The Ultimate Harry Potter Guide to Edinburgh
14 September 2018
- things to do
[Cover image by Forkuza]
Harry Potter is a household name across the globe, but did you know that J.K. Rowling penned the world's favourite wizarding stories right here in Edinburgh?
As you walk around the city, you can see the streets and sights that inspired the global sensation. Visit the locations in our guide and get a real sense of Hogwarts and the Wizarding World, right here in Scotland's capital...
The Elephant House and Spoon Café
[Image by Alf Melin]
The Elephant House: 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EN
Spoon Café: 6A Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DH
Start your journey where it all began. Before she made her fortune with the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling would seek refuge from the cold and write her early manuscripts in Edinburgh's warm and welcoming cafés. The most notable is The Elephant House on George IV Bridge, where you'll find lots of tourists taking selfies in front of the sign marking the "birthplace" of Harry Potter. The fixation continues inside, where even the bathrooms are covered in Harry Potter graffiti.
If you want to avoid the crowds, though, walk around five minutes away to Spoon Café on Nicolson Street. The premises was previously occupied by Nicolsons Café, which was co-owned by Rowling’s brother-in-law, and it has been confirmed that much of the first Harry Potter book was written here. The location is marked with an understated plaque on the corner of Drummond Street, so keep your eyes peeled!
26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE
In between her writing sessions in the Edinburgh cafés, J.K. Rowling would stroll around the streets of Edinburgh, which served as much of her inspiration for the Harry Potter universe. Perhaps somewhat morbidly, she would walk around the nearby Greyfriar's Kirkyard and look at the gravestones, with some of the names slipping into her books. Keep an eye out for McGonagalls, Potters, Scrymgeours and more.
However, undoubtedly the most famous resident in Greyfriar's Kirkyard is Thomas Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort or "He who must not be named". Many fans make the pilgrimage here to pay tribute to the man who gave his name to the most evil of the wizarding world, so the grass path leading to this grave is well worn!
Head across the Grassmarket and you'll find the curve of Victoria Street and The West Bow, where restaurants are stacked on top of shops tightly packed together in brightly painted buildings and selling oddities and trinkets.
It's no wonder then, that this colourful street is rumoured to have served as the inspiration for London's magical shopping thoroughfare Diagon Alley. Head along to the Grassmarket, soak up the atmosphere and pick up something unique as a souvenir from this curious street.
J.K. Rowling's Handprints at The City Chambers
Edinburgh City Chambers: 253 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ
Just off the Royal Mile you can find the famous author's handprints reproduced on a flagstone in the quadrangle in front of Edinburgh City Chambers. The prints were produced when JK Rowling was awarded the Edinburgh Award in 2008.
You'll also find the handprints of other recipients of the Award, including Sir Chris Hoy, Ian Rankin OBE and local hero Tom Gilzean.
George Heriot's School
Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ
Even though the location of Hogwarts has never been officially determined, rumour has it that J.K. Rowling based the magical school on George Heriot's School in Edinburgh's city centre. Built in 1628 with four towers and breath-taking gothic architecture, you can understand why the author found it so inspiring. Hogwarts also mirrors George Heriot’s with its system of four houses and an on-going house competition each year.
It's rarely open to the public, but you can get a good view of it from George IV Bridge, Lauriston Place and Greyfriar's Kirkyard.
The Balmoral Hotel
1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
The Balmoral is the pinnacle of luxury in Edinburgh and highlights JK Rowling’s rags to riches story. While she started her writing in the humble surroundings of the Edinburgh's cafés, she completed the last scenes of her final book in one of the hotel's grandest suites, Room 552.
The suite, renamed ‘The Rowling Suite’ in her honour, contains her writing desk as well as a marble bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, signed by the author. Book ahead and stay the night here to immerse yourself in the ultimate Harry Potter experience!
The Dark Lord Resurrection
1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
Edinburgh's latest escape room is a must for any wannabe wizards with an evil streak. The Dark Lord Resurrection, from the same people behind the Department of Mysteries, is for those who want to side with the darker side of the magic arts.
Not even death can stop him, his faithful followers have a plan. Enter the Mausoleum, find the right incantation, retrieve the hidden artifacts, create a spellbinding potion. Use all of your dark magic to bring him back. The Dark Lord shall rise again! Find out more at departmentofmysteries.com.
