sets, costumes, and props.

I loved those from the Yule Ball, Dumbledore’s office, Diagon Alley, number four Privet Drive (where Harry was raised by relatives after his parents died), the Gryffinder common room.

We learned how the half giant was made—a double, an animontrinic head and a giant chair among other tricks. There were more than 8,000 visual effects!  The kids seemed fascinated with the motion rigs that were used to make the characters fly, for example.

The Great Room at Hogwarts
The Great Room at Hogwarts

The scale model of Hogwarts (which takes up a very large room) took 40 artists seven months—with tiny tiles placed on each of the towers by hand.

A Tip: You must purchase your tickets in advance–33 pounds for adults, 25.50 for kids and 101 pounds for a family of four. The day we came, they were fully booked and they don’t allow you to purchase tickets on site.

For Fans: Everything here has been used on the making of the Harry Potter film series and all of the films were shot right here. A little history—during World War II, this was a local airfield and factory making airplanes; after the war, it became a production center for aircraft engines. The factory closed in 1994 and the hangers became soundstages and workshops for building sets and props. The runway and fields became a functioning back lot. For an entire decade, thousands of men and women worked on the Harry Potter films here.

James Woods was chagrined his daughters had made him wait an hour in line at Charring Cross Station in London for a shot of Platform 9 ¾–but here is the original Hogwarts Express steam train—a 78 year old Engine!   You can climb aboard the trains carriage, pose with the luggage trolley as it disappears through the platform wall—all new just this past March. Windows demonstrate the process that was used to create the iconic train scenes and the escape of Harry’s first Chocolate Frog (of course you can buy some of those too).

Did you know the Set Direction Department created personalized trucks for each of the main characters and had to scour pet shops for animal cages that could carry owls, rats , cats and toads.

Scale model of Hogwarts
Scale model of Hogwarts

Bailey Tingley was another happy fan who had come a long way—all the way from Indiana. Her parents said the family would take a trip in honor of Bailey’s high school graduation and she said: “I picked  England for this tour and Harry Potter.”  Her three younger brothers were pleased as well.

This was the first time the family has been out of the United States, her mom Staci said. “It’s all exciting,” she said. Bailey has been a Harry Potter fan since she was five and for a fan like her to see the first ever robes a young Daniel Radcliffe Wore, the dormitory where a few years later the actors feet hung over the end of the 5-foot 9-inch bed, the  models for the “Chocolate Feast.”

We see the “forced perspective” that made the Leaky Caldron  look 50 feet long and the Weasley Kitchen where you wave your hand over a screen to make the carrots chop, the pan wash itself.

The Gryffindor common room is one of the film’s oldest sets and one of the most popular. Some of the those working on the film were models for the 350 enchanted portraits on the wall—check out Harry’s invisibility cloak with a green fabric that made Harry appear to be invisible.

Who knew the first wands were bejeweled—until J.K. Rowling said they should be made of wood and designed for each wizard.

The Gryffinder common room
The Gryffinder common room

Who knew there were more than 250 animal actors—even a pygmy hippo who played Fang the dog, Crookshanks the cat and others—all looked after by a team of dedicated animal trainers.

“This shows you everything,” said Braden Simpson, 12, here from Houston with his parents.  He added that he didn’t realize before how many people it took to make the Harry Potter stories come to life:  “Very cool.”

“If you are at all interested in film making, this is the place to come,” added his father Bob.

Rebecca Fielding and her two daughters Rebecca, 11, and Bethany 5, were decked out in robs and said they’d driven four hours for the experience—for the second time.

“I’m the biggest fan,” she said.