There are two grand Harry Potter exhibits: the one in London, that stays in the same spot, and this one, which travels the world. Now the second one has come to Belgium, traveling here from its previous run in Shanghai, where it is taking up residence over the summer in Palace 2 of the Brussels Expo.
As a side note, if you are planning to visit (and you should if you are a fan of the wizarding world of Harry Potter) and like to be completely surprised, it’s best to read this review after your visit as it contains quite a bit of info and photos of what you can see and do at the exhibition.
Harry Potter: The Exhibition itself is much smaller than the London one, which is logical considering it is a traveling exposition. Regardless, it is a beautiful one. All pieces were used in the films and were originally part of the London expo. They have been set up in several rooms, each detailing a significant subject from the books and Harry Potter’s life in Hogwarts and beyond.
The prelude brings visitors to a hall where they can get sorted in one of the four Hogwarts houses by the Sorting Hat, which sings and rhymes in general good mood. Considering everyone is asked if they have a favorite house, this is probably rather less trustworthy than other online tests and Pottermore to decide your house. It is a fantastic touch to the exhibition, though, one that will undoubtedly be enjoyed by many visitors.
Next up is the steam train that takes students from Platform 9¾ to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (remember: don’t tickle a sleeping dragon!) and from there on the exhibition really kicks off with its first area: the Gryffindor common room. Where you can not only see school uniforms on display, but also school supplies, four poster beds, Ron’s Chudley Cannons collection, the Marauder’s Map and so much more.
A lovely detail is all the moving portraits at the entrance to this area, including the Fat Lady’s infamous attempt to break a glass by singing.
From the common room it’s into the class rooms, for Potions, Herbology, Divination, Defense against the Dark Arts and other magical learnings we have come to know so well from both books and films. Not only are many props on display, but also costumes, and it’s good fun to be able to study them up close.
Few things say Harry Potter like the favorite sport of the wizarding world: Quidditch. With not only robes and more props on display, but a goal set up where people can experience first-hand how much fun Quidditch can be. It made us google the nearest Muggle Quidditch team in any case!
Another part that could not be left out, and wasn’t, is a recreation of Hagrid’s cottage and parts of the dark forest, featuring a great many number of creatures in habiting the forbidden woods surrounding Hogwarts.
Of course, it isn’t all fun, games and good magic. The Harry Potter universe is also full of the dark arts and they are well represented in the exhibition. Fans of Voldemort and his Death Eaters will definitely not be disappointed by the huge array of Dementors, Death Eater paraphernalia and costumes from the films.
What is great is that there isn’t just focus on Voldemort’s reign of terror from the later books and movies. Instead they built it up and spread it out, making sure the darkness from each film is represented in the exhibition.
The final room focuses on the Great Hall and beautiful props and costumes used in the movies for great hall settings: replica foods and rare costumes, such as Fleur’s Beaubatons uniform, Victor Krum’s Quidditch uniform, the outfits of Tonks and Sirius Black, as well as floating candles and gargoyles; wizarding world candy and board games.
All signs that go with the displays are in Dutch and French, but an English visitor’s guide is available and the audio guides also cover more than those two languages, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for international visitors.
In exhibit tradition, the exit is through the gift shop, which is the least interesting part of the exhibition. People hoping to find nice, original things at a good price will be sorely disappointed. Other than T-shirts and the lovely exhibition guide (only available in Dutch and French), the merchandise was nothing new: some plushes, candy, the standard House bits and bobs and wands and quills. Some things are fairly reasonably priced, others are far too expensive, especially considering the quality is so-so.
But, merchandise disappointments aside, the exhibition is definitely 100 percent worthwhile to visit for fans of the Harry Potter universe. It is beautifully set up, with fun, interactive displays as well as static ones that really give you the chance to admire props and costumes from the movies.
It is also remarkable how many steam- and dieselpunk influences there are in the movies, once you get to have a much closer looks at things. It’s really rather marvelous and, for ‘punks, it’ll be brilliant on an whole added level.