All Aboard the Hogwarts Express

  • Share a Seat With Harry Potter and His Classmates

    Photocall And press Launch Of Hogwarts Express And Platform 9 3/4
    WireImage / Getty Images

    The real Hogwarts Express pulled into the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London right in time for school vacation fun.

    The, 20,000 sq ft expansion of the attraction just north of London includes the actual historic British steam locomotive used in filming as well as a train carriage that visitors can climb aboard. They can also pose with luggage trolley disappearing into the wall on Platform 9 3/4.

    The 78-year-old steam locomotive's last film appearance was in the very last scene of the very last Harry Potter film as grown up Harry, Ron and Hermione waved their children off to school. It was filmed on soundstages at Warner Brothers Studio Leavesden, home of the Warner Brothers London tour and on a track running the full length of the studio backlot.

    For the new, permanent feature, all of the platform's glass roof, yellow brick walls and luggage racks, designed by Harry Potter's Oscar and BAFTA award winning production designer, Stuart Craig, along with a length of the track, have been reassembled within the tour attraction by the Harry Potter team. Oscar and BAFTA winning special effects supervisor, John Richardson, has rigged the locomotive with special effects and steam.

    As part of the experience, visitors can walk along the train carriages and sit in the interior set used in filming. Specially rigged windows demonstrate how iconic train scenes, like the Dementor attack) were created. You can also inspect a selection of prop luggage and find out which were owned by Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, Luna Lovegood and others. 

    It all would not be part of a popular attraction without a gift shop and of course, you'll find one on the train platform with items inspired by the Harry Potter films and in particular, the Hogwarts Express. Parents should be warned though - if the gift shop is anything like the attraction's main gift shop, set a spending money limit before you arrive. The goodies are incredibly tempting and often quite expensive too.

    For Train Spotters

    Keen train enthusiasts may like to know that the Hogwarts Express is actually a real steam train. Before it joined the Harry Potter films, it was known as (and is technically still known as) Great Western Railway (GWR) 4900 Class, British Steam Train No. 5972 'Oulton Hall'.

    Designed by Charles Collett and built by GWR's Swindon works, it went into service in April 1937. After being based in Wales and Devon, the locomotive was retired from service in 1963 and sold for scrap a year later.

    But somehow, you can't keep such a good looking locomotive down. Eventually, it was acquired by West Coast Railways. Despite being damaged by vandals several times,  it was occasionally commissioned by a private tour company for Harry Potter fan trips around Britain.

    With its name plate changed to Hogwarts Castle, it spent some time at the National Railway Museum in York. Its most recent home before moving to the WB Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter, was at the railway museum's Shildon branch.

    Visiting WB Studio Tour London

    You don't have to wait for Easter school holidays to visit the Hogwarts Express if you're in the UK earlier. It is now a permanent part of the attraction. The studio in Leavesden is where most of the Harry Potter films were made - though you can check out other Harry Potter locations all over the UK as well. The studio itself is about  20 miles northwest of Central London, up the M1 motorway. If you drive, parking is free. A 20-minute train journey from London's Euston Station to Watford Junction, followed by a short shuttle bus trip will get you there quicker and they show a film during the bus ride to get you in the mood.

    But don't plan on just showing up to buy a ticket at the entrance. All visits have to be booked in advance, online or by telephone. Entries are timed at 30-minute intervals. That keeps visitors from bunching up in packs and makes the whole experience interesting and relaxing.

    By the way, if you have a sweet tooth, don't forget to have some Butterbeer!