Edinburgh is my favourite city. No ‘might be’ no ‘I think.’ I know this for sure. Not only is Edinburgh gorgeous, but it’s in Scotland which means it has a lot more going for it than most other cities. You can also do a Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh too, so how can I move there ASAP?
Author of the Harry Potter book series, J.K. Rowling, moved to Edinburgh from Porto in Portugal to live with her sister after the breakdown of her first marriage. Long story short, she started writing about the famous boy wizard in Scotland’s capital city and Rowling loved Edinburgh so much she still lives there now.
That doesn’t surprise me. I think I’d judge anyone who lived in Edinburgh and then chose to move away.
So there are lots of places and hideaways in Edinburgh that we either know for sure or can assume inspired characters and locations in the greatest books ever written.
Follow my map (everything is listed in the order I suggest you visit the locations) to experience your own Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh…
A Self-Guided Harry Potter Tour Edinburgh
1. Spoon Cafe Bistro, 6A Nicolson St, EH8 9DH
Let’s start where it all began! The internet tells me that J.K. Rowling’s brother-in-law used to own Spoon back in the 90s when it was called Nicolson’s Cafe (on the second floor). He let the broke, single mum drink coffee in his cafe for free by the big window while she wrote some chapters for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
2. Potterrow, EH8 9BT
Heading down and west, you’ll walk along a street named Potterrow or Potterrow Port. This has not been confirmed, but it’s quite a central street in Edinburgh so it’s likely J.K. Rowling knew it existed. Whether it was the direct inspiration behind the name Harry Potter, we may never know.
3. George Heriot’s School, Lauriston Place, EH3 9EQ
This independent school was built in the late 17th century. It’s one of the most fairytale-esque buildings in Edinburgh with the turrets and the glass roof. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a faff to reach so I recommend using Google Maps.
It’s said to have not only provided inspiration for the design of Hogwarts, but also the house system.
And don’t worry if you’re in Edinburgh during the school year (I visited during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in August) and you cannot get to the George Heriot’s school grounds, you can see a lot of the building from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. Speaking of which…
4. Grave of Tom Riddell, Gravel Pit, Greyfriars Kirkyard, EH1 2QA
Just off Candlemaker Row is the Greyfriars Kirkyard. When I went looking for the grave of Tim Riddell, the inspiration behind Voldemort’s real identity of Tom Marvolo Riddle, I was stumped. I examined almost every grave for AGES before eventually using my sleuth skills to determine where the grave was situated (some other tourists told me…). That was three years ago. Now, the grave is marked on Google Maps!
Directions: When you enter Greyfriars Kirkyard from Candlemaker Row, head left of the church and straight to the back of the graveyard. You will find a walled-off section (called the Gravel Pit) with more graves. This section will be near the gates leading to George Heriot’s School. Stick to the wall that separates the main graveyard with the Gravel Pit and head right down to the other end. As you can see from the photos below, the headstone is on a wall as opposed to a standing grave.
And the infamously awful poet William McGonagall (whose name inspired Professor McGonagall) is… somewhere. I have no idea where. I just took a photo of the list of notable people at the entrance of the graveyard. Life’s too short.
5. Missing Plaque, side of Lackdhu Shop, Candlemaker Row, EH1 2QE
This one has a really uninteresting story behind it, but let me tell it anyway. A lot of people believe that Candlemaker Row, following onto Victoria Street may have inspired Diagon Alley. There’s even a joke shop on Victoria Street called Aha Ha Ha Jokes, for crying out loud.
To mark this alleged inspiration, the sidewall of framing shop Lackdhu displayed two plaques: the first simply said ‘Diagon Alley’ and the second went into more detail about the street’s supposed significance. There was also a pretty mural on this wall of a girl picking flowers. I think it was a popular spot for street arts to redesign every so often.
Unfortunately, the mural and the plaques are gone and I can’t find out why. They disappeared sometime after December 2016 and before I visited Edinburgh in August 2017.
6. Diagon House (museum context), Victoria St, EH1 2JW
Head down Candlemaker Row and you’ll get to the bottom of Victoria Street, possibly my favourite street in Edinburgh.
Museum Context is an officially licensed Harry Potter merchandise stockist in Edinburgh. Their location on the beautifully colourful Victoria Street (one of the alleged inspirations for Diagon Alley) is often so busy, they need to have a line outside (see picture below). They also have a sister shop called ‘The Boy Wizard’ which has two locations. One also on Victoria Street and another at 109 The Royal Mile, EH1 1SG.
