Harry Potter: Magic at Play at Water Tower Place in Chicago

The entering class of Hogwarts.
The entering class of Hogwarts.
7/21/23 - By Maureen Wilkey

Do you have a kid who knows what house the sorting hat would place them in and could identify a blast-ended skrewt or a mandrake? If so, you might want to take them to visit Harry Potter: Magic at Play at Water Tower Place. The pop-up experience has extended its stay in Chicago through Labor Day weekend, giving kids plenty of chances to check it out before school starts again. Explore the magical wizarding world to ignite your kids' imaginations and encourage reading and story-telling over the summer break.

Harry Potter: Magic at Play is the perfect Indoor Activity for a rainy day or bad air quality day. Here's what to expect from the experience.


Tips and Tickets for Harry Potter: Magic at Play

Harry Potter: Magic at Play takes kids through the books with a variety of photo ops and interactive experiences. We went with our 8-year-old, who is halfway through the third book, and our six-year-old, who has limited knowledge of the series, and they both had fun, but the experience is decidedly more meaningful if you know the story. If you're not sure if your kids are witches and wizards or muggles and squibs, or if you have a mix of both, we recommend going on a weekday when prices are $19 per kid and $27 per adult, far below the weekend prices of $34 per child and $42.50 per grown-up. You can buy tickets on Fever.

The exhibit is located on the second floor of Water Tower Place, and there are no restrooms within the exhibit. While they tell you it takes about an hour to go through, our experience was closer to two hours, so we recommend going potty on the first floor or mezzanine level before you start. Also consider going shortly after a meal so you don't have to cut your time short for hunger meltdowns—there's no re-entry once you leave the experience.

Here's what you'll see at Harry Potter: Magic at Play:

Harry Potter: Magic at Play, Chicago

You start the experience on Privet Drive.

Privet Drive

Start out on Privet Drive outside the Dursley's house, where you can see hedges, the brick exterior, and owls perched on the rooftop. Step inside to see the letters flying out of the fireplace to invite Harry to Hogwarts. You can also peek inside the closet under the stairs that serves as Harry's bedroom. A small climbing structure lets kids climb up the chimney and slide down the stairs—it's a little tight for grown-ups, but our kids loved it.

Platform 9 3/4

Next, visit King's Cross Station, where kids can take pictures pushing a luggage cart through a brick wall. You'll also get a glimpse of the Hogwarts Express as it travels towards...


This tiny taste of the fictional village shows the luggage being unloaded from the train and a candy cart representing Honeydukes. It makes for a few fun pictures, but there's nothing to touch or play with here.

Harry Potter: Magic at Play, Chicago

Exploring the Hogwarts Boats

Hogwarts Boats

Kids can sit in the Hogwarts boats and imagine traveling across the Black Lake to get to the fabled school. Lighting effects mimic water and create the shadows of the creatures within the lake on the floor.

The Great Hall

See floating chandeliers and find your house table before taking a picture with your group in the Great Hall. Lots of little details make this a fun room to explore.

Portrait Gallery and Sorting Hats

Walk past a series of pictures of famous and semi-famous witches, wizards, and ghosts. If you're using your imagination, you just may see some of them move or follow you with their eyes! Kids can then sit on a stool beneath the Sorting Hat and listen as it chooses which house they should be placed in. Your picture is taken as you are sorted, so you can choose to purchase it at the end or as part of a photo package.

Harry Potter: Magic at Play, Chicago

Class is in session at Hogwarts.

Hogwarts Classrooms

Take a picture with stacks of books before learning how to cast a spell in the Charms classroom. You'll learn to swish and flick while chanting "Wingardium Leviosa" to make a feather float up within a glass cloche. Then, move on to the Potions section where you can see, touch, and smell the many different ingredients you read about in the Harry Potter books, from Adder's Fork to Wormwood.

Four giant cauldrons in the Divination room are ready for kids to stir and see what images they can conjure. They'll also see the shadows of pixies—not the sweet Tinkerbell kind—in the Defense Against the Dark Arts room. See if you can come up with the right magic word to freeze their shadows on the wall. This series of rooms was my daughter's favorite because of all the chances for interaction and the chance to identify the plotlines from the books.

