The Harry Potter Guide to Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city steeped in history. Its gothic architecture, castles have unsurprisingly inspired countless artists, including JK Rowling herself. While drinking coffee in a humble Edinburgh café, Rowling is said to have looked out at Edinburgh castle through one of the small windows while she first started writing the Harry Potter books. It’s since been discovered that more of the city’s unique sites have made their way into Rowling’s world of boggarts, dementors and wizards in some form. Point A’s guide will take you through everything Potter fans need to know about the magical city of Edinburgh.

The Elephant House and Spoon Cafe

The Elephant House is known the world over as the birthplace of Harry Potter, so it makes the perfect start to any Potter-based explorations of the city. Rowling supposedly sat here for hours writing what would become the first book of the series, looking out the window and taking inspiration from the views of the city The café has since embraced its Potter affiliation, meaning it is now a common site for tourists to take photos and enjoy a coffee. The toilets are also now famously covered in Harry Potter-themed graffiti.

While the Elephant House is undoubtedly the birthplace, a little café just around the corner is where the majority of Rowling’s writing took place. The Spoon Café, which was then the Nicolson Café, was part-owned by her brother-in-law and she spent many an hour writing there. There’s even a small plaque if you look hard enough.

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

The Potter Trail Visits Greyfriar’s Kirkyard – Photo by Stephen Millar Photography

The Potter Trail Visits Greyfriar’s Kirkyard – Photo by Stephen Millar Photography

A slightly more morbid link to the world of Harry Potter are the tombstones in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. Several of the stones have names that crop up in the books. First up is the infamously bad Scottish poet William McGonagall, who shares a name with Hogwarts teacher Professor Minerva McGonagall. Then there’s the grave of Mrs Elizabeth Moodie, who many have theorised was the namesake for Professor “Mad-Eye” Moody.

While these two examples may seem coincidental there’s also one that’s a lot more concrete. In the middle of the graveyard you’ll find the tombstone of one Thomas Riddell, and his son Thomas Riddell Esquire. Lord Voldemort, the series’ main villain, was born as Tom Marvolo Riddle after his father of the same name. His father’s grave actually features in both the films and books and many have drawn the line between that and this very graveyard.

While it’s never been confirmed if the names on these tombstones did in fact inspire the names of characters in the books, the proximity to the Elephant House and the walks Rowling took in the area have led many to join the dots.

Victoria Street

While many of the streets in Edinburgh could have inspired parts of the books, it’s Victoria Street, and the surrounding Grassmarket that are said to have formed the basis for the wizarding world’s Diagon Alley. Victoria Street’s unique curving sloped road connects the Royal Mile to Grassmarket and is lined with colourful shopfronts.

There used to be a plaque on the corner, but sadly this has been removed. Despite this, it’s a wonderful street to visit, even if you aren’t a huge Potter-head.

J.K. Rowling Handprints at City Chambers

In 2008, Rowling was presented the Edinburgh Award for her contributions to the city. Since then, it’s no wonder Harry Potter tourism has grown. At the time, her handprints were placed in the flagstone outside the Edinburgh City Chambers. Gilded gold and easy to spot, they’re well worth going to see if you’re a Harry Potter enthusiast.

George Heriot’s School

Another one in close vicinity of J.K. Rowling’s old writing haunts is George Heriot’s School. First built in 1628 as an orphanage for boys, it’s now a co-ed primary & secondary school. With its location to her writing, turreted renaissance features, four house system and competitive house point competition it’s no wonder that it’s often listed as inspiration for the school of witchcraft and wizardry; Hogwarts. While the school isn’t open to the public, visitors are easily able to appreciate its architecture from the local area

Edinburgh Castle

Another building often cited as inspiration for Hogwarts also happens to be the most famous. Edinburgh castle dominates the skyline of the city and can be seen from the Elephant House café. Like George Heriot’s School it’s well-located to have potentially provided inspiration to the author, but she’s never confirmed whether either were in fact inspiration, although has hinted at it in interviews.

Balmoral Hotel

While the Balmoral Hotel looks and feels like the kind of architecture that would be another inspiration for J.K. Rowling, it’s more in line with the Elephant House than it is with one of Edinburgh’s other historical buildings. It is in fact where she finished writing the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series. Rowling actually wrote on a stone bust in suite 552, marking where and when she completed the series.

The suite itself has since been renamed ‘The Rowling Suite’ in her honour and contains both her writing desk and the graffitied bust. The bust is of Hermes, the Greek god of travel.

The Harry Potter Walking Tours

The Potter Trail – Photo by Stephen Millar Photography

The Potter Trail – Photo by Stephen Millar Photography

Unsurprisingly, with this wealth of Harry Potter inspiration all over the city there are a couple of different walking tours available. The primary experience is offered by The Potter Trail, who provide the original and award-winning tour. The tour lasts for 90 minutes, with a Harry Potter enthusiast witch or wizard as your guide. Tours are free but run on a tip basis.

The other tour available is the Harry Potter Walking Tour, which offers a two-hour walk around the key sites. Tickets for this tour are £12 and can be booked in advance.

Other things to see and do

While many of the sites in Edinburgh have direct links to the Harry Potter universe, there are also a great many places that have opened up to satisfy the interest of Potter fans. There are now numerous shops, experiences and bars themed around the books and films. Just a few of these include:

  • Harry Potter-themed shops – the city now hosts a large number of these shops, but the best include the officially licensed Diagon House (officially known as Museum Context) on Victoria Street or The Boy Wizard, also on Victoria street.
  • Harry Potter-themed drinksThe Dog House has taken it upon itself to recreate the series’ famous drink Butter Beer if you want to go and try a pint.
  • Harry Potter ExperiencesThe Department of Magic is home to Harry Potter cocktail masterclasses where you can make and drink your favourite potions. It also has the Dark Lord Resurrection escape rooms. Booking is advised for both of these experiences.

The city itself has so much to offer, whether you’re a Potter fan or not. But if you’re looking to experience the city’s links with the wizarding world of Harry Potter, we can help you make it a reality. Come and stay at our Point A Edinburgh Haymarket hotel and start exploring the magical streets of Edinburgh.

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