The Harry Potter books and movies have a deep nostalgia for me. I was the same age as Harry, Ron and Hermione when the first book came out in the US. Like so many others, it felt like I was growing up with them. I developed such an intense connection with the characters and story. I even camped out in front of Barnes & Noble the night before the last book came out in June 2007 (notice the picture below to see Baby Megan at the release party).
Needless to say, I’m a bit of a Potterhead.
I understand that J.K. Rowling has come under a lot of controversy in recent years, and I support the negative critiques she’s received for her anti-trans statements. Her fall from grace is deserved. But I can’t shake the fact that her work had a profound impact on my life, and I still really love Harry Potter. I rewatch the movies every year, and I feel the same nostalgia, wonder and joy I always have.
So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I visited Edinburgh this year. I have created this travel guide for DIY travelers, looking to explore the Harry Potter highlights on their own. If you prefer to be shown the city’s notable Harry Potter sights by a themed and entertaining guide, don’t miss a 90 minute walking tour by The Potter Trail. From one Potterhead to another, let me share the must-visit spots in Edinburgh for all Harry Potter fans.
8 Essential Harry Potter Spots to Visit in Edinburgh for Potterheads
Overview of Harry Potter & Edinburgh
One of the top misconceptions about traveling to Edinburgh in search of Harry Potter lore is this – there are no filming locations from the 8 movies in Edinburgh. Not one! Most of the filming of the movies happened at the Warner Brothers Studio outside of London, as well as a few other locations around Scotland. But none in the capital city.
So, you’re probably wondering why Edinburgh is so famous for Harry Potter at all? It all goes back to the books! Although J. K. Rowling is English, she actually wrote the very first chapters of Harry Potter in Edinburgh in 1990. It’s the city that started the entire series, and she published the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ 7 years later. The series was finished in Edinburgh too actually. She wrote a majority of the 7th book ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ in a luxury suite at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.
The author says that all the ideas for Hogwarts, Harry Potter and the entire magical world she created came from her imagination. She has never verified that sites around Edinburgh inspired the books, and she is known to be litigious about these claims. So let it be noted here – this entire blog post is all alleged and rumored spots that may or may not have inspired locations in the Harry Potter series.
As you walk around the city, you can probably imagine how a beautiful and magical feeling city like Edinburgh could really get your creative juices flowing as an author. There are so many streets, sights and locations that fans theorize may have inspired characters and locations from the books. So without further ado, let’s get into the 8 Essential Harry Potter spots to visit in Edinburgh.
Considered to be the birthplace of Harry Potter, the Elephant House is a café on George IV bridge. Might as well start this Harry Potter tour where it all began! Before she made her fortune with the Harry Potter books, J.K Rowling was a single mom who struggled to pay her rent and heating bills. On cold Scotland days, she would come to the Elephant House (along with a few other cafes in the area) to write her manuscripts. The bright red exterior is immediately noticeable, but unfortunately, this café is closed until further notice following a kitchen fire. You’ll still see signs out front proclaiming its claim to fame.
Conveniently located behind the Elephant House, Greyfriars Kirkyard is a picturesque and peaceful graveyard in the heart of Edinburgh. It is a must-see location for any Potterhead visiting Edinburgh, because there are a lot of things to discover here.
J.K Rowling used to walk her daughter in a stroller through the graveyard, admiring the headstones – and getting some inspiration for her book’s leading characters. Keep your eyes peeled for a few recognizable names, such as Robert Potter, William McGonagall (a famously bad Scottish poet), Elizabeth Moodie and Margaret Louisa Scrymgeour Wedderburn.
The large burial plots and ornamental tombstones, along with the eerie atmosphere, also likely inspired some of Rowling’s darker themes. Its appearance is reminiscent of the graveyard featured in book four where Lord Voldemort is resurrected, as well as the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow, the resting place of Harry’s parents. Additionally, the most famous tombstone in Greyfriars Kirkyard is Thomas Riddle, who died in 1806. Yes, he was a real person, although all Harry Potter fans know this is the name of ‘He who must not be named’. 200 years later, this name would inspire one of literature’s most famous villains!
George Hariot’s School
With its four towers and breathtaking gothic architecture, George Hariot’s School is thought to have inspired the look of Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling has, of course, never confirmed this. But when you see the school, you can understand why many think it helped the author conjure up the idea of the famous magical school.
Additionally, the school has a system of four houses with annual competitions between them.
Easily viewable from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, these two stops can be combined. As a working school, it’s rarely open to the public. Additionally, you cannot take photos of George Hariot’s School while classes are in session, to protect the privacy of the students there. If you want to snap a photo, make sure to go early in the day or during summer holidays.
