Flashback Friday: London, United Kingdom

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Review: Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour

As I was searching online for things to do before heading to London last June, I came across the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio tour in which you get to visit the set and see the making of the films. Being a Harry Potter junkie, I knew I couldn’t leave London without doing this. I booked my ticket online with Premium Tours and got the student discount for 51 pounds (I later found out you can get cheaper tickets on the official website for 33 pounds. This price doesn’t include transportation like the former does although you can get there for 2 pounds by shuttle – details provided on the site). The tour operates daily at different times throughout the day and takes around 6-7 hours with transport. I recommend going in the afternoon so that you can do some sightseeing in the morning and grab some lunch before you head out.

Once I arrived and entered the venue, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Since I had booked with a tour company, we skipped the queues and began the tour right away. First stop was the Great Hall, the famous dining area of the four Hogwarts houses (Fun fact: In the first film, real candles were used to create the illusion of floating candles in the Great Hall ceiling, up until wax started dripping on the actors and they had to replace them with animated ones). Throughout the Great Hall and the entire studios, there were mannequins dressed in the actual wardrobe that the characters wore which was really cool.

From the Great Hall we continued out to the main studio which contained all the well-known sets such as the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, the potions lab, Hagrid’s hut etc. I was a little disappointed that they were fenced off and that we couldn’t go inside; nonetheless I was happy to see them up close. Along with the many sets scattered around the studio, there were countless props on display. My favorites were the golden snitch, the golden egg from the Triwizard tournament, and the door of the Chamber of Secrets (Fun fact: The opening of the door was real mechanics and not animation, they actually built a mechanic door which they were able to operate and open with a remote!) There was plenty of interactive things to do as well, like having a video shot of yourself riding a broomstick around London, but you were charged extra for these things.

Walking out of the main studio, we made our way to the back lot. This area is home to the famous Privet drive, Godric’s Hollow, the Hogwarts bridge, the Knightbus as well as the enchanted car that Ron and Harry used to get to Hogwarts in the second film. There’s also a small shack that sells butterbeer (Fun fact: This is one out of only two places in the world that you can get butterbeer). Of course I couldn’t resist trying it and happily snapped a photo. It tasted pretty good, like a carbonated vanilla drink.

After sipping on butterbeer, we went into the second studio. In here were the man-made magical creatures and beasts featured throughout the films, such as Aragog the spider and Dobby the elf. Next, we walked into the set of Diagon Alley! This was probably the best set out of them all because we were able to walk up/down the main street which included places like Ollivander’s wand shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezies, and Gringott’s bank.

Lastly, we entered a dark room where a model of the Hogwarts castle and grounds that was used for the long shots in the films was on display. From there we entered the gift shop and that marked the end of the tour. The gift shop itself was just as impressive as the studios. There were hundreds of items to buy, from house robes and scarves to chocolate frogs and wands. Unfortunately, most items were expensive so I walked out with only a scarf, a mug, and key ring.

Verdict: It was a truly magical experience. The amount of work and effort that went into making the Harry Potter films really impressed me. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Harry Potter but I learnt a lot in visiting the studios. The fun facts provided in this review are courtesy of the super friendly studio staff, most of whom were extras in the films. I rate this tour 5/5; it’s definitely a must-see for any fan and definitely worth its price. Best part is that I can finally say that I’ve been to Hogwarts 😉

P.s: A new set, platform 9 & ¾, is expected to open March 19th!

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Have you been to the Harry Potter Studios or theme park? Let me know your thoughts and make sure to check out the gallery below xx

6 Misconceptions About London

After finally visiting London this past summer and experiencing firsthand what it’s like to live there, I can now say that not all of my expectations were met. I managed to crush a few stereotypes and misconceptions during my stay, but hey at least I became a more informed individual in the process.

1. The Size of London: The city of London is actually very small covering an area of only 1.12 square miles with a population of less than 15,000 people (2010 estimate). Nowadays when people speak of London what they are really referring to is the Greater London area which consists of many boroughs and 8.1 million people (2011 estimate).
 
