If you visited the traveling Friends and Downton Abbey exhibitions that made their way through Atlanta last year, you’ll be familiar with the concept of Harry Potter: the Exhibition. Part museum, part “immersive” experience, the traveling event features several props and costumes from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films, reproductions of iconic set pieces (think the door to the Chamber of Secrets or Harry’s cupboard under the stairs), and interactive elements throughout. If you’re planning a trip—or debating if it’s worth your time—here’s what we learned during the October 20 media preview.
If you love the franchise’s costumes, this is the place for you
While there are some truly impressive authentic props scattered throughout the exhibition, including the sword of Godric Gryffindor, Hagrid’s umbrella, and a copy of the Quibbler, the costumes tend to steal the show, thanks in part to the detailed notes describing how the look of the Wizarding World came together. For example, according to one placard, actress Maggie Smith as adamant that her character, Professor McGonagall, be unequivocally Scottish, so her outfits are largely green and incorporate tartan plaids and Celtic symbols. As the direction of the series became darker, so too did the hues in her costumes. Another interesting tidbit—for Molly Weasley’s look in the first Potter film, costume designer Judianna Makovsky initially used birdseed, as opposed to cotton stuffing, to fluff out Julie Walters’s costume. But the filling was quickly changed during filming—pigeons frequented the rafters of the King’s Cross Station set.
Most of the franchise’s beloved elements are represented
Be prepared to spend a couple of hours traversing the different rooms of the exhibition, especially if you are the type to read all the placards—it is expansive. The exhibition’s path is linear and begins mainly with movie clips. Eventually, you reach “Hogwarts” and are able to explore rooms dedicated to each House (with costumes and props pared to each—the trio in Gryffindor, Draco Malfoy in Slythern, Luna Lovegood in Ravenclaw, etc.) There’s a replica of the Great Hall made for photo opps and “classrooms” for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Divination, and Herbology, each designed to evoke the feel of the movie set and each containing an interactive activity alongside various costumes and props. You’ll stroll through a room dedicated to the Triwizard Tournament, into Hagrid’s Hut (where sitting in the giant’s chair is arguably the best photo opp in the entire experience), and into a room dedicated to Quidditch. From there, the exhibition ties up loose ends—a room dedicated to “travel” shows off a portkey and timeturner, a couple of rooms are dedicated to the Fantastic Beasts films, and one of the final rooms is dedicated entirely to the pivotal Battle of Hogwarts. There’s not a place to explore Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, but hey, that’s what Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter is for.
Younger visitors will more likely appreciate the interactivity
Guests arriving to Harry Potter: the Exhibition are given an RFID wristband that is meant to personalize the experience via various digital activities. You set up the wristband by inputting your name and email, picking your favorite House to be sorted into, and selecting a wand and patronus animal. As you progress the exhibition, you’ll tap the wristband at various points and play little games to earn “House Points”—for example, in a room dedicated to various wands, you’ll trace a pattern on a touch screen to cast a spell, or in the potions room, you’ll play a minigame where you pick the correct ingredients to create a concoction of your choice. Some interactive elements are better than others—repotting mandrakes is a delight, as is throwing quaffles into Quidditch hoops—but overall, the activities felt a little lacking from an adult perspective. It would have been fun to have been “sorted” into my Hogwarts house rather than just selecting my favorite, and I wish there was some sort of conclusion for all the House Points you accumulate. (If you opt in to receive a “memories” emails when you register your wristband, you’ll get a little graphic showing how many points you earned, but that’s all.) But for children, the activities will likely just add to the magic.
You might be surprised at what you find
The most shocking observation for this longtime Potter fan: Quidditch brooms are much bigger than you’d expect. This makes logical sense—a teenager has to sit on them, after all—but somehow I wasn’t prepared for the real props to be so much larger than the toy brooms commonly found at Halloween time. It’s also fun to get a chance to be able to see the tiny details of props which, unless you’re a superfan, you may not have noticed while watching the films; Queenie’s wand from the Fantastic Beasts films, for example, has a gorgeous shell handle.
Be prepared for low light
If you’re the type that loves to take pictures, just know that (at least during the media preview) many of the rooms have dim lighting, so be prepared to stand still.
There is a cafe if you need a quick snack
In addition to a small menu of sandwiches, salads, pastries, and cookies, the exhibition’s cafe also features specialty chocolate truffles for each House (mango Pop Rocks for Ravenclaw is … a unique choice) and a menu of interesting specialty beverages that can be ordered with or without alcohol. Many of the drinks come with showmanship: the “Basilisk” is made with bright green apple syrup and garnished with silver edible glitter and dry ice fog, while both the fruity Philosopher’s Stone and tangy Devil’s Snare are topped with an “edible smoke bubble” that pops into a wispy haze.
The gift shop is delightful
Often, the gift shop is the best part of these traveling exhibitions, and this one is no different. The shop is jam-packed with clothing, plush animals, scarves, mugs, wizarding robes, notebooks, and keychains. There’s several shelves dedicated to each Hogwarts House and a Honeydukes-themed candy counter. Among the coolest items: notebooks designed to look like wizarding textbooks, a pillow cover featuring the Black family tree, and a collection of merchandise featuring beautiful watercolor logos for each House. Prices are akin to what you’d find at a theme park. Some exclusive items are also available in an online shop.
How to visit:
Address: The exhibition is located in downtown’s 200 Peachtree building, but guests enter from 155 Carnegie Way.
Dates: October 21 through the holidays
Hours: Sunday through Thursday: 9:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. (last entry at 6 P.M.)
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M. (last entry at 8 P.M.)
Cost: It varies, but a general timed ticket for Monday through Thursday is $29 for adults and $25 for children (aged 3-15). For Friday through Sunday, it’s $39 for adults and $35 for children. There are also $59 flextime tickets that can be used on any day and time, or a $79-$99 VIP ticket that comes with a lanyard, free audio guide, and $10 to spend at the gift shop.
Where to buy tickets: Online here—like most pop-up experiences, you purchase tickets for a designated arrival time slot, then go through the exhibit at your own pace.
Parking: You can purchase a $16 parking pass to use at the garage located directly across from the exhibition entrance at 150 Carnegie Way.