Harry Potter: Magic at Play, Chicago

Do you have what it takes for Quidditch?

Quidditch Pitch

Do you have the reflexes to be a great seeker or the aim to be a good chaser? Find out on the Quidditch pitch! Try to touch the light-up Snitch before it disappears in an array of hexagons to prove your seeking skills. Then, take pictures on a broomstick against a green screen to create a gravity-defying shot to share. One of our kids may have actually thrown a bludger at just the right moment, so it looks like they're actually playing. Then, you can toss quaffles through a series of hoops to prove your skills as a chaser. This room is also highly interactive and probably the most fun for the not-as-diehard fans of the stories, like our son.  The active sports elements are great for burning some energy.

Harry Potter: Magic at Play, Chicago

Designing a Harry Potter LEGO Minifig

Create and animate your own Harry Potter LEGO Minifigure

Step up to a lectern with an electronic touch screen to create a LEGO Harry Potter figure. Select a Hogwarts House, hair color, accessories, and backdrop for your figure, then step in front of the lectern and gaze into the Mirror of Erised. The LEGO figure will follow your motions to make a short video. Kids should have their dance moves ready to have some fun with this part of the pop-up. You'll get an image of the minifig you create sent to your email.

The Forbidden Forest

For kids who are a little more skittish, the lead-up to the Forbidden Forest may be a little scary, but there are no jump scares here. Kids can pick up a lantern to walk through the black-lit forest and shine a light on the walls and trees to see what they find. Patronuses and dementors are hidden and waiting to be illuminated as you pass through. A final green screen photo allows you to cast a spell and see your own Patronus when you order the pictures.

TriWizard Tournament Maze

This is the semi-final stop on the journey, where kids run though an astroturf hedge maze with little surprises in each hidden corner. It's actually kind of easy to lose your kids in here, so make sure you keep an eye on potential runners. Look out for Spectrespecs, Nifflers, Whomping Willows, and more as you turn around each bend. Check out the Knight Bus on your way out to...

Harry Potter: Magic at Play, Chicago

You can taste Butter Beer and buy gifts with your house logo or mascot.

The Gift Shop, Butter Beer Bar, and Owl Post Office

You can buy almost anything you can imagine with your house logo or mascot on it. Apparel, pins, plush toys, mugs, keychains, and of course, wands are all available for Harry Potter fans of all ages. Luckily, there are a few reasonably priced items, like pins and water bottle stickers, if you're not ready to spring for a full set of Gryffindor robes yet (because you know once you do that they'll decide they're actually a Hufflepuff.)

If you've every wanted a taste of Butter Beer, here's your chance. It's non-alcoholic and it's actually on tap for $9 for a 12 ounce cup. Spoiler alert: It's a little like a melted butterscotch Dum Dum with light carbonation and foam. You get to keep the cup, so if you're looking for an inexpensive souvenir, this may be your winner. Our kids also wanted to try the Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, which are on hand here for $3 for a 1.2 ounce package. Fair warning: Half or more of the package we got were actually disgusting flavors like vomit, dirt, booger, and earthworm, and the kids dared Dad to eat most of those. This was fun for about three beans and then kind of gross. Choose chocolate frogs or one of the array of pastries available if you're looking for something to fill little bellies. 

You can also stop by the Owl Post and pick out an exclusive Harry Potter themed post card to send to Muggles back home. This is a fun way to commemorate the experience.

For kids (and adults) who are truly Order of Merlin Witches and Wizards, the Harry Potter: Magic at Play experience is not to be missed. It's also a great place for little Gilderoy Lockharts to take one-of a-kind selfies to share and show off. Muggles and squibs will also likely find something they like here, but they may be in and out in a shorter period of time. So grab your wand, get on your broomstick and kick off for a unique experience in Harry Potter: Magic at Play. 

All photos are courtesy of the author.

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