Hogwarts, Scotland, or both? Even if you’ve never been to Edinburgh, you probably have seen it in your mind’s eye – it’s one of the primary locations that inspired JK Rowling as she wrote the first Harry Potter book back in the day. Rowling was living in Edinburgh at the time and the evidence of the city’s distinct style is evident throughout the Wizarding World. Even today, there are a number of important Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh that you can visit.
I made my first trip to Edinburgh back in late 2012, and as part of that trip, I made the pilgrimage to some of these sites. While there are no Harry Potter film locations in Edinburgh (such as in London or Oxford), there are several locations that are important as they either likely inspired Rowling as she wrote parts of the Wizarding World – or are confirmed by her – or they are places that she actively worked on the books.
If you’re curious to see where it all began, Edinburgh is the place for you. After reading this, you’ll have a list of places to visit across Edinburgh that are related to Harry Potter and the Wizarding World. Read on to get inspired for yourself!
1. Nicolson’s Cafe
It’s impossible to start this list of Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh without Nicolson’s Café. All Potterheads know that when Rowling first got to Edinburgh, she made the city’s cafés her writing hub. Located in Drummond Street, Nicolson’s Café was where Rowling wrote huge parts of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Sadly, it doesn’t exist anymore and has been turned into a bistro named Spoon. However, there is a plaque on the corner of Drummond Street saying, “J.K. Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter in the rooms on the first floor of this building.”
2. The Elephant House
The Elephant House, which has proclaimed itself as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, is one of the best-known Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh. While this certainly was one of the cafés where Rowling wrote, this café isn’t the birthplace of Harry Potter as Rowling has already stated she conceived the idea of Harry Potter on a Manchester-London train in 1990. This said Rowling did frequent The Elephant House to write parts of the HP books. Don’t miss the restrooms of this place. The walls are covered in graffiti with messages from fans to JK Rowling and various Harry Potter characters.
3. Greyfriar’s Kirkyard
Scattered throughout Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, some gravestones seem to have inspired some HP characters. Although Rowling has never confirmed this, some of the gravestones bear names that will inevitably sound familiar to Potterheads. Among the ones tied to HP is that of Thomas Riddell Esquire, who died on November 24, 1806, and may have inspired Lord Voldemort. Another one is the gravestone of the Scottish poet William McGonagall, who shares his last name with the character of Professor Minerva McGonagall. Finally, there’s the grave of Mrs. Elizabeth Moodie, which may have inspired the name of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody.
4. Balmoral Hotel
Rowling started writing in cafés, but she finished writing her final HP novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in the beautiful 552nd suite of the Balmoral Hotel. Since then, the 5-star hotel in central Edinburgh has renamed the room the J.K. Rowling Suite. If it fits your budget, you can stay in this gorgeous suite. And, while there’s no plaque outside like in the cafés where Rowling penned some of her books, there’s a marble bust of the god Hermes where Rowling wrote: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007”.
5. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is a landmark of the city, so you’re likely to visit this location whether it is related or not to the Wizarding World. But what if I told you this castle could have a connection to Harry Potter? Rumor has it that the fortress castle and its architecture could have inspired Hogwarts School. While J.k Rowling has not confirmed that Edinburgh Castle inspired Hogwarts, she did say that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is in Scotland.
6. Magical Shops along Victoria Street
Victoria Street is probably the most beautiful street in Edinburgh and is also one of the best Edinburgh Harry Potter sites to do some magical shopping. With its historic stone buildings and colorful shops, it’s impossible to stroll down Victoria Street and not notice the uncanny resemblance with Diagon Alley.
Along the cobbled street, there are several Harry Potter shops, like Museum Context (aka Diagon House). This shop has everything related to Harry Potter; whether it’s the Marauder’s Map, broomsticks, Voldemort’s wand, or Harry Potter T-shirts, this store has it. Beware not to spend your whole travel budget in this store!
7. The Cauldron
Do you want to make someone fall in love with you? Or do you need a little help to boost your memory skills? Well, the Cauldron is one of the best Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh if you need to prepare a few potions to help you out. It has a Potion Making Class where you’ll have all the necessary ingredients and formulas to concoct potions. They even give you a wand to cast spells!
In case you’re feeling hungry, you can also book a wizarding tea afternoon, where you’ll use working magic wands to brew interactive teas and taste fantastical treats.
8. The Dog House
The Dog House is one of the newest Edinburgh Harry Potter sites. This bar on Clerk Street is mostly known for its dog-friendly policy and its resident dog, Hero. But, as of 2015, it has started to be associated with the world of Harry Potter. The reason? It added to its drink list the most famous drink of the Wizarding World: butterbeer.
While the bar does sell an alcoholic butterbeer based on the one described in the Harry Potter books, Rowling hasn’t acknowledged any relationship with the venue.
9. Department of Magic
The Department of Mysteries is one of the Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh you just can’t miss. For the Potterheads who want an authentic experience of the Wizarding World, the Department of Magic is as good as it gets.
Down in its Magic Potions Tavern, you can take a Magic Potions Masterclass and concoct your own potions (cocktails) using magical ingredients and spell formulas. In its two Harry Potter-themed escape rooms, you can feel like Harry, Ron, and Hermione and use your power to defeat the Dark Lord. This place is a true world of witchcraft and wizardry!
10. Harry Potter Bus Tour
Photos courtesy of Red Bus Bistro
If you don’t want to miss any of the Edinburgh Harry Potter locations, book this Harry Potter bus tour. Their vintage double-decker London bus will get you to all places that inspired J.K Rowling, including Greyfriar’s Cemetery, Spoon Cafe, George Heriot’s School, and many more. Before you start to worry, it won’t go as fast as the Knight Bus, so you’ll have plenty of time to see the Harry Potter locations. Also, as soon as you arrive, you’ll be sorted into your house and greeted with a drink.
11. JK Rowling’s Handprints
This is one of the sneakiest of the Edinburgh Harry Potter locations, with many Potterheads who still don’t know it exists. In 2008, right after J.K Rowling had finished the final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she was awarded the Edinburgh Award by popular vote. Like all the other individuals who’ve received the award, Rowling’s handprints were reproduced in bronze in front of the Edinburgh City Chambers. This is an excellent place to get a photo with the magic hands that wrote the amazing world of Harry Potter!
There you have it: the 11 Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh I recommend visiting; do you know of any others? Let me know of any questions you have about visiting these sites in the comments!