Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience Brings a Magical Walk-Through to the DC Area
Harry Potter fans, rejoice! A portion of Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia has transformed into Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience, a magical walk-through that takes guests along a nighttime woodland trail filled with creatures, characters, and scenes from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films. Spectacular lighting and sound effects, mist, and interactive elements make visitors feel like they've truly stepped into the Wizarding World.
My family recently had the opportunity to visit Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience. Read on for my full review, and check out our review of the Yorktown Heights, New York experience. Be sure to purchase tickets soon: Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is only in town until January 29, 2023, and tickets are selling fast!
Visiting Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience in Leesburg, VA with Kids
My kids were in awe the moment we arrived at Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience and saw the woods lit up in a variety of colors. As we walked along the trail, the colors constantly changed, giving the whole experience a truly magical vibe. Even the ground below us changed into colorful patterns that reflected the tone of whatever we were passing. Hidden speakers along the way played sound effects, music, and characters' voices, prompting my 8-year-old daughter to shout things like, "I hear Harry!" and, "That's Hedwig's theme!" We all enjoyed spotting owls, nifflers, and other magical creatures as we walked. And we laughed at the various warning signs that said things like, "Attention! Area of Significant Niffler Activity."
Meet Buckbeak the hippogriff and other magical creatures along the way.
We really appreciated being allowed to walk and explore the trail at our own pace. We didn't feel rushed at all, and with no tour guides telling us where to look, we experienced the thrill of spotting things on our own. However, there were workers at the various interactive stations sprinkled throughout the trail. They explained what we had to do to get the interactive elements—which were the coolest part of the whole experience—to work. We bowed to an animatronic, motion-activated Buckbeak the hippogriff and gasped as he bowed back. My kids learned spells that helped them conjure patronuses with provided wands. They had wand duels using a touch-sensitive display. And they got to cast spells to turn lights on and off.
Kids will be delighted to spot Hagrid and other favorite characters from the films.
Of course, no Harry Potter-themed walk-through would be complete without some favorite characters from the films. My kids were delighted to spot Hagrid, visit Aragog the spider's lair, and come face-to-face with a giant with steam coming out of its nostrils. They even got to see Harry himself in an exciting finale reenacting one of the series' most iconic scenes.
My entire family absolutely loved Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience. Even those who haven't seen—or aren't fans of—the Harry Potter films will appreciate the magic of this truly unique experience.
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Fuel up with butterbeer and other refreshments about halfway through the trail.
Eating at Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience
About halfway through the trail, there's a village with snack stands, plenty of picnic tables, and very clean bathrooms where guests can take a break and fuel up. Refreshments for sale fit the Harry Potter theme, including savory English favorites like Cornish pasties (similar to chicken pot pies), sausage rolls, and chicken and mushroom pies, as well as sweet treats like mini chocolate cakes and lemon and cherry traybakes. Drink options included Hogwarts Hot Chocolate and, of course, non-alcoholic butterbeer. We tried almost everything and loved it, though the hot chocolate was a little sweeter than we would have liked (and believe me, there's more than one sweet tooth among us).
Take an Insta-worthy pic in front of the Weasleys' car.
Know Before You Go to Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience
Length of the Experience
Overall, we spent about an hour and 15 minutes at Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience. That was during a media preview with no lines at the refreshment stands and the gift shop at the end of the trail being closed. The event website estimates that most visitors spend an hour to 90 minutes at the experience. But, take your time—no one will rush you along!
The trail is entirely outdoors, so be sure to wear warm clothing and sensible shoes. It is an unpaved dirt path with a few uneven spots, but it is packed down and stroller-friendly.
Look up in the trees to spot Hedwig the owl!
Kids of all ages are welcome at Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience. Though some elements can be a bit spooky for little ones, most of them are pretty easy to avoid. You can even let an attendant know if anyone in your party has arachnophobia and they'll make sure you avoid spiders.
Ticket prices vary depending on the date and are cheaper on weekdays. On-site parking costs an additional fee of $8 if you reserve online ahead of time and $10 at the gate. Children under 5 are free! Note that many dates are already sold out, but January 2023 still has plenty of availability. Purchase your tickets as soon as possible, and be sure to arrive 15 minutes before your reservation time.
All photos courtesy of the author