There was no mistaking the Harry Potter Christmas night bus, as it sailed up to our stop outside Watford Junction station. The towering double decker was emblazoned with a silvery grey design showing wizards, witches, and the words Warner Bros Studio Tours. The characters on the bus weren’t the only ones in wizardly dress. Out of all the people waiting to board the bus for the launch of Hogwarts in the Snow, at least a quarter wore capes, or Harry Potter-themed garments. Excitement levels were high.
What is Hogwarts in the Snow?
Hogwarts in the Snow is the Warner Bros Studio Tour Christmas spectacular. The Harry Potter studios, in Leavesden, 20 miles north-west of London, go behind the scenes of the film versions of JK Rowling’s phenomenally popular books. With haunted paintings, a unique set of magical creatures and even its own range of sweets, JK Rowling’s world is brimful of detail. The films do justice to her books. You can see all their sets, costumes, magical wands and creature models in the Studios. In Hogwarts in the Snow, which runs this year from 16 November 2019 to 26 January 2020, some of the set is magically transformed with tinsel, Christmas decorations, snow and ice.
We visited for the launch event (disclosure: we didn’t pay) so hot mulled wine, cranberry juice for the kids and warm mince pies greeted us at the entrance to Hogwarts in the Snow. An introductory film set the tone for the whole experience. After a woman who said she was from the Slytherin house had ushered us in, the film became more serious, with producers, set designers and actors describing what life was like behind the scenes of the Harry Potter films.
Hogwarts in the Snow: the Great Hall
The Hogwarts Christmas experience was packed with shimmering detail. You’d be likely to spot something new even if you went back a few times. The Christmassy detail was most apparent in the Hogwarts Great Hall, at the start of the Warner Bros tour. Under the hall’s high ceilings, tiny witches on broomsticks whirled around Christmas trees festooned with tinsel. Long wooden benches laden with juicy turkeys, silvery crackers, festive oranges and flaming puddings stretched towards the head of the room. The Hall was decorated as it had been during the Triwizard Tournament feast in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But at its head, instead of McGonagall, Dumbledore, Snape and the other teachers on top table, a giant glistening ice sculpture, modelled on Brighton Pavilion, sat surrounded by vials of pastel-coloured liquid.
What to expect when you visit Hogwarts in the Snow
We could have spent a lot longer in the Great Hall, picking out all the exciting festive detail. But a sign had warned us that the Warner Brothers Studio would take around three hours to see properly, so we moved on.
Much of the tour was similar to how it would be during the rest of the year (although, as this was my visit, I can’t be sure of that). There was an interesting demo showing snow-making in action, with the three different types of snow (crunchy, glistening and snowflake-like) used in the films. And Harry Potter’s Gryffindor dormitory was decked out in tinsel, with cards that had been hand-made on set. But, apart from the magnificent snowy Hogwarts model (which you’ll see more of at the end of the post), a lot of my son and his friend’s favourites from the tour would still be there at other times of year.
Our highlights of Warner Bros Studio London
These were our highlights from Harry Potter world London:
- Snape’s potions classroom. With whirling spoons inside smoking cauldrons, the set design was mesmerising.
- The Forbidden Forest. It was perhaps on the spooky side for younger visitors, but our eight- and nine-year old loved the giant tarantulas that descended from the gloomy heights. And they made sure to bow to Buckbeak.
- The Knight Bus and no. 4 Privet Drive, which were outside, mid-way through the studios.
- The designs and architectural models of buildings and sets from the film (this was particularly fascinating for me and my friend).
- The animatronics section. This was fun for special effects geeks (and regular folk like us).
- A section where you could don a cape and ride a broomstick against a green screen, and then buy photos or a video of yourself zooming through scenes from the films.
- Diagon Alley. The cobbled street was lined with cobwebby shops displaying everything a young wizard could need, from enchanted toads to magically delicious ice cream. Olivander’s wand shop and the Weasley joke emporium were particular favourites.
- The Hogwarts Express, with carriages featuring props from the different films: jelly snakes, a copy of The Quibbler and Crookshanks’ basket.
- The store room at the end of the tour, with a box for each one of the thousands of people who’d contributed to the making of Harry Potter.
- The Studio Tours gift shop. This contained all sorts of merchandise that I had never come across, from Harry and Ron’s jumpers and Hufflepuff capes to Gryffindor bookmarks.
- The Backlot Café, where we sampled butterbeer. A dairy-free version (on the left of the pic) was available for my son’s friend, who’s intolerant. The Backlot burgers were delicious, and enormous.
- Our top favourite from the tour, though, was the Hogwarts in the Snow model itself.
The Hogwarts in the Snow model
At the end of the Studios tour, an entire room was given over to the large, incredibly detailed model of Hogwarts. As a finale to the Tour, it was breathtaking. The lighting in the room shone different moods onto Hogwarts, to bring all its different features to the surface. It slowly changed from pinky dawn, through clear blue morning, into amber afternoon and then silvery grey evening. Tiny lights illuminated the Hogwarts windows when the room became dark.
A walkway led around the construction, so you could see the twinkly, fairytale building from different angles.
Surrounded by trees, the model, used for filming distance shots of the wizarding school, was both ghostly and magical. The room’s reverent hush, and a bench on one side, encouraged us to pause and gaze at all the detail of what was in itself a work of art. It was beautiful.
Love for the Harry Potter films, and gratitude to everyone who’d helped make them so special, really shone through the Hogwarts in the Snow experience. Hogwarts in the Snow tickets aren’t cheap. The Warner Bros Studios website quotes an online price of £150* for a family of four (*UPDATED for 2019), although you can often find Warner Bros Studios deals. And our evening was so special that I’d say it was worth it. When I posted about the event on Twitter, someone replied to say that they’d gone along to the Warner Bros Studios one year as a special Christmas Eve family treat. I think this would be a magical way to celebrate the season, with an experience that’s captivating for children and adults.
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If you’d like to know more about what’s on in London over the festive season, check out our guide to free family fun in the capital.