• Franki Rudnesky

Harry Potter: The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute


The Slytherin room in the Harry Potter exhibit at Franklin Institute. (Franklin Institute/Courtesy Photo)

Calling all Muggles and Potterheads: It’s time to grab your wands and broomsticks, wizarding robes and invisibility cloaks, owls and house elves, Chocolate Frogs and Butterbeer—because something magical has appeared in Philadelphia.


The world premiere of Harry Potter: The Exhibition opened at The Franklin Institute on February 18, and the first weekend for this one-of-a-kind interactive experience saw sold-out success.


“Anticipation has been growing for months. In just 15 weeks this exhibition has exceeded presales for every exhibition at The Franklin Institute since 2007. All indications show that Harry Potter: The Exhibition will be one of, if not the most popular exhibition in the history of The Franklin Institute and the city of Philadelphia,” Larry Dubinski, President and CEO of The Franklin Institute, said.


Just months after fans celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the first Harry Potter movie’s release with the “Return to Hogwarts” HBO Max special, fans can now step into what Dubinski refers to as, “the most comprehensive touring exhibition ever presented about the Wizarding World.”


Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which makes its world debut in Philadelphia through September 18, was created and developed by Imagine Exhibitions in partnership with Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, in association with EMC Presents.


“The Harry Potter films and Wizarding World stories have captivated fans worldwide for more than 20 years. Our goal at Warner Bros. is always to super-serve our fans. So, everything we do in the Wizarding World is with our fans in mind, and especially in Philly. And we are thrilled to be adding another experience for fans around the world to enjoy. This exhibition is an incredible way for families to celebrate the world of Hogwarts and beyond, bringing them up close and personal with their favorite props, costumes, wands and potions,” Peter van Roden, the Senior Vice President of Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, said. He also noted his own personal connection to the place in which the exhibition makes its debut.


“I am a Philly boy born and raised, and I have to say when I was growing up The Franklin Institute was my go-to place … So we are thrilled to be launching Harry Potter: The Exhibition here,” van Roden said.


Tom Zaller, President and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions, discussed what can be expected of Harry Potter: The Exhibition.


“This exhibition is an all-new, behind-the-scenes exhibition that celebrates iconic moments, characters, settings and beasts as seen in the films and stories of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and the expanding Wizarding World,” Zaller said.


Zaller also expanded upon the interactive capabilities of the immersive design and technology of the exhibition, specifically the RFID wristband given to each visitor.


“Everybody’s going to get one of these little wristbands; as you get that wristband you’re going to go to the kiosk and register a house that you want to choose to explore today, a wand, a Patronus, a few things that will be personal to you and your experience. There will be a place you can tap that wristband as you go through and little experiences will happen. Those will all be captured, and those will be your ‘Pensieve memories,’” Zaller said.


As noted by Zaller, when visitors first arrive they are given commemorative wristbands that double as their passports from the Muggle world into the Wizarding World. Upon arrival, visitors step from the halls of The Franklin Institute to King’s Cross Station, where, like Harry, their journey to Hogwarts begins. In the King’s Cross Station area, visitors sync up their wristbands and complete a Visitor Profile, selecting their Hogwarts house, Patronus and wand. (Pro Tip: Unsure what Hogwarts house and Patronus would belong to you? Before you go, you can take quizzes on wizardingworld.com to find out which ones match your personality!) Don’t worry, there are options to change some of these selections throughout the exhibition.


As visitors embark on their 18,000 square foot exhibition journey, complete with 21 galleries, there are “golden snitches” on which visitors can scan their wristband, receiving personalized experiences based on their Visitor Profile. Visitors can even win points for their chosen Hogwarts house! Entering the exhibition itself is like stepping inside of the pages of one of J.K. Rowling’s novels or into a movie scene. In fact, the first gallery, called “From Page to Screen” serves to reconnect guests to the story of Harry Potter; an original first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sits enclosed in a Gringotts-style vault as video clips and quotes from the movies play on the surrounding screens. At one point, it looks to visitors as though they are riding the Hogwarts Express, and in a way they are traveling from the world of the mundane to the world of magic. Visitors arrive at Hogwarts Castle, where the exhibition truly begins with an immersive multimedia experience showing the Whomping Willow and Dementors on Hogwarts grounds as the seasons change, and the iconic Marauder’s Map on which guests can find their names as they appear. After walking through a hall featuring replicas of the magical portraits found in Hogwarts, visitors can reckon with their choice in Hogwarts house by facing the Hogwarts Houses gallery, complete with a Sorting Hat. Along with photo ops galore, these galleries show off the best of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin and Hufflepuff, including costumes from some of the most notable students in each house and huge stained-glass house crests. Visitors can pretend to dine with their fellow witches and wizards in a projection-mapped version of the iconic Great Hall then check out some of the franchise’s most famous wands, even digitally casting spells with their interactive wristbands. (As Hermione Granger once said, “It’s Levi-O-sa, not Leviosa!”)


Want to see what it’s like to attend a full schedule of Hogwarts classes? The exhibition features Hogwarts classrooms, full of special props, creatures and famous (and infamous) Hogwarts professors’ costumes from the films. Using the exhibition’s interactive technology, visitors can feel like they’re taking part in magical classes such as Potions, Herbology and Defense Against the Dark Arts. The exhibition not only covers the iconic settings within the castle, but also fan-favorite spots on Hogwarts grounds, such as The Forbidden Forest, which features spooky creatures, and Hagrid’s Hut, where guests can hang out by the gentle giant’s oversized armchair and fireplace. Potterheads should be on the lookout for many more photo ops and interactive experiences, such as Quidditch gear, a Portkey, Dolores Umbridge’s pink cat-filled office, the infamous cupboard under the stairs and more, before reaching galleries based on the Harry Potter series’ concluding battle between good and evil. Visitors can view the main characters’ costumes from the final movie, still disheveled from battle, along with the Horcruxes they fought to destroy.


On the way out of the exhibit, visitors walk through the Pensieve room, where they can take a moment to reflect on the memories created on their journey through the Wizarding World before checking out the Harry Potter: The Exhibition gift shop, which features apparel, jewelry, edible treats (such as Chocolate Frogs and bottles of Butterbeer) and even rare collectible art.

The opening of this exhibition marks a new beginning, not only for Harry Potter fans, but for the city of Philadelphia as a whole, after nearly two years of shutdowns due to COVID-19.


“It’s a new day … the city of Philadelphia is open for business. We have to get that message out. We are open for business and this phenomenal exhibition will draw people from near and far to Philadelphia to visit The Franklin Institute and this phenomenal exhibit. Other cultural institutions, restaurants, hotels and all the other individuals and companies that support this city will benefit from us and the ability to host this phenomenal exhibition here. This is a great moment for the city of Philadelphia,” Dubinski said.


Ready to say “Accio tickets?” Check out www.fi.edu/exhibits/harry-potter to book your magical experience now through September 18!