Edinburgh Walk of Fame
Just off the Royal Mile in the courtyard of Edinburgh’s City Hall Chambers is the small but mighty Edinburgh Walk of Fame. Much like its counterpart in California, famous local celebrities and influential people press their hands into a concrete mold to have their likeness forever memorialized. Unsurprisingly, the city’s most famous resident – J.K. Rowling – has had her hands in the Walk of Fame since 2008, following a city wide vote. Her hands are smaller than you might imagine. Nowadays, her golden handprints are far more worn down than all the others with Potterheads touching and snapping pictures with them.
Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, the charming neighborhood of Dean Village on Edinburgh’s northside is worth a visit. Dean Village is one of the oldest of the villages around the original Royal Burgh of Edinburgh, first referred to in 1535. This bucolic village sits along a tranquil stream that feeds into the Leith river. The fairytale aesthetic totally reminds me of Hogsmeade or Godric’s Hollow from the Harry Potter books. Complete with gardens, 19th-century buildings, timber famed homes & a historic museum, I can promise you’ll want to snap photos here.
In addition to being one of the best shopping streets in Edinburgh, Victoria Street is rumored to have inspired the now infamous Diagon Alley. Like many of the other spots on this list, the inspiration has never been confirmed by Rowling herself. As you meander along the historic street however, it’s easy to understand how the rainbow storefronts and quirky shop signs are reminiscent of Diagon Alley.
Harry Potter Restaurants & Bars
In search of a butter beer while you’re exploring Edinburgh? Although there isn’t an officially licensed butter beer shop in Edinburgh, you can feel like Ron, Harry and Hermione by popping into the Dog House on Clerk Street. You have the option of trying the traditional Butterbeer served in a stein glass or you can sample one of their whisky-based Butterbeer cocktails as well.
If afternoon tea is more to your liking, enjoy a wizard themed high-tea at Cauldron Bar. Offering an interactive tea-brewing experience, this is appropriate for all ages. You’ll even be given a wand to control your tea stand and open your locked puzzle chest. During the tea, you’ll brew two different teas and be given an assortment of high tea snacks, sandwiches and sweets.
Want to feel like you’re in a class with Professor Snape? Try your hand at making your own magical concoction at the Department of Magic near the Royal Mile. You’ll be brewing your own potions cocktail! You are given the magical ingredients and special potion instructions to create two different drinks. I’m not going to lie – the experience here is a little bit cheesy and the drinks are very sugary.
Harry Potter Shops
Given the sheer number of people who travel to Edinburgh in search of Harry Potter inspiration, it is probably unsurprising that there are several shops dedicated to selling merchandise for aspiring wizards and witches.
- Museum Context: This is the officially licensed (and most famous!) Harry Potter Shop in Edinburgh. Conveniently, it is located at 40 Victoria Street! This building used to be home to Robert Cresser’s brush shop which was established in 1873. Today, many believe this was the inspiration for Ollivander’s Wand Shop! You’ll find oodles of Wizarding World merchandise like wands, robes, plush toys, books, and souvenirs in all the Hogwarts Houses.
- Black Moon Botanica: More of a witchy vibe, this aesthetic shop on Candlemaker Row sells all sorts of dark academia type items. Think candles, herbs, oils, crystals. You can also find unique gifts like preserved bugs, artistic tarot cards, and astrological charts & books.
- Enchanted Galaxy: Across the street from Museum Context, a competing magic & wizarding store opened up. This one focuses more on clothing and board games, but it is still well-adorned with magical inspiration.
Bonus: Glenfinnian Viaduct
If you are really into Harry Potter, and want to add on more stops around Scotland besides Edinburgh, I see you! I wanted to do the same thing. Hogwarts is fictionally situated in the North of Scotland, so it makes sense that the production team filmed a lot of b-reel of those landscapes to feature in the movies. Glencoe area is full of rolling hills and lakes, some of which were filming locations.
One of the most famous Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This iconic bridge can be seen in a couple of movies, but the most famous scene is in the second film when Ron & Harry fly the Weasley’s car to Hogwarts. It weaves through the arches of the bridge and nearly gets hit by the Hogwarts Express train. Nowadays, a vintage Jacobite steam train offers daily service over the bridge, and has unsurprisingly been nicknamed the Harry Potter train.
Please keep in mind – this is absolutely nowhere close to Edinburgh. It takes about 4 hours by car to get there, so you should only visit the viaduct as part of a longer visit to Scotland. This blog post does a great job explaining all the logistics involved with visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct. We visited the bridge during our 1 week trip around Scotland, soaking in the Potter vibes when the Jacobite steam train went over the bridge. It was touristy, but the area is so scenic regardless of when you go.
Have thoughts or questions about visiting the best Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh? Tell me in the comments below!
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