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The Ultimate Harry Potter Tour Of Edinburgh

I can picture a dude in a black robe with a wand as I clip clop up the cobblestone street of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. I turn into Victoria Street. This winding way (known by some as Diagon Alley) is where author JK Rowling found her inspo for the lane selling wands, owls and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans in Harry Potter.

There’s no sign of dementors but I do spot a heap of Gryffindor scarves in The Boy Wizard shop. Edinburgh is a place for wizards. It’s a living theme park for Potterheads. It’s well known that Rowling lived in Edinburgh for a significant time while writing her boy-wizard series, and it’s thought that she drew a lot of inspiration from the names and places she found here.

I suck in some air and can almost taste the magic brewing especially as I’m now outside The Dog House pub serving its own version of the series’ butter beer. If you’re a Potterhead throw down your floo powder and get over here now. You simply have to take a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh, featuring the below highlights.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

He Who Must Not Be Named does have a grave and it’s in the Greyfriars Kirkyard. A kirk is what the Scots call a church (it’s this kinda speak that endears me to the Scots). This is the perfect spot to start your Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh.

In the graveyard you’ll find Tom Riddell’s headstone. The real Tom passed away in 1806 unaware a likeness of his name might be used for Rowling’s most evil character Lord Voldemort (Tom Marvolo Riddle). Sure, it’s spelt differently but this is inspiration, not law.

 

Tom Riddell's headstone on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh.

There’s also a headstone for William McGonagall, which may be where Professor McGonagall came from. William McGonagall was known as Scotland’s worst poet and had to work as a weaver to make any money. There’s also a headstone for Elizabeth Moodie – perhaps providing a spark for the surname of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. The entire kirkyard is thought to be an inspiration for the eerie Godric’s Hollow, the resting place of Harry’s parents.

To find the Potter-related graves head down to the back section behind the old Flodden wall.

Where: Greyfriars Place, Edinburgh

Pre-fame hangouts of JK Rowling

The Elephant House

As a struggling single parent Rowling often wrote in cafes. She penned some of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone behind the red façade of The Elephant House. Plonk yourself down in the back room and gaze over the kirkyard or for those Moaning Myrtle fans, the loos are the place to be. Check them out for Harry Potter themed graffiti (accio permanent marker!).

Where: 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

Spoon (once known as Nicolson’s Cafe)

 

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It’s said that Rowling would switch her location to this spot after being asked to leave the Elephant House for only buying one coffee. Nicolson’s cafe was co-owned by her brother-in-law Roger Moore (not the James Bond one). It’s now changed into Spoon, and is much more cosy and not as busy as the Elephant House.

Perhaps because the plaque on the corner of Drummond Street saying, “JK Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter in the rooms on the first floor of this building,” went missing in 2018 and has not been replaced.

Where: 6a Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

Post-fame JK Rowling hangouts

The Balmoral hotel

JK Rowling Suite Balmoral Hotel Edinburgh on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh

The JK Rowling Suite at the Balmoral Hotel. Image: Balmoral Hotel

Room 552 is the suite where Rowling stayed for six months to finish final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. A golden owl perches on the door and inside is a marble bust signed by Rowling. Starting at £2000 (AU$3650) per night, you’d have to be a successful wizard to afford it. You may not be able to enter the suite on your Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh, but you can certainly view the looker of a hotel from the outside – its clock tower dominates the Edinburgh skyline.

Where: 1 Princes St, Edinburgh

George Heriot’s School (aka Hogwarts)

George Heriot's School on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh

George Heriot’s School, Edinburgh. Image: Yisong Yue / Flickr

A turreted Scottish Renaissance school can be viewed from the Elephant House. The school was definite fodder for the creative Rowling brain. Look through the kirkyard gates for a closer view but, as it’s private property and a school, you can’t go in. There are security guards everywhere. Filch is probably hiding somewhere with Nearly Headless Nick and Mrs Norris.

Where: Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh

More stops on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle, seen on a Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh

There are Potter events galore in Edinburgh including quidditch, comedy shows and even a musical concert in March this year. Visit the University of Edinburgh’s Harry Potter Society to see what’s on when you’re in town.

JK Rowling's hand prints in stone on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh.

Image: Bredward / Flickr

You can also see Rowling’s handprints set in the pavement on the Royal Mile at 253 High St, Edinburgh. While you’re here, you should also check out Edinburgh Castle – it’s the closest thing to being inside the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and an essential addition to a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh.

Check out Qantas flights to Edinburgh to begin your next adventure.

(Lead image: Left side, Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Warner Bros.)