The Writer's Museum
[Image Credit: Edinburgh Museums Website]
Lawnmarket, Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh EH1 2PA
The Writers’ Museum in Lady Stair’s Close, just off the Lawnmarket area at the top of the Royal Mile, is the perfect place to learn about more of Edinburgh’s most famous writers. From Robert Burns’ writing desk to the rocking horse Sir Walter Scott used as a child, this museum contains precious relics that will captivate all book-lovers!
In Makars’ Court, right next to the Writer’s Museum, you can feel inspired through reading famous quotations from a multitude of Scottish writers inscribed on the flagstones of the courtyard. The term ‘Makar’ is a Scottish one referring to an author, which emphasises the highly skilled nature of writing. Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote ‘there are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street lamps’ from his work The Silverado Squatters is just one of the many extracts that can be found in this enticing courtyard.
Harry Potter Shopping
Diagon House (Museum Context)
[Image Credit: Diagon House Facebook]
40 Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2JW, 42-44 Cockburn St, Edinburgh EH1 1PB
For Harry Potter merchandise, a visit to Diagon House (officially known as Museum Context) is a must. This quirky shop is spread over two stone vaults and replicates the authenticity of Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Conveniently located on Victoria Street, with an additional store on Cockburn Street, Diagon House offers a whole variety of Harry Potter-themed memorabilia, including officially licensed scarves and replica Nimbus 2001 broomsticks.
The Boy Wizard
1 Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2HE
More magical merchandise is available at The Boy Wizard, a modern store selling all-things Harry Potter, which opened at the beginning of 2018. Allow yourself to be bewitched by the model movie props that feature throughout the shop, including all of the main characters’ wands. If you’re feeling hungry, purchase a yummy chocolate frog on your way out!
Harry Potter Tours
The Potter Trail
If you would prefer to be shown around the notable Harry Potter sights in the Old Town, The Potter Trail is an award-winning ninety-minute experience like no other. Led by a themed tour guide, the enchanting trail begins at the Greyfriar’s Bobby Statue and finishes on Victoria Terrace, visiting all of the top Potter sights along the way. Although this tour is free, donations are recommended.
This magical two-hour walking tour hits all of the Harry Potter high spots in Edinburgh. Whether you’re keen to frequent the same cafés that J.K. Rowling did when she was penning the novels, or you want to visit the gravestones inscribed with the names that inspired your favourite characters, this tour is sure to fulfil all your wishes and more!
Hogwarts Express to the Highlands
[Image Credit: West Coast Railways Website]
The Jacobite Steam Train, also known as the Hogwarts Express, takes Harry Potter enthusiasts on a thrilling 84 mile round trip to the West Coast from Fort William to Mallaig. This excursion involves passing locations where scenes from each of the eight movies were filmed, including the site of the Triwizard Tournament from “The Goblet of Fire. Let the excitement begin on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, before hopping aboard a train from Glasgow to Fort William where your tour will commence.
The Dog House
[Image Credit: The Dog House Facebook]
18-24 Clerk St, Edinburgh EH8 9HX
Harry Potter fans can feel like a local wizard through stopping into The Dog House pub on Clerk Street and sampling Butterbeer, the brew frequently drunk by characters throughout the novels, which is a tasty combination of Fosters and syrup. This pub is a dog lover’s dream, having a famous resident bulldog roaming the pub both day and night. Be sure to soak up the enchanting atmosphere here, as this niche pub experience is not one to be missed!
Harry Potter Apartment
[Image Credit: Edinburgh Evening News]
265/5 Canongate, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH8 8BQ
To achieve the full Harry Potter experience, visitors can stay at a Potter-themed Cannongate Luxury Apartment. The living area remarkably resembles the Gryffindor common room, and the two bedrooms take inspiration from a Gryffindor dorm room and a carriage from the Hogwarts Express. Every space in the apartment is riddled with intricate details to make guests feel as though they have just stepped into Hogwarts.
J.K. Rowling chooses to reside in Cramond, the oldest known settlement site in Scotland, which is a picturesque suburb of Edinburgh, just a twenty-minute drive from the city centre. A day in Cramond can be well spent roaming past the harbour with its many moored boats, relaxing on the long stretch of beach, or venturing out to Cramond Island at low tide. You may even want to pay a visit to Lauriston Castle, a 16th century tower house that would not look out of place in the Harry Potter universe...