As the home of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Edinburgh, Scotland has a lot of connections with the most magical books of our time! Besides being a beautiful city with loads to do, there’s a special draw for HP fans to the Scottish capital. If you’re wanting to explore the city that inspired J.K. and the Harry Potter story, here you go—5 Harry Potter things to do in Edinburgh!
1. Elephant House Café
J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote the chapters of the first book in various cafes across the city. The Elephant House Café is the only one to have capitalized on the publicity and markets itself as “the Birthplace of Harry Potter.” However, during my research about this I came up with a lot of conflicting points—with some people saying that the Elephant Café actually wasn’t a favorite spot of the author, as they didn’t like people buying a cup of coffee or a cake and staying and working for several hours (and the Elephant House Café just took advantage of the marketing opportunity). I have no idea what’s true and what’s not, since so much information is conflicting. Regardless, make sure to see the bathrooms if you visit—HP fans have scrawled “graffiti” aka messages to Rowling all over the stalls. The café is located at 21 George IV Bridge.
This café opened up several years ago, located on the first floor where the Nicolson Café used to be. J.K. Rowling is known to have spent lots of time here, as it was owned by a friend (I believe) while she was writing the early books. It’s located at 6a Nicolson Street, and there’s a small plaque on the corner about J.K. Rowling.
3. Greyfriars Kirkyard
This graveyard is right behind the Elephant Café, and where J.K. Rowling was inspired by several of the names on gravestones. You can find Thomas Riddell’s grave (buried with his son, Thomas Riddell), which—although it’s obviously a different spelling—inspired the real name of Voldemort, Tom Riddle, in the series. Just like the books, there’s a father and son pair named “Thomas Riddell” in graveyard. You can also find the grave of William McGonagall, which inspired the name of the Gryffindor Head of House and Transfiguration professor, Minerva McGonagall. Rowling was also said to have based the scene in Tom Riddle’s graveyard in Goblet of Fire, where Voldemort is reborn and Harry fights for his life, on Greyfriars.
The graveyard is also a cool place in general, and well worth a walk if you have time.
4. George Heriot’s School
Right next to the graveyard at Greyfriars is the stunning building of George Heriot’s School. Rowling based Hogwarts on this castle-like school, and it’s not hard to see why! It’s a beautiful stone building, with four towers and even four houses for students, just like Hogwarts! The school isn’t typically open to the public (as it’s a working school, of course).
5. The Balmoral Hotel
This is one of the most prestigious and impressive hotels in Edinburgh, and was also where J.K. Rowling finished writing the final book. She checked herself into room #552 in January to finish writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and supposedly she wrote on a marble bust “J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.” The hotel left her graffiti and have renamed the room “the J.K. Rowling Suite.” If you’ve got cash to burn, you can stay in this very room!
BONUS: Take the Hogwarts Express!
This one isn’t in Edinburgh, but is at the top of my Scotland bucket list. During the summer months, you can go up north and take a journey on the Hogwarts Express, aka the Jacobite Steam Train! The scenic train ride from Fort William to Mallaig passes over the beautiful Glennfian Viaduct, used for filming during the Harry Potter series, and is meant to be one of the top experiences for Harry Potter fans ever. The train runs only during the summer months, once in the morning and once in the afternoon—you absolutely need to book ahead in advance.
Have you ever visited any Harry Potter locations, or settings from other books?