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Harry Potter: The Exhibition - A Harry Potter Fan's Dream Come True

Updated on April 18, 2011

Last year, when I heard that the Harry Potter Exhibition was going to be at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, just two hours away from where I live, I knew I had to go. I've been a Harry Potter fan for years, first of the books, then the movies, and I love the magical world and characters that JK Rowling created.

A long-time friend and I decided it would be fun to take my 8-year-old nephew and her 6-year-old daughter to see the Exhibition. My nephew had been a fan of Harry Potter for about a year, which thrilled me, so I decided the Exhibition and trip to Toronto would be part of his eighth birthday gift. After checking out the official Harry Potter Exhibition website and the Ontario Science Centre's website, my friend and I were able to find a great deal through the latter - 2 adult tickets and 2 children's tickets to the Exhibition, one night in a hotel with an indoor pool and continental breakfast, and a $10 gas card.

Toronto was the Exhibition's third stop, from April 9th to September 6th, 2010. It was originally slated to run until mid-August, but its stay was extended because it was so popular. For the opening in April 2010, James and Oliver Phelps, who play Fred and George Weasely in the Harry Potter movies attended the exhibition opening at the Ontario Science Centre. The Exhibition started at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois and ran from April 30th to September 27th, 2009, before making its way to the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts from October 25th, 2009 to February 28th, 2010, then made its way to Toronto's Ontario Science Centre.

The giant Harry Potter Exhibition sign over the front doors of the Science Centre
The giant Harry Potter Exhibition sign over the front doors of the Science Centre | Source
The flying Ford Anglia from the second Harry Potter movie
The flying Ford Anglia from the second Harry Potter movie | Source

The Harry Potter Exhibition itself

The Harry Potter Exhibition was amazing. As we drove through the city, we kept seeing signs and billboards advertising it, then when we arrived at the Science Centre, the first thing we saw upon stepping inside was the flying Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets hanging from the ceiling. As we made our way to Level 6, there were house flags everywhere - Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin - as well as the theme from the Harry Potter movies playing quietly from the sound system.

When we got inside, we were led into a small room where a woman in a Hogwarts robe waited beside a stool that held the Sorting Hat. There was a small sorting ceremony with volunteers from the crowd, where the hat was placed on the head of the volunteer and they were 'told' what house they were in. We then went through the grand Hogwarts door into another small room where multiple screens played video clips from the Harry Potter movies.  When the video was over, the screens lifted, we were enshrouded in fog, then we stepped through to see the Hogwarts Express, the scarlet steam engine that takes the students to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As we continued on, we were greeted by moving pictures, like in the books and movies - Hogwarts Headmasters, a wanted poster of Sirius Black, and a giant moving and talking portrait of the Fat Lady who guards Gryffindor Tower.

My nephew and me in front of one of the enormous Harry Potter signs outside the Exhibition
My nephew and me in front of one of the enormous Harry Potter signs outside the Exhibition | Source

The official people who circulated around the Exhibition to keep an eye on things wore Hogwarts robes, and spoke with English accents, which added wonderfully to the whole atmosphere, and really made you feel like you were in Hogwarts. I won't walk you through step-by-step, because I don't want to ruin it for those who plan to see it eventually, but some of my favorite things were the Gryffindor boys' dormitory with their beds, costumes, trunks, assorted wands, Harry's glasses, and the Marauder's Map, the Gryffindor common room, Hagrid's hut, and the Great Hall with food from the feasts, candles hanging from the "enchanted" ceiling, and sweets, treats and jokes from Honeyduke's, Zonko's and the Weasley twins collections. The costumes were beautiful and so detailed - I remember Hermione's Yule Ball costume even had the earrings she wore. It was incredible to see all the props, costumes and artifacts that were actually used in the movies.

There were fun, interactive things to do, too. You could pull screaming baby mandrakes from pots, like the students did in Herbology class in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, shoot a Quaffle ball into a net and pretend you're a Quidditch star, and in Hagrid's Hut, you can sit in his giant chair. Even though you're not allowed to take pictures inside the Exhibition, if I'd had my BlackBerry at the time, I would have had my friend sneak a picture of my nephew and me sitting together in Hagrid's chair, just because it was so much fun to feel dwarfed by that enormous chair.

Our souvenirs from our trip
Our souvenirs from our trip | Source

The incredible Harry Potter gift shop

When you come to the end of the tour, you end up in the expansive souvenir shop. There is literally everything Harry Potter-related you could imagine, from Ron's wizard chess set, to clothes (shirts, scarves, hats), ink and quill sets, keychains, jewelry, stuffed animals, you name it. The prices are what you would expect in a gift shop - you can find some good deals, but many things are quite pricey. After about half an hour of searching and checking every corner of the store, my nephew decided to use some of his birthday money to buy himself a wand, and I bought him a Golden Snitch, and bought myself the Official Exhibition Guide.

Some things to know if you decide to go to the Exhibition

  • I'd suggest that if you decide to go to the Exhibition, and you're traveling, you check the host website (in our case, the Ontario Science Centre website in the Exhibition section), and see if you can find a deal like my friend and I did - you can end up saving quite a bit of money, and avoid the hassle of searching for a hotel nearby if you don't know the area well.
  • The tickets are time-sensitive and non-refundable, so if you buy them ahead of time, be sure that you're there at the right date and time, and get there 20-30 minutes before the time stamped on your ticket because the lines can get really long. Once you're inside, there's no time limit, you can stay as long as you like. I would recommend buying your tickets ahead of time, especially if you're visiting from a distance, because if you make the trip expecting to buy tickets there and they're sold out for the day, it could be a major disappointment.

One of the signs scattered throughout the Science Centre
One of the signs scattered throughout the Science Centre | Source
  • Once inside the Exhibition, you can't take pictures. There are people around who watch closely, so really, don't even try. It's disappointing, but there are plenty of keepsakes you can buy from the gift shop, and because I couldn't take pictures, that's why I got the Official Exhibition Guide, with pictures and explanations of everything inside the Exhibition.
  • For an extra few dollars, when you get your ticket, you can get the 'audio tour'. It's a little hand-held thing with headphones that you wear through the Exhibition and it tells you, in detail, what everything is. It's great, especially for older HP fans who are interested in the little details, explanations, facts, etc., and for people who come on their own. I wouldn't recommend it if you go with small kids, who will want to race through, but if you go with older children who are interested in the details and might enjoy the audio tour, of if you go alone or with another adult, it's worth the few extra dollars.
  • The Exhibition isn't really for young children, even those who are fans of the movies. It's a lot of looking at things and not much to actually do, so not much to hold a child's interest. The tickets aren't exactly cheap, especially for a family, so if your child is easily bored or distracted, I would say just don't take them.

The Exhibition's next stop

After Toronto, the tour's next stop was Pacific Science Centre in Seattle, Washington from October 23rd, 2010 to February 13th, 2011.

It's just recently been announced that the Exhibition will be making a previously unscheduled stop at New York City's Discovery Times Square, from April 5th until September 5th, 2011. This is the tour's final North American stop before going international - more dates will be announced soon. Added to this tour will be artifacts from the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2 movies, which weren't included in the previous stops. The timing is great, considering that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 15th, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will be coming to theatres in July. Tickets for he Exhibition at Discovery Times Square are $25 for adults; $22.50 for seniors (65 and over) and $19.50 for children (4-12); children under 4 years of age are free.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition really was a dream come true for a die-hard fan like me.  I could have stayed in there forever, and if I'd been there on my own, I probably would have ended up going back to the beginning and walking through the whole thing again.  If you're able to go, I would say don't hesitate, it's absolutely worth it, and something you'll never forget.

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