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Have you read all the books and watched the films? Growing up in Edinburgh meant that I got as close as I could to my dream of being a real-life boy wizard. Not only did J.K.
Rowling write the books in cafes in Edinburgh, but many of the sights, sounds and smells of the city inspired her characters and locations. If, like me, you’re a major Harry Potter fan, you’ll need to check out the inspiration for Diagon Alley, Gringotts Bank and even the name of The Dark Lord himself.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh, or are a local looking to learn more about the inspiration behind the novels, check out our guide and plan your own Harry Potter walk of Edinburgh.
There are plenty Harry Potter things to do in Edinburgh to keep you entertained on a trip to the capital, so whether your planning a self-guided Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh, or are planning to book a professional Harry Potter walking tour of Edinburgh, keep reading to learn about the sites that inspired J.K. Rowling in Edinburgh.
Harry Potter Things to Do in Edinburgh
1. The Elephant House (Currently Closed)
Known as the Harry Potter café in Edinburgh, it’s hard to miss this bright red eatery on George IV Bridge. It’s one of the most well-known Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh.
In the window, you’ll see a sign that says this is the “birthplace of Harry Potter.”
Whilst this is partially true, this is not actually the place where Rowling wrote the first book – the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone for our US audience!).
In fact, the first book was written at the other end of Chambers Street, in the Nicolsons Café, above Black Medicine.
When you visit the Elephant House, make sure you check out the bathroom walls, which are scrawled with Dumbledore’s Army signups.
There’s even a (tiny) plaque dedicated to the first chapters outside Black Medicine Coffee.
See if you can find it!
Luckily, this is a Harry Potter landmark that Rowling herself has confirmed as true! Huzzah!
That one’s true! I used to write in Nicolsons all the time. I once wrote an entire chapter in there in one sitting and barely changed a word afterwards. Those are the days you remember. I think Nicolsons is now a Chinese Restaurant. pic.twitter.com/JNKDP0ywJK— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 21, 2020
Next door to Black Medicine Coffee is Nicolsons Cafe reincarnated.
The name had changed to Spoon but the owners gave up their premises during the pandemic.
You may also like – Where to eat in Edinburgh.
2. Artisan Roast
“J.K. Rowling Never Wrote Here” – or so the sign says. In a comical nod to The Elephant House, Artisan Roast plastered this handwritten chalk sign on its wall.
But Rowling did write something here, one time – look carefully at the bottom of the sign and you’ll notice Rowling has appended it with “And I never will.” This is an example of a classier version of ‘J.K. Rowling woz ‘ere.‘
Check out Artisan Roast on Broughton Street in the New Town.
I saw that sign when I was in there a couple of years ago and it made me laugh. I’m thinking of going and writing in there one day so they have to correct it: ‘…. except that one time.’ https://t.co/IEGFWsVoJ6— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 21, 2020
Home to the University of Edinburgh’s student’s union, it could be that Rowling took inspiration for Harry’s family name from this street name.
Just behind the union, there’s an underpass called ‘Potterrow Port’ which is spookily similar to the dingey location of Harry and Dudley’s Dementor attack, complete with blinking lights and graffiti.
4. Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh Graveyard
No Harry Potter experience of Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Not only will you find a whole host of famous character names here, but the owl-eyed might notice this graveyard shares a lot of similarities with the scene from Goblet of Fire.
In the scene, Harry and Voldemort engage in an epic battle located in a misty graveyard with a little church in the background.
Not convincing enough for you? There’s even a brief moment when the grave of Thomas, Mary and Tom Riddle comes into shot, which closely resembles one of the graves in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Cemetary.
The graveyard at Greyfriars is teeming with names you’ll recognise from the books:
- Anne and Robert Potter – the Potter family
- William McGonagall – Minerva McGonagall (Professor of Transfiguration)
- Elizabeth Moodie – Mad Eye Moodie (Professor of the Dark Arts)
- Margaret Louisa Scrymegeour Wedderburn – Rufus Scrimgeour (Minister of Magic)
- Thomas Riddell – Tom Marvolo Riddle (Lord Voldemort)
Notice some spelling differences? There’re a few theories here. One is that Rowling wanted to prevent tourists associating the graves directly with the characters (that didn’t seem to work out!)
Another reason might be due to spelling differences in old names. The Riddells are believed to have lived just ten minutes away, off the Lawnmarket and Royal Mile, in Riddle’s Court – notice the spelling difference?
5. Victoria Street & Cockburn Street
A tip for non-locals – it’s pronounced Co-burn street. Don’t get that one wrong!
