Unless you’re a complete muggle you probably know that JK Rowling once lived in Edinburgh and maybe even that she started and finished writing Harry Potter here.
But did you know that Rowling borrowed inspiration for everything from Hogwarts to Lord Voldemort’s name straight from her adopted hometown? And were you aware that Edinburgh has its very own quidditch team?
No? Then you’d better read our magically unofficial (please don’t sue us JK) guide to all things Harry Potter in Edinburgh. Only once you’ve visited all ten of these wizard landmarks can you (un)officially call yourself a true Potter aficionado.
The Elephant House
Chen Zhao / Flickr / CC
You’ve probably seen heaps of tourists having their photos taken outside The Elephant House café and perhaps even clocked the sign in the window declaring it the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’, but have you ever been inside? JK Rowling spent some time writing Harry Potter here in the early days (because a cup of coffee is cheaper than a heating bill) and may have been inspired by the fantastic views of Edinburgh from the café’s back windows.
21 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN – more info
George Heriot’s School
A triumph of renaissance architecture, George Heriot’s arguably looks more like a castle than Edinburgh’s actual Castle – in the fairytale sense, at least. That might be why many say JK Rowling used Heriot’s as the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Prestigious, centuries old and with pupils sorted into four houses (Lauriston, Greyfriars, Raeburn and Castle) there’s no wonder people have drawn a comparison between Heriot’s and Hogwarts. As far as we know there are no three-headed dogs living on the premises here, though.
Lauriston Place, EH3 9EQ – more info
Best known for its part in the local legend of Greyfriars Bobby, Greyfriars Kirkyard is also a crucial player in Harry Potter’s backstory. Located just next to The Elephant House, it’s said that JK Rowling would occasionally pace the graveyard mid-writing session to stretch her legs and borrow inspiration from the names on nearby gravestones.
As well as the grave of Thomas Riddell – altered to Tom Riddle (AKA Lord Voldemort) in the books – you can find the possible namesakes for both Mad-Eye Moody (Elizabeth Moodie) and Professor McGonagall (William McGonagall) dotted around the churchyard.
Candlemaker Row, EH1 2QQ – more info
— Vicki Haworth (@stickyvic_78) October 11, 2014
If you happen to take a Saturday afternoon stroll down Middle Meadow Walk and spot a quidditch match going on don’t panic – you’re not hallucinating – it’s just Edinburgh Uni’s Harry Potter Society. Their quidditch team (the Holyrood Hippogriffs) practice there every week and has previously travelled as far as Oxford for the British Quidditch Cup. The fact that broomsticks aren’t real hasn’t put them off in the slightest, so don’t let it stop you from enjoying a quidditch match now and again. Use your imagination, people.
Melville Drive, EH9 9EX – more info
morebyless / Flickr / CC
Granted Edinburgh is absolutely packed with winding, narrow alleyways and mysterious cobbled lanes but Victoria Street between George IV Bridge and the Grassmarket is said to be the inspiration for one of the most wondrous places in the Harry Potter universe – Diagon Alley. Curiously curved and full of colourful shopfronts Victoria Street is certainly one of the quirkiest and most diverse shopping streets in the city. We even have it on good authority that there used to be a shop selling only brushes there. Or were they broomsticks?
If you’re a true Harry Potter fan then a pilgrimage to Edinburgh’s City Chambers on the Royal Mile should be high on your to do list. Back in 2008 JK Rowling was the second ever recipient of the Edinburgh Award and in honour of the event her handprints were immortalised in Caithness stone à la Hollywood Boulevard. Now you can visit them in the quadrangle of the City Chambers and marvel over the hands that crafted perhaps the world’s most iconic fictional world and undoubtedly the world’s most famous young wizard.
253 High Street, EH1 1YJ – more info
Spoon Café Bistro
gnomonic / Flickr / CC
The former Nicolson’s Café was another of JK Rowling’s favourite writing locations when penning the first Harry Potter book. Now known as the Spoon Café Bistro (or just Spoon) at least you can still visit here and sip a cup of coffee where her Rowling-ness did so many years ago. There’s even a plaque on the wall outside to commemorate the writing of those early chapters, if you were in any doubt.
6a Nicolson Street EH8 9DH – more info
The Balmoral Hotel
— The Balmoral (@The_Balmoral) March 5, 2015
Once Potter fever took hold of the world JK Rowling couldn’t get away with writing anonymously in local cafés any longer. Instead she did what any multi-millionaire would do and rented a private suite in the very posh Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street to use as an office space.
When she finally finished the epic seven book-long saga supposedly Rowling leapt up from her desk and scrawled ‘JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007’ onto an unsuspecting decorative marble bust of the Greek god Hermes. Rather than punishing her for vandalism, the hotel placed the bust in a protective glass case and re-named the suite after the author. Fans can now stay in the JK Rowling suite, but it will cost you a grand or two per night.
1 Princes Street, EH2 2EQ – more info
The Elephant House bathroom
No we’ve not lost our marbles, we just think the loos in The Elephant House deserve their own special mention for Potter addicts. Beautiful they aren’t, but they are certainly a sight to behold. Whether or not they were allowed to, hundreds upon thousands of Harry Potter fans have visited The Elephant House toilets and (much like that scamp JK Rowling in The Balmoral) left written notes to or about the Harry Potter author on the walls. The result is a mind-blowing collage of quotes, drawings and heartfelt messages that covers nearly every inch of the walls, doors and mirrors.
21 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN – more info
Walked down Potterrow Road to get to a theatre to watch Harry Potter.
— Alana McCarthy (@AlanaMc) August 1, 2011
Considering her usual haunts when she lived in Edinburgh JK Rowling probably spent some time in and around Potterrow. Although there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that she named her hero after this studenty area, we like to think she subconsciously chose the name ‘Potter’ as another tribute to Edinburgh. In any case, it’s an amusing coincidence and a great photo opportunity for diehard fans.
Main image: City.and.Color / Flickr / CC