Hi, I'm Claire Sturzaker. A thirty-something dreamer, traveller and lost soul; wandering the Earth until I find what I’m looking for. A food, drink and life-lover, my wanderlust keeps growing by the day!
Harry Potter Locations in Edinburgh that Muggles will love
Harry Potter is a global phenomenon with a Scottish heart. When J K Rowling sat in a café in Edinburgh writing the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione, there is no way she could have imagined how popular the stories have become. Although Edinburgh wasn’t used to film any of the scenes in Harry Potter, it is where J K Rowling wrote the books and found a lot of inspiration for characters and locations. Edinburgh has a history of witchcraft, or at least witch-hunting, and with Edinburgh Castle looming over the city it is easy to see a connection between Edinburgh and magical Hogwarts. For all HP fans, here are some of the Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh where J K Rowling found inspiration for the books.
The Balmoral Hotel
Slightly more upmarket than the Elephant House, the Balmoral is the 5-star hotel where J K Rowling finished the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows. If you have the cash to spare (around £1000 a night) you can book a night in the J K Rowling Suite, which is where she stayed and wrote the last pages. A more affordable option to give you a feel for the hotel is to book an afternoon tea at a much cheaper £45 per person.
This beautiful churchyard is also famous for being the home of Greyfriars Bobby, the little dog who refused to leave his master’s grave for 14 years until he passed away himself. Inside the churchyard, you’ll find some fascinating names carved on the maze of gravestones and beautifully decorated tombs.
The most notable gravestone is that of Thomas Riddell Esquire, and his son, who was also called Thomas Riddell, which could be where J K got inspiration for the real name of Lord Voldemort. Although she might not be willing to admit to finding inspiration in other graves here, the names on some gravestones may seem rather familiar – such as William McGonagall and Elizabeth Moodie. You might also spot a carving of a stone head (without a body) which looks remarkably like Nearly Headless Nick!
This colourful curved street is said to have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley, where Harry and his wizarding friends buy everything they need for a school year at Hogwarts. Victoria Street is close to the cafés where J K Rowling did her writing and could well have inspired her as she walked by. Apparently, there used to be a shop here which sold all kinds of brooms and brushes, although that has now disappeared, replaced with several new Harry Potter related shops like Aha Ha Ha Jokes & Novelties and Museum Context. Either way, it’s a lovely street to explore!
Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens
Although perhaps not directly influential, living in a city where the castle dominates the landscape could easily have inspired J K Rowling. If you’re in Edinburgh when the seating for the Military Tattoo is in place outside the castle, you may notice it bears a resemblance to a Quidditch pitch in front of the castle! Princes Street Gardens have a real connection to witches, and are built on what used to be the castle moat, a festering body of water which gave Edinburgh the nickname “Auld Reekie”.
Edinburgh was also where more than 4,000 alleged witches were put to death. The castle moat was used to dispose of their bodies, who were thrown from the castle into the water below. If the witches drowned, they were given a full pardon, and if they survived, they were burned at the stake. Thankfully the gardens are a much more pleasant space to enjoy now, and that dark history is way behind us.
George Heriot’s School
This prestigious school is housed in a turreted castle-like building, built in 1628. Although this has never been confirmed by J K Rowling, it could have been part of the inspiration for Hogwarts School. Children at the George Heriot’s are separated into four houses which may have been the pre-cursor to Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but we can’t say for sure. The school is still active, so you can’t visit the grounds, although you can see it from outside the gates – including from the back of Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Harry Potter Shops
Of course, in a city like Edinburgh, where Harry Potter is so popular, it’s no surprise that several shops catering to the insatiable thirst for merchandise have popped up. Museum Context sells a whole host of official Harry Potter items and even has a makeshift Chamber of Secrets on the top floor, where you can have your picture taken at a desk with an owl. Aha Ha Ha Jokes is based on Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and sells the kind of jokes and tricks you might expect from two wizards, and The Boy Wizard has two locations in Edinburgh, selling Harry Potter merchandise and souvenirs.
The Elephant House Café
Although J K Rowling actually wrote the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the Spoon Café in Edinburgh, the Elephant House is where she spent most of her time writing before she made it big. You can visit the café just to take photographs (with a donation) or take a seat and have some tea and cake to see where J K Rowling sat to write. There are photographs of her on the walls, and the toilets are covered in graffiti from Harry Potter fans.
Harry Potter at Alnwick Castle
Although Alnwick is across the border in England, Haggis Adventures offer a day tour to Alnwick Castle from Edinburgh. Here you can visit Hogwarts Castle, or at least the parts of Alnwick Castle which were used for scenes of Hogwarts Castle in the first two Harry Potter films! One of the most notable scenes is where Harry first learns to fly a broomstick in a lesson taught by Madame Hooch. Alnwick Castle clearly knows what Potterheads want, and offers daily broomstick flying lessons in the very courtyard where Harry and his friends took their first class.
For more top tips on Edinburgh, have a wee read of our ultimate tourist checklist, local gems in the Old Town, and our guide to Edinburgh's cool hostels.