Practice your wingardium leviosa spell at “Harry Potter: Magic at Play.” Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Grab your wands and apparate over to the new immersive Harry Potter exhibit in Bellevue. Wizards, witches and even Muggles will have a magical time exploring the wizarding world.
“Harry Potter: Magic at Play” opens at The Shops at the Bravern Friday and runs through May 12, 2024. The show was created by Original X Productions, the same company behind the “Friends Experience” in Seattle earlier this year. This touring Harry Potter exhibit opened in Chicago last November, and Bellevue is its second stop.
Hands-on magic and fun
Climb, touch, smell, stir, taste — the exhibit is literally hands on. We loved all the interactive activities and photo ops. There are fun games for kids, and so much detail here you could spend forever just admiring the props.
In other words, Harry Potter nerds, prepare to fully geek out.
The experience starts in the same place J.K. Rowling begins her story: the Dursleys’ house at No. 4 Privet Drive.
Next, head to Platform 9¾ and the Hogwarts Express. Cross the lake in a row boat to get to Hogwarts, then check out the Great Hall and all the classrooms. Play Quidditch, visit Hagrid’s pumpkin patch, trek through the Forbidden Forest.
There’s even a nod to the Fantastic Beasts prequels; look for Newt Scamander’s briefcase and a kniffler.
Be prepared to take a million pictures. You’re welcome to take your own, or you can purchase a digital photo package for $35. Prints start at $20 for a green screen photo op where you appear to be flying on a broomstick above the Quidditch pitch.
My kids’ favorite part of the exhibit was throwing quaffles into the Quidditch goalposts. Mine was levitating a feather in Charms. It took me a couple of wingardium leviosas to nail the spell.
This exhibit is decidedly low-tech. There are very few electronic gimmicks here. Escaping from the enchanted hedge means climbing through a web of bungee cords. Step into a cutout picture frame to embody a painting.
In the Potions, you can smell and touch different ingredients, and use a magnifying glass to examine them. (Polyjuice potion was unexpectedly fragrant, clearly not eau de Crabbe and Goyle.)
The show makes a point to be accessible. One of the sorting hat bays is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Likewise, one of the boats in the Black Lake has a cutout so wheels can roll right on. At the broomstick photo op, there’s an accessible booth.
The Harry Potter show is set up in the former Neiman Marcus space at The Bravern. OGX did a decent job obliviating signs of the defunct retail chain. You’re walking on turf, surrounded by faux stone walls, hearing sound clips from the movie. It’s plausible.
The grande finale is the Butterbeer Café, where you can buy a bottle of Hogmeade’s best for $9. Butterbeer smells like butterscotch and tastes like a cream soda. (In all honesty, my kids took one sip and it was enough.)
The end of the exhibit delivers you right to the gift shop, of course, where you can find house robes, wands, all kinds of wizarding world merch for sale.
Note: You can visit the gift shop and the Butterbeer Café without a ticket to the exhibit. Whether you experience the exhibit first or just visit the gift shop, expect to “Accio wallet!” in there.
For young Harry fans
My impression is that the exhibit leans toward a younger audience; think elementary school rather than teens. The Weasleys’ Burrow is in fact a toddler play fort.
In the Dursleys’ living room, you can enter a climbing gym through the fireplace and take a double slide down the staircase. I can personally attest that this feature is scaled for children, but strong enough to hold an adult’s weight, and that slide is fast.
While the later books in the Harry Potter series turn dark, there is nothing scary in this exhibit. No dementors, no Death Eaters, certainly no He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Forbidden Forest is dark, but you’ll be given a lantern.
The bottom line
We’re a family of Potterheads, and we love visiting Harry Potter experiences.
- The flagship Harry Potter New York store is free to visit. But you’d have to fly to New York City.
- “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” is another traveling show that has many more bells and whistles. But right now, that one’s touring in New York City, Barcelona and Macao.
- There is no comparison for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. There just isn’t.
“Harry Potter: Magic at Play” in Bellevue isn’t the biggest or the shiniest. But it’s fun. And the best part is, it’s here.
I’m a big fan of experience gifts for the holidays. This is a good one to put on your wish list for Santa.
If you go ...
When: “Harry Potter: Magic at Play” opens Friday, Nov. 10, and runs Wednesday–Sunday through May 2024.
Parking: Free parking is available in the garage under The Bravern; bring your ticket inside for validation. (And take note of the area where you parked as it can be tricky to find your car again.)
Tickets: Tickets for ages 10 and older cost $35–$52, depending on the date and time selected. Tickets for kids ages 3–9 cost $26–$41. (Plan on taxes and fees to be added.) Tots ages 2 and younger enter free with an adult. Buy your timed-entry tickets at the website. For best prices, book your tickets for a Wednesday or Thursday. Premium and flexible ticket options are available for an additional cost. Walk-up tickets may be available at times, but the attraction recommends purchasing timed-entry tickets in advance.
Duration: Arrive any time within your 30-minute timed-entry time slot. Once inside, you can walk around at your own pace. Take as long as you’d like. We recommend planning for an hour — two, if you’re a true fan.
Age recommendation: All ages are welcome. The target audience seems to be elementary-age kids.
Accessibility: The experience is fully ADA-accessible. For additional accessibility questions, email email@example.com.
Facilities: Restrooms are in the middle of the exhibit; ask a staff member if you need help finding them.
Merch: You better believe there is a budget-busting gift shop full of all kinds of stuff your kids will want. Plan accordingly.
Food and drink: Official Butterbeer and HP-themed snacks are available for purchase; no outside food or drink is allowed.
Parents should know: Tickets are timed for crowd control, but you may have to queue to get in, and I’d expect a wait at certain photo ops and activity stations as well.