However, there’s another Diagon House shop at 42-44 Cockburn St, EH1 1PB which isn’t too far to walk (just off the Royal Mile) and didn’t have a queue outside when we visited. And I visited during the Fringe Festival in August when Edinburgh was busy everywhere!
Even if you’re not planning on buying anything (cause everything is usually on the internet for cheaper lol) it’s still worth a look inside any of the four shops for all the Harry Potter feels.
7. The Elephant House, 21 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN
Walk up Victoria Street and double back on yourself across the George IV Bridge and you’ve found the most sought after location on any Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh.
The Elephant House has built a fantastic business off being the so-called ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’ as the sign in the window says.
Realistically, Nicolson Cafe probably gets that title but she apparently did write many chapters of her first three books in The Elephant House. Expect quite a queue if you want to eat here, but I really liked the food and it’s not overpriced so I would recommend it.
You can actually see Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot’s School from The Elephant House windows, which just cements itself in Harry Potter folklore even further.
Don’t forget to check out the bathroom!! Fans from all over the world kept leaving graffiti in the bathroom with Harry Potter quotes and messages. After continually repainting over the vandalism, The Elephant House eventually gave in and let the bathrooms be completely covered in messages. Bring a marker pen and add your own!
8. The Writers’ Museum, Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close, EH1 2PA
Head towards the Royal Mile and The Writers’ Museum is in a courtyard just off to the left.
I’ll admit, this museum has a tenuous link to J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter book series. Normally, the museum features exhibits about Scotland’s three most famous writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson. But within the main reception room, there is always a short term exhibit by the gift shop which features a different special or rare book every few months.
In December 2016, a first edition hardback of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with annotations and sketches by J.K. Rowling was displayed in this glass case. So please note the book isn’t there anymore! But I thought it was worth mentioning because, hey, you never know if another Harry Potter book will be there during your visit!
Plus, if you love literature, The Writers’ Museum is very compact and free to visit so why not spend 45 minutes there learning about the other Scots writers?
9. City Chambers, 253 High St, EH1 1YJ
Further down the Royal Mile from The Writers’ Museum is the Edinburgh City Chambers. Every year, the city of Edinburgh gives out the ‘Edinburgh Award’, which is presented to one incredible Edinburgh resident every year.
J.K. Rowling won the award in 2008, so her handprints are forever embedded in the courtyard of the Edinburgh City Chambers with the rest of the winners for eternity!
10. Balmoral Hotel, 1 Princes St, EH2 2EQ
Finally, cross a bridge onto Princes Street near Edinburgh Waverly Station. Unfortunately, you can only really complete the Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh if you have a spare £1,000 lying around. Yeah, me neither. One day, eh?
J.K. Rowling checked into Room 552 of the Balmoral Hotel to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Essentially, if the Elephant House is ‘The Birthplace of Harry Potter’ then the Balmoral Hotel is the resting place.
The room is called The Rowling Suite and she even scribbled behind one of the busts in the room. It says, “J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”
Definite nerd-goals to stay in that room.
11. Cramond & Barnton Suburbs, Edinburgh
And finally, we reach the end of the Harry Potter Tour Edinburgh. Just outside of Edinburgh are the suburbs of Cramond and Barnton. J.K. Rowling moved to a Barton in 2015. More specifically, she moved into a gorgeous turreted mansion from another Edinburgh neighbourhood, Merchiston.
If you’re lucky, you might bump into her strolling along Cramond harbour or grocery shopping in town. Who knows!
Or book your place on a Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh!
If you only have 90 minutes to spare and want to follow a Harry Potter tour with a knowledgeable and fun guide, perhaps donning a robe and waving a wand, then The Potter Trail is award-winning and comes highly recommended.
It’s also a free tour with the opportunity to tip at the end. I always think these are the best tours because you can guarantee the guide will work super hard for your tips. And if they do work super hard, then you should tip generously!
Check out The Potter Trail for more details.
More Harry Potter-themed activities in Edinburgh!
Boy, everyone in Edinburgh really has gone Harry Potter mad, haven’t they? I don’t blame them, the ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’ is a pretty big accolade. So aside from these 11 locations, there are even more Harry Potter themed activities in Edinburgh. For a truly magical city break in Edinburgh, check out these other things to do…
- The Cauldron – A magical, themed cocktail bar offering cocktail-making classes
- Harry Potter Afternoon Tea Bus Tour – Red Bus Bistro’s Afternoon tea complete with Butterbeer and chocolate frogs!
And that’s my ultimate self-guided Harry Potter Tour Edinburgh! Have you visited Edinburgh? Did you check out any of these Harry Potter inspired locations? Let me know in the comments below!