These two sweeping streets located in Edinburgh’s Old Town are said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, the magical shopping street where wizards and witches can purchase wands, broomsticks and butterbeer.
Anyone walking these streets, with their hodgepodge and higgledy-piggledy layout, will feel like they are indeed walking down Diagon Alley.
Even some of the shops on these streets might remind you of their magical counterparts.
- The Old Town Bookshop – Flourish & Blotts
- The Bow Bar – The Leaky Cauldron
- Aha Ha Ha Jokes and Novelties – Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes
- Robert Cresser Brush Shop – Quality Quidditch Supplies (no longer there – it’s now a Harry Potter museum and Edinburgh’s Harry Potter shop! There’s no Harry Potter shop at Edinburgh Airport, so make sure to buy your Potter presents here!)
However, whether Victoria Street or Cockburn Street inspired Diagon Alley has never been confirmed by She Who Cannot Be Named.
Good news for Edinburgh, however!
Rumours that Gandy Street in Exeter have been debunked by the Harry Potter author.
Even though Rowling still has not confirmed or denied that Edinburgh provided some inspiration for Diagon Alley, this does add more weight to the argument!
Read next – Most Instagrammable Places in Edinburgh.
6. The Bank of Scotland Headquarters
This grand building at the top of The Mound is home to the Bank of Scotland. Its domed roof and imposing facade will remind you of Gringotts Bank.
I don’t think any of the tellers would be too happy to be called goblins, though!
While you’re here, visit the Museum on the Mound, which is located under the headquarters.
Amongst lots of historical artefacts, you’ll be able to see a million pounds in real life!
7. J.K. Rowling’s Handprints
Check out the prints of the very hands that wrote the books.
Head down to the City Chambers on the High Street/Royal Mile to see how closely your hands match! Could you be the next literary hero?
8. George Heriot’s School/Hogwarts School Scotland
Just up from Greyfriars on Lauriston Place is George Heriot’s School – a prestigious private school which Rowling’s children attended.
Although some say the building resembles Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling has confirmed that this building is not the inspiration for the magical school.
I sometimes hear Hogwarts was based on one or other of Edinburgh’s schools, but that’s 100% false, too. Hogwarts was created long before I clapped eyes on any of them! I did finish Hallows in the Balmoral, though, & I can’t lie, I’d rate it a smidge higher than the Bournville. pic.twitter.com/Evt0ttqfYH— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 21, 2020
Although it may not look as imposing as the version in the movies, drawings made by Rowling do match up with the shape of this building.
It’s hard to imagine that, when writing the books and gazing out of the window of The Elephant or Nicolson’s, Rowling didn’t take notice of the incredible architecture of Heriot’s – even if it wasn’t the original inspiration.
The quad inside is very similar to the quad where Harry, Hermione and Ron hang out, with tall and grand stone pillars.
The colours of the houses: Lauriston (Green), Greyfriars (white/yellow), Raeburn (red), and Castle (blue) match up with the houses at Hogwarts.
So, even if it isn’t entirely true to say that Hogwarts is based on Heriot’s, it’s still worth walking past to get a feel for what Hogwarts might be like.
9. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle and Harry Potter also have connections. Many point to Edinburgh’s famous castle as inspiration for the Hogwarts school building. Perched atop a rock, it looks very grand from all around.
During the Military Tattoo, the Castle Esplanade is transformed into an event venue with spectators towering steeply around the show. For anyone who has watched Harry snatch the Golden Snitch, they’ll recognise this as inspiration for the Quidditch Stadium.
Many people are not aware that Princes Street Gardens, located at the foot of the Castle Rock between the Castle and Princes Street was once the ‘Nor Loch,’ a body of black water. Many have likened this appearance to that of the Black Lake at the foot of Hogwarts.
Rowling even tipped a nod at these connections by launching her sixth and penultimate novel, the Half Blood Prince, here.
Visit Edinburgh Castle from your sofa on a virtual tour of Edinburgh.
10. The Balmoral Hotel
Arguably the most prestigious hotel in Edinburgh, Rowling stayed here in Room 552 and finished her final book, the Deathly Hallows in this very suite.
The suite door is painted purple and has an owl door knocker!
To mark the occasion, Rowling signed a marble bust of Hermes within the room.
The bust has since been safely locked in a glass cabinet in the room.
Now, visitors with some serious cash to splash can book into this very room – now named the J.K. Rowling Suite – and sit in the very chair where Rowling finished writing her final book.
