Photo Report – Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience in Leesburg, VA

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is bordered by the village of Hogsmead, the Black Lake, and the Forbidden Forest. The latter is a place where students are not permitted without the company of a teacher, hence its name. But, if you have the bravery of a Gryffindor, you might just heed all warnings and enter Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience, which recently made its U.S. debut in Leesburg, VA (near Washington, D.C.) and Westchester, NY (near New York City).

We were invited to check out the experience in Leesburg, which is put on by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with Fever, Thinkwell, and Unify. The event has transformed Morven Park’s walking trail into the magical grounds beyond Hogwarts. The experience starts with a little village, the first of two opportunities to purchase food, beverages (including Butter Beer), and souvenirs. It was a chilly night and lines were long for hot drinks, particularly hot cocoa, although we found no wait at the second village for hot cider (midway through the experience). Another thing to note is that the full experience ends with a gift shop inside a large tent which had a bigger selection of merchandise in addition to the same items found at this booth. But if it is raining or colder than you expected, they sell themed umbrellas and winter hats and gloves, plus hoodies.

Tickets are sold by timed entry and your adventure begins just outside the trail’s entrance where a host explains the rules (stay on the trails) and then kicks off the magic by using a deluminator to absorb the lights from the lanterns surrounding your group.

The event doesn’t start until after sundown, but the forest is lit with magical colors on your way to discovering familiar sights from the Wizarding World.

Hogwarts groundskeeper Hagrid and his trusty dog Fang were the first characters we found. I wonder what Hagrid was looking for…

A grove of owls eventually revealed Hedwig, likely out for a nighttime hunt.

The longest photo-op line we encountered was for a hippogriff, who bows as each visitor approaches. Be sure to bow back!

A sign warns that the next section of the forest is highly risky during a full moon. The sound of werewolves can be heard along this pass, and you may even feel like you’re being watched through the darkness.

There may be a few spooks, although nothing truly jumps out at you (except for the spiders towards the end, which are avoidable). But there are also enchanting moments, like a section of glittering Niffler burrows. They all seem empty, though. Where are those guys?

There they are!

I wonder if Hagrid was looking for his little (but big!) half-brother Grawp.

Is that a car I hear? Are those headlights flying through the sky?

After the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia crash lands, you can take a picture with it.

The forest is forbidden not only because of the dangerous creatures that live there, but also because its been a hotbed for dark arts activity. A stretch of the forest includes symbols that magically appear and vanish, including he-who-must-not-be-named’s dark mark and the symbol for the Deathly Hallows.

The event started with a glowing photo op of a Patronus, but one of the interactive elements was the opportunity to cast your own. What will your Patronus be?

One of my favorite moments was the chance to see a unicorn walking around the Forbidden Forest.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is family-friendly and there were quite a few families with small children, but it also makes for a romantic date night. If you fall into that category, one of the photo ops is mistletoe from the Yule Ball.

Approaching the second village, you’ll find the carriages used to transport Hogwarts students from Hogsmead Station to school at the start of each term. Some may even be able to see the Thestrals that pull them.

This second village is where the more substantial food items can be found, with options including The Fat Fryer (fish and chips, bangers and mash, cottage pie), Dragonfire Roasts (turkey legs, roasted corn), Forest Fancies (scones, pastries, hot chocolate, coffee, tea), The Mulling Pot (mulled cider and wine), The Bowtruckle Bar (cocktails, wine, soda), and the Sweet Shop (marshmallows to toast at the fire pit).

If you have a party of two, you can participate in a wand battle. We were given wands to use and tapping them on either side of a lighted path would start a duel between the two wand holders.

You know the spiders are coming as the webs begin to appear between trees. When we were first grouped to enter the Forbidden Forest, we were told that anyone who did not want to see spiders would have the opportunity to bypass them (arachnophobia is very real). A sign reiterates this point and we soon found temporary walls that obstructed Aragog and his family from the main path, making it easy for squeamish guests to go around it.

If you chose to tough it out, you were treated to a life-size Aragog welcoming you, only to become a potential source of protein for his sons and daughters, who descend upon you from on high.

Our visit to the Forbidden Forest almost at an end, a group of centaurs were spotted looking on at us muggles with curiosity.

For the big finale, we were once again grouped to witness dementors descending on the Black Lake, with a stag Patronus appearing to scare them off.

The final stretch ot path leading to the gift shop including pixies, blast-ended skrewts, bowtruckles, and pygmy puffs.

The final gift shop includes some merchandise specific to the event, particularly apparel with the Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience logo on it and imagery from the event, like the stag Patronus.

There’s lots of kid-friendly products as well, including light-up lanyards, bendable pixies, and plush characters of nifflers and pixies.

Smaller mementos include pins, keychains, patches, and journals.

House-specific items (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw) are also available, including robes in children and adult sizes, although the t-shirts don’t lean into the color of each house.

With the two wand experiences during the walkthrough, those left wanting one to take home can also see which wand chooses them.

And if you have a sweet tooth, you can purchase a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, chocolate wands, and gummy butter beer bottles.

As a Wizarding World fan, I was very impressed with Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience. My expectations were that there would be a few photo displays, but it was much more interactive and immersive. The event is currently booking through January in both U.S. locations and have sold out for many nights through the holidays. If you’re going to be near Washington D.C. or New York City this winter, you will want to plan in advance. Ticket prices vary by night, with adult prices (16+) ranging from $36-$75 and children prices (5-15) from $25-$64.

The event also gives back, giving guests the option to donate to the non-profit organization One Tree Planted. A sign at the event proudly revealed that 4,423 trees have been planted so far thanks to guests visiting the experience.

Click here for tickets to the Leesburg, VA event.

Click here for tickets to the Westchester, NY event.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).