2. Tower Bridge is Not Falling Down: When I first arrived in London I couldn’t help but notice the extravagant Tower Bridge. Of course, I was quick to assume it was the bridge that the popular ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ song speaks of, but in fact that was another simple, less extravagant, boring bridge. Bummer.
 
3. The Weather Isn’t THAT Bad: While I was in London the weather was surprisingly pleasant. Some may disagree considering I was there in June; others may say I got lucky, but after speaking with some locals they shared the same opinion. It’s true they experience harsher winters than other cities but during the spring and summer months temperatures can reach a high of 25 degrees Celsius. I wore short sleeve clothing each day of my stay, only throwing a jacket on after the sun set and it got a bit chilly. Note to self: with so much to do in London, you can’t let the weather bring you down and you most definitely cannot use it as an excuse to not go out (Well, maybe sometimes but not always).
 
4. Openness of the Royal Family: Being a tourist, I was surprised at how much the royal family allows us to see. Large sections of the royal palaces and castles are open to tourists; even the crown jewels are on display for all to see. While tourists pay a price to visit these landmarks, I can’t imagine the security concerns that they are faced with each day.
 
5. The Red Uniformed Guards: I’ve watched countless movies where people attempt to make the royal palace guards laugh since they are required to be serious and keep a straight face all the time. When I was at Windsor Castle a group of teenage Spanish tourists were laughing at one of the guards and a police officer approached them and told them off for being disrespectful. It’s a great honor to be asked to defend the sovereign of the country, only front line armed forces can do so therefore it’s best to just take a photo and not linger around and poke fun at them.
 
6. For The Love of Tea: Many people tend to associate British people with high tea intake but while I was there I saw people drinking more beer and coffee than I did tea. Maybe I was going to the wrong places but tea is simply not as popular in England as foreigners make it out to be.
 
Do you agree with this list? Is there anything you can add? Let me know in the comment section below.

7 Days in London

I recently got back from the most wonderful week in London with my younger sister. Not only did I finally get to check this spectacular city off my bucket list but I was lucky enough to have family living there to show me around, and I was surprisingly blessed with good weather!

Although 1 week isn’t enough to see all that London has to offer, my sister and I had a pretty productive trip. I believe our itinerary provided us with an authentic British experience, hence here below is a suggested 7 day itinerary for all those looking to spend a week in London. I’ve also included a photo gallery at the end for you to browse 🙂

How to get around: London has an excellent public transport system. We mainly used the subway and our own two feet to get around, with an occasional bus here & there [Note: the subway closes around midnight, it’s best to take a taxi after that]

Where to stay: My sister & I stayed at our cousin’s apartment in Lancaster Gate. It was the perfect location, a quiet area not far from wherever we needed to go. It was adjacent to Hyde Park, a 5 minute walk from Oxford street and a 10 minute subway ride from the city. For those considering a hotel, The Lancaster hotel was located right across the road from the apartment.

Day 1 [Monday]

Arrive in London, go for a walk through Hyde Park.

Go shopping on Oxford Street/Regent Street.

Have dinner in Saint Christopher’s Place near Oxford Street.

Day 2 [Tuesday]

Do the Big Bus Hop on/Hop off tour to see all the main sites including Big Ben, London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Saint Paul’s Cathedral (make sure to climb to the tip of the dome for a breath-taking 360-degree view of London), Trafalgar Square, Harrods  etc. [Note: You can purchase tickets for this tour at any bus stop, just look for a person wearing the uniform. Also, a free walking tour of Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard as well as a free Thames River cruise is included with every ticket purchased]

See a musical in the evening (my choice was The Lion King)

Day 3 [Wednesday]

Take a day trip outside of London with Evan Evans Tours (highly recommended!) to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Oxford, or any other destination of your choice. Check their website for details.

Pack a picnic and have dinner at Saint James’ park.

Day 4 [Thursday]

Madame Tussauds wax museum in the morning, then do the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio tour in the afternoon (Potterheads, you won’t be disappointed.)

Go out for drinks in the evening at Maddison rooftop bar in the city, followed by dinner at Burger&Lobster across the street [Note: a lobster meal here is only 20 pounds! Really good deal in my opinion considering how expensive lobster tends to be]

Day 5 [Friday]

Visit the Tower of London where the crown jewels are kept, then take a ride on the London eye.

Have lunch at Borough Markets, one of the largest and oldest food markets in London.

Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum where entry is completely free! [Note: on the last Friday of every month the museum has an evening reception complete with drinks and music]

Dinner at PING bar and restaurant.

Day 6 [Saturday]

Morning walk through Kensington Gardens & visit Kensington Palace.

Shopping at Portobello Road Market [Note: this market only opens on Saturday], then continue shopping at Westfield mall.

Dinner at Brasserie Zedel followed by an evening walk through the city.

Day 7 [Sunday]

Traditional High Tea at the Chesterfield Mayfair.

Walk through Regent’s Park by the canal then go to a pub afterwards and watch a sport match (tennis, football etc.)

Sunday Roast dinner at the Victoria Pub Paddington (Order the Shoulder of Lamb, one of the best I’ve ever had)


Please note that this itinerary is ideal for the summer months and for travelers aged 18+ who aren’t on a budget. I’ve only included dinner options on this itinerary because I assumed you will be having breakfast at the hotel. As for lunches, besides Friday at Borough market my sister & I tried a different pub each day.

Some useful tips:

– Purchase tickets online in advance to attractions such as Madame Tussauds, Lion King Musical, and Warner Bros. Tour to benefit from a discount and skip the long queues when you get there.

– Upon your arrival in London, purchase an Oyster card at the subway and fill it up for 30 pounds. This will last you a week and is very cost-efficient and convenient as it allows you to use the subway and busses at any time to get around the city.

– Download the ‘City Mapper’ app on your smartphone. This app provides you with different routes to anywhere in the city via subway, bus, taxi, or walk. It also includes the price and approximate travel time for each route.

– London is considered one of the greenest cities in the world so make the most of the parks around the city. Also, there are plenty of free things to do – for example, most of the city’s museums are free so try to do more than one.

– Always ask about family, senior, or student discounts before you purchase tickets to any attraction.

– VAT in London is 20% so if you’ll be doing a lot of shopping make sure to ask for tax-free receipts which can be exchanged for cash at the airport.

– During the summer months it doesn’t get dark in London till around 10pm so be efficient and make the most of the long days.

I hope this was helpful, any adjustments to this itinerary are welcome!

 

And so it begins…

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, forgive me. I’ve been living under a rock the past two weeks trying to get through final exam period, and I can finally say that it’s over. Today marks the beginning of my summer break and I can’t tell you how good it felt waking up this morning knowing I won’t have to open a textbook or type out another essay.

Although technically the semester has ended, I’m going to be spending a lot of time at university this week preparing for the annual outdoors festival. I’m part of the decorations team and this year’s chosen theme is New York city so you can only imagine how creative we’re going to get. Stay tuned for a post next week!

In June I fly over to London for 8 days with my sister. I’ve always dreamt of going there and we’ve never travelled on our own so I’m really looking forward to being the ultimate tourist. Leave a comment if you know of any places I must see 🙂 I’m happy to take any suggestions.

Once I’m back from London I’ll no longer be a tourist but a tour guide because one of my best friends from Australia and my cousin along with his Italian wife are coming to Beirut. They’ve never been here before so I can’t wait to show them what Lebanon has to offer; one of my favorite things to do is show people my country through my eyes. Then after they’ve left I have to plan a surprise 21st birthday bash for one of my closest friends, and what remains of the summer I’ll hopefully spend doing an internship before I go back to university.

My summer in a nutshell. What do you guys have planned? Any of you travelling?