If you’d like to find out more about The Balmoral, you can read our Balmoral Hotel review.
We stayed in the Deluxe Castle View room, 314.
Read next – Where to Stay in Edinburgh – by a Local.
11. The Rowling Parking Meter
Sorry, folks, one thing we can be certain of is that Rowling did not utilise the services of a parking meter when she was writing the Deathly Hallows.
This may be one of the more comical ‘landmarks’ attributed to the Potter series. And, although a tour was overheard purporting that Rowling used an Edinburgh parking meter, she has confirmed that she cannot drive!
My favourite bit of utter nonsense about Potter landmarks is still this one. I can’t drive. pic.twitter.com/szugSAkIOA— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 21, 2020
Not related to the books but The Dene in Stockbridge will give you all the Potter vibes.
Stockbridge is a pretty neighbourhood well worth spending an afternoon in if you have more than a day in Edinburgh.
Second time visitors might even want to stay here!
If you are into architecture, walk along the Water of Leith from Stockbridge to Dean Village to see the old mill buildings in the city.
You won’t believe it is Edinburgh!
12. The Cauldron (Frederick Street)
Want To Try Out Being a Wizard For Yourself?
Alcoholic Harry Potter drinks and Harry Potter themed bar in Edinburgh.
The Cauldron is an immersive magical experience.
Don a cloak, wave your wand and utter those magic words to brew your own potions (cocktails.)
13. Juniper (Princes Street)
If you would prefer a muggle to brew your cocktail for you, head to Juniper and order a ‘Strawberries and Steam’ smoking cocktail teapot.
You may also like our guides what to eat in Edinburgh and which restaurants to visit.
Fancy a butterbeer? Get to Monteith’s and order a Hot Buttered Beer.
15. Tattu (West Register Street)
Shiny new Chinese restaurant.
Order the magical ‘Dragon Egg Nest’ or smoking ‘Cherry Blossom’ for dessert.
Harry Potter Tours Edinburgh
Potter Trail: Harry Potter Walking Tour Edinburgh
Both private and group tours are offered to visit the very important landmarks that influenced She Who Cannot Be Named’s writings.
Take a tour of Greyfriars Kirk to find Voldemort’s grave, have a look at the loos inside The Elephant Cafe and discover Scotland’s very own Diagon Alley with your very own tour guide wizard.
Richard, our wizard, and his team are all performers and trained tour guides so you are guaranteed a good show whether you are a Potterhead or not.
Quote everythingedinburgh5 at checkout for 5% off. Reserve your slot here.
Any referral we receive will be added to The Potter Trail’s donation to the Scottish Trans Alliance in response to JK Rowling’s recent actions.
Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour Edinburgh
Take this magical 2-hour walking tour of Edinburgh to discover the sights that inspired the novels.
Get sorted into your Hogwarts House, visit Tom Riddle’s (Riddell’s) grave and take part in a fun audio-visual quiz!
Read next | Some of the best walking tours in Edinburgh.
Harry Potter Airbnb in Edinburgh
Hey muggles, want to stay at the Edinburgh Wizarding Residence on Grassmarket? This one of a kind Airbnb will make you believe you’re in Diagon Alley.
Located on the West Bow, Victoria Street aka Diagon Alley, this 1 bedroom space offers a magical stay for up to four guests.
It overlooks the Grassmarket, which is in the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town and city centre, making it easy to walk to The Royal Mile and Princes Street.
Amenities include heating, washing facilities, a fully-equipped kitchen, and Wi-Fi.
The host has designed each room to resemble an area of the Wizarding World and even created a hidden storage space in the hallway.
Find out more in our unique Airbnb guide.
- Location: Old Town, Edinburgh
- Summary: 4 guests, 1 bedroom, 1 bed, 1 bathroom
- From: £ 231
- Host: Michael (image credit)
Harry Potter Train From Edinburgh
Want to experience the journey to Hogwarts for yourself?
Take this one-day tour to experience some of Scotland’s stunning scenery, visit the sites in the Highlands that inspired Rowling and take the Hogwarts Express from Fort William!
The tour leaves very early in the morning from Edinburgh and the price includes the train ride from Fort William to Mallaig over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The train itself is a smoking Jacobite Train! History and Harry Potter rolled into one.
Here’s our guide to tours that leave Edinburgh for the Highlands.
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Our Old Town Edinburgh Guides
- The ultimate guide to Edinburgh’s Old Town
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- Best Old Town Airbnbs incl. Harry Potter apartment
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