Edinburgh has a rich literary history counting numerous influential writers among its alumni, but for fans of the Harry Potter franchise it’s most excitingly home to J.K. Rowling.
Whilst Rowling wasn’t actually born in Edinburgh, she did move to the city in the early 90’s – around the same time she started writing Harry Potter. Because of this, it’s thought that Edinburgh provided Rowling with a lot of inspiration for her novels, and if you have a wander around town, you’ll easily spot the similarities between her books and the capital.
As a bit of a potterhead myself – OK, a lot of a potterhead – I couldn’t resist visiting some Rowling related locations on a recent trip to Edinburgh. In true Geeky Tourist fashion, I even created a little tour of the magical places I found in the city.
Every location has some sort of connection to the Harry Potter universe so it’s the ultimate guide, filled with 15 different places not to miss. I’ve even added some rough time scales to visit certain places if you’re only about for a day – but obviously spread the tour over a weekend if you have time.
10am | Let’s begin with somewhere to get a nice breakfast to start off your day. Spoon, down Nicolson Street, is a popular café, once owned by Rowling’s brother-in-law, which supplied the struggling author with a warm place to write and endless cups of coffee to keep her brain wired. Back then it was called Nicholson’s Café, but apart from a name change, it has remained virtually the same, and boasts a rather fancy plaque dedicated to Rowling, along with a diverse bistro menu.
11am | If you cross the road to South College Street, and head towards the National Museum of Scotland, you will find yourself at Potterrow. It’s nothing particularly special – just a sign on a path – but being along a route Rowling would have taken hundreds of times, you can’t help but think this might be where she got the name for her most famous character.
George Heriot’s School
11:15am | Carry on walking down Potterrow until it leads into Lauriston Place, which is where you will find the 17th century George Heriot’s School. This building is thought to have inspired Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, and with its grey stoned walls and turrets, the resemblance really is uncanny – but do remember that this is a working school, so be careful if you’re taking photos.
The Elephant House
11:30am | Head back towards Potterow, turning left onto George IV Bridge, and you’ll find yourself at the Elephant House cafe – it’s bright red so you won’t miss it. Self-described the ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’, it’s another coffee house where Rowling spent a lot of time writing. The cafe offers some great views over Edinburgh, however the food is nothing to shout out about so don’t stick around. They do have a bathroom covered in Harry Potter related graffiti though. Read my tips if you plan on visiting.
11:45am | This small graveyard found just round the corner from The Elephant House is home to some very famous names within the Harry Potter universe. Thomas Riddell, Moody and McGonagall all appear on tombstones throughout Greyfriars, and are no doubt where J.K. Rowling got inspiration for the names of some of her characters – whether she consciously realised it or not. They can be a little hard to find though, so give yourself a good 30 minutes to wander round.
12pm | Follow Candlemaker Row towards Grassmarket and you’ll reach Victoria Street. This whole area oozes Harry Potter. The cobbled roads, mismatched store fronts and colourful buildings were inspiration for Diagon Alley in the books, and if you head into a few of the crooked buildings, it genuinely feels like you’re shopping for school supplies. Which leads me to my next stop..
12:15pm | Sat snuggly down Victoria Street, Diagon House is a Harry Potter haven, filled to the brim with gifts and goodies inspired by both the books and films. It boasts an impressive collection that rivals even the Universal Studios store, and stocks some very rare and beautiful finds. It even looks the part with a huge amount of effort having gone into the decoration of the shop. I rave even more about here if you want to see some photos of the inside.
The Central Library
12:45pm | The Central Library can be found at the end of Victoria Street. In partnership with the History of Magic Exhibition at the British Library, it currently houses a small collection of Harry Potter artifacts based on the nine subjects taught at Hogwarts. There are rare books from the Royal Observatory, and a real life Mandrake from the Royal Botanic Gardens. They’ve also been hosting a range of events to go with the exhibition where you can learn more about the magic of stage make up, or the owls used in the movies. Make sure to check out their schedule if you plan on visiting.
Bank of Scotland Foundation
1pm | If you turn left out of Victoria Street, you will see the Bank of Scotland Foundation at the end of Bank Street. This beautiful building inspired Gringotts – the wizarding world’s bank found down Diagon Alley. Whilst there are definitely no dragons hidden inside its walls, it does look incredibly magical and grand. It’s also right round the corner from the Royal Mile, which is the perfect place to grab a spot of lunch. I personally recommend Deacon Brodies Tavern which has its very own literary ties – it’s named after the man who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde.
The Writer’s Museum
2pm | The Writer’s Museum celebrates the lives of Edinburgh’s most iconic writers, and in the past, has been home to some very rare first editions of Harry Potter books. It can be found just off of Lawnmarket, housed in a 17th century building named after Lady Stairs, and is one of the most unusual looking buildings in the capital, screaming Harry Potter. It’s uncertain whether the museum inspired any one particular building in Rowling’s wizarding universe, but to me it looks very Weasley-esk.
2:30pm | At the very end of The Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, another building thought to have inspired Hogwarts. When you look up at it high on the hill, you can definitely see the similarities – it feels like you’re a first year seeing Hogwarts for the very first time. I didn’t go into the castle myself, but there are regular tours. If you don’t fancy braving the crowds, at least explore the Esplanade where you will find the Witches Well – a fountain that marks the spot where hundreds of accused witches were burnt at the stake.
3pm | Heading back down the Royal Mile will lead you to the City Chambers, which houses Edinburgh’s very own Hollywood Walk of Fame. As you walk into the quadrangle, you will find J.K. Rowling’s golden hand prints set into a cement slab on the ground, joined by the likes of Ian Rankin and Sir Chris Hoy.
The Balmoral Hotel
3:30pm | Another building known for being a favourite haunt of Rowling’s is The Balmoral Hotel, specifically room 552 – which is now known as the Rowling Suite. It was here that she finished writing The Deathly Hallows, overlooking the city. The same desk she used still lays within the room, along with an inscription she wrote, dated 11th Jan 2007 – the day she finished writing her book. You can stay in the exact same room and write at that very desk yourself, but it will put you back £1,000 a night.
4pm | From the Balmoral, head down North Bridge, until you reach East Market Street, which is where you will find Edinburgh’s latest pop-up bar – Perilous Potions – inspired by Harry Potter. If you’re partial to a few cocktails, you can learn how to brew your own ‘potions’, whilst exploring the incredibly detailed bar which is modelled on a Potions lab that even Snape would be jealous of. Make sure to book a spot at one of their classes.
Where to Stay
You can’t go on a Harry Potter tour around Edinburgh, and not stay in a Harry Potter themed apartment whilst you’re there, so the last place I’ve added to the tour is the Canongate Luxury Apartment, which is modeled on the wizarding world. The master bedroom resembles a Gryffindor dorm room with a four poster bed and floating candles, whilst the second bedroom looks like a carriage straight off of the Hogwarts Express. Even the front door is modelled on Platform 9 3/4, and there are so many other Harry Potter easter eggs around the apartment that you may want to book an extra night and do the tour all over again.