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Hunting for Harry Potter in Edinburgh

Colourful Victoria Street - Inspiration for Diagon Alley in Edinburgh - Harry Potter in Edinburgh

Where can you find Harry Potter in Edinburgh?  Although Edinburgh wasn’t used to film any of the scenes in the Harry Potter films, it is where J K Rowling wrote the books and found inspiration for characters and locations in her famous wizarding world.  Here you can find some of the best spots for Potterheads to explore and find the essence of Harry Potter in Edinburgh!

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Why is Edinburgh so Special for Harry Potter Fans?

Harry Potter is a global phenomenon with a Scottish heart.  When J K Rowling sat in a café in Edinburgh writing the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione, she had no idea how popular the stories would become.    

Edinburgh has a history of witchcraft, or at least witch-hunting, and with Edinburgh Castle looming over the city it is easy to feel the magic in the streets.  Edinburgh feels like the spiritual home of Harry Potter, where Hogwarts and Diagon Alley come to life!

Edinburgh Castle Conjures up Images of Witches and Wizards - Harry Potter in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle Conjures up Images of Witches and Wizards – Harry Potter in Edinburgh

Taking a Harry Potter Tour in Edinburgh

You can visit all of these Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh independently, or take one of the Harry Potter tours around the city. 

I decided to book a place on this Small Group Harry Potter Tour on Airbnb experiences as it had excellent reviews.  There are plenty of other Harry Potter tours in Edinburgh, including some free Harry Potter Tours, but they often have large groups of people, and once you have tipped the guide the paid tours aren’t that much more expensive.  

If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip, or $11 credit on your first experience (subject to terms and conditions).  Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.

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Our guide was Katrina, who led us (just me and one other person) around some of the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh.  The tour lasted about an hour and covered most of the places below – as well as a raft of Harry Potter facts which I hadn’t known about!  Any of the places below not included on the tour are easily visited alone once the tour has finished.

You may also like these Harry Potter tours on GetYourGuide:

 

Harry Potter Locations in Edinburgh

The Elephant House Café

J K Rowling actually wrote the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the Spoon Café in Edinburgh, but the Elephant House is where she spent most of her time writing before she made it big. 

You can go inside the café to just take photographs if you pay a donation or sit down and have some tea and cake while you see where J K Rowling worked her magic.  There are photographs of her on the walls, and the toilets are covered in graffiti from Harry Potter fans. 

The Scottish author Ian Rankin also spent time writing here, although he is overshadowed by Ms Rowling now!

Harry Potter Grafitti in the Toilets of the Elephant House Cafe
Harry Potter Grafitti in the Toilets of the Elephant House Cafe

The Balmoral Hotel

Somewhat more upmarket than the Elephant House, the Balmoral is the 5-star hotel where J K Rowling stayed while she finished the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows.  If you have the cash to spare (around £1000 a night!) you can book a night in the J K Rowling Suite, where she wrote the last pages. 

A more affordable option to give you a feel for the hotel is to book an afternoon tea at a much cheaper £45 per person, or just admire the building from the outside!

The Balmoral Hotel - Where J K Rowling Finished Harry Potter in Edinburgh
The Balmoral Hotel – Where J K Rowling Finished Harry Potter in Edinburgh

Greyfriars Kirkyard

This beautiful churchyard is also famous for being the home of Greyfriars Bobby, the little dog who refused to leave his master’s grave for 14 years.  As well as Greyfriar’s Bobby’s greave inside the churchyard, there is a maze of gravestones and beautifully decorated tombs. 

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If you look carefully you can find some fascinating names carved on the stones, some of which will be very familiar to Harry Potter fans. 

The most notable gravestone is that of Thomas Riddell Esquire, and his son, who was also called Thomas Riddell, which could be where J K got the inspiration for the real name of Lord Voldemort. 

Although she may not be willing to admit being inspired by other graves here, names such as William McGonagall and Elizabeth Moodie are hard to ignore.  You might also spot a carving of a stone head (without a body) which looks remarkably like Nearly Headless Nick!

Victoria Street – Diagon Alley in Edinburgh

This colourful curved street is said to have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley, where Harry and his wizarding friends buy everything they need for a school year at Hogwarts.  Victoria Street is close to the cafés where J K Rowling did her writing and could well have inspired her as she walked by.

Apparently, there used to be a shop here which sold all kinds of brooms and brushes, although that has now disappeared, replaced with several new Harry Potter-themed shops like Aha Ha Ha Jokes & Novelties and Museum Context. 

Either way, it’s a lovely street to explore, with colourful walls and cobblestones certainly evoking the magic of Diagon Alley in Edinburgh.

Victoria Street is Said to be the Inspiration for Diagon Alley in Edinburgh
Victoria Street is Said to be the Inspiration for Diagon Alley in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens

Although perhaps not directly influential, living in a city where the castle dominates the landscape could easily have inspired J K Rowling.  If you’re in Edinburgh when the seating for the Military Tattoo is in place outside the castle, you may notice it bears a resemblance to a Quidditch pitch in front of the castle! 

Princes Street Gardens have a real connection to witches and are built on what used to be the castle moat, the festering stagnant water which gave Edinburgh the nickname “Auld Reekie”.  Edinburgh was also where more than 4,000 alleged witches were put to death. 

The castle moat was used to dispose of their bodies, as the witches were thrown from the castle into the water below.  If the witches drowned, they were given a full pardon, and if they survived, they were burned at the stake.  Some justice! 

Thankfully the gardens are a much more pleasant space to enjoy now, and that dark history is way behind us.

Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle
Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle

George Heriot’s School

This prestigious school is housed in a turreted castle-like building, built in 1628.  Although this has never been confirmed by J K Rowling, it could have been part of the inspiration for Hogwarts School.  Children at the George Heriot’s are separated into four houses which may have been the pre-cursor to Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but we can’t say for sure. 

The school is still active, so you can’t visit the grounds, although you can see it from outside the gates – including a sneaky peek from the back of Greyfriars Kirkyard.     

George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh
George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh

Harry Potter Shops

Of course, in a city like Edinburgh where Harry Potter is so popular, it’s no surprise that several shops catering to the insatiable thirst for merchandise have popped up. 

Most are on Victoria Street, including Museum Context which sells a whole host of official Harry Potter items.  The shop even has a makeshift Chamber of Secrets on the top floor where you can have your picture taken at a desk with an owl, so it is perfect for Potterheads. 

Aha Ha Ha Jokes on Victoria Street is based on Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and sells the kind of jokes and tricks you might expect from two wizards!   The Boy Wizard has two locations in Edinburgh, one on Victoria Street and the other on High Street, both selling Harry Potter merchandise and souvenirs.

The Perfect Spot for a Harry Potter Photo Opportunity in Museum Context
The Perfect Spot for a Harry Potter Photo Opportunity in Museum Context

Where to Eat & Drink Like Harry Potter in Edinburgh

I’ve already mentioned Spoon and the Elephant House Cafe and having afternoon tea at the Balmoral Hotel; but here are some other suggestions you might like to include in your Edinburgh Harry Potter adventure.  Please note I haven’t tried any other these myself, so check out the reviews before you decide to book!

Harry Potter Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

The Red Bus Bistro offers themed tours in their vintage double-decker London bus which include Italian antipasti and wine or pizza and prosecco menus.  The bus tour travels to many of the Harry Potter locations above, although you don’t get the chance to get out to see them.  The company also offers afternoon tea and gin tours.

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Try a Potion at the Department of Magic

The Department of Magic has two magical escape rooms where you battle the Dark Lord to be able to escape.  It isn’t specifically Harry Potter themed, but it is certainly influenced by magical forces.  The Magic Potions Tavern also offers budding witches and wizard the chance to make their own magical cocktail or to have a pint of Butterbrew.

Take A Potions Class