The Harry Potter book series is surely well-known by almost everyone on the planet, but did you know that JK Rowling penned the world’s favourite wizarding stories right here in Edinburgh? As you walk around the city, you can see the streets and sights that inspired the global sensation. Visit the locations in our guide and get a real sense of Hogwarts and the wizarding world, right here in Scotland’s capital.
The Elephant House and Spoon Café
Start your journey where it all began. Before she made her millions with the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling would seek refuge from the cold and write her early manuscripts in Edinburgh’s warm and welcoming cafés. The most notable are The Elephant House on George IV Bridge, where you’ll find lots of tourists taking selfies in front of the sign marking the “birthplace” of Harry Potter.
If you want to avoid the crowds, walk around five minutes away to Spoon Café on Nicolson Street. The premises was previously occupied by Nicolsons Café, where Rowling is rumoured to have spent most of her time writing. The location is marked with an understated plaque on the corner of Drummond Street, so keep your eyes peeled!
JK Rowling’s annotated first edition
From Thursday 8 December until Sunday 8 January, Edinburgh Writers’ Museum is displaying a rare first-edition copy of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, annotated with illustrations and anecdotes by Rowling herself. There’s no entry fee, and the one-of-a-kind book will be opened at different pages on set days throughout the exhibition.
The Edinburgh Writers’ Museum is located at Lady Stair’s Close, Edinburgh EH1 2PA and you can find opening hours, as well as information about which days different pages will be on display on the museum’s website.
In between her writing sessions in the Edinburgh cafés, JK Rowling would stroll around the streets of Edinburgh, which served as much of her inspiration for the Harry Potter universe. Perhaps somewhat morbidly, she would walk around the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard and look at the gravestones, with some of the names making their way into her books. Keep an eye out for McGonagalls, Potters, Scrymgeours and more.
However, undoubtedly the most famous resident in Greyfriars Kirkyard is Thomas Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort or “He who must not be named”. Many fans make the pilgrimage here to pay tribute to the man who gave his name to the most evil of the wizarding world.
Head across the Grassmarket and you’ll find the curve of Victoria Street and The West Bow, where restaurants are stacked on top of shops tightly packed together in brightly painted buildings and selling oddities and trinkets.
It’s no wonder then, that this colourful street is rumoured to have served as the inspiration of London’s magical shopping thoroughfare Diagon Alley. Head along to the Grassmarket, soak up the atmosphere and pick up something unique as a souvenir from this curious street.
JK Rowling’s Handprints
Just off the Royal Mile, you can find the famous author’s handprints reproduced on a flagstone in the quadrangle in front of Edinburgh City Chambers. The prints were produced when JK Rowling was awarded the Edinburgh Award in 2008.
You’ll also find the handprints of other recipients of the Award, including Sir Chris Hoy, Ian Rankin OBE and local hero Tom Gilzean.
George Heriot’s School
Even though the location of Hogwarts has never been officially determined, rumour has it that JK Rowling based the magical school on George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh’s city centre. With four houses, four towers and breathtaking gothic architecture, you can understand why the author found it so inspiring.
It’s rarely open to the public, but you can get a good view of it from George IV Bridge, Lauriston Place and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.
The Balmoral Hotel
The suite renamed the JK Rowling Suite in her honour, contains her writing desk and has a marble bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, signed by the author. Book ahead and stay the night here for the ultimate Harry Potter experience!
“Diagon Alley” (Victoria Street and Candlemaker Row)
Victoria Street is a colourful, historical, and beautiful split-level cobbled road not far from the Elephant House, and it’s thought to have been the inspiration for the fictional Diagon Alley, along with the adjacent Candlemaker Row. There’s a Diagon Alley plaque and mural in Candlemaker Row, and even a joke shop on Victoria Street, although sadly it isn’t run by Fred and George Weasley.
Cramond and Barnton
The harbour suburb of Cramond is a gorgeous place for a stroll, as is neighbouring Barnton, one of the fanciest areas in Edinburgh. It’s home to J.K. Rowling, who moved from her home in the Merchiston area of Edinburgh to this amazing turreted mansion in 2015 and can often be spotted in local shops or walking on Cramond beach. You never know, if you visit you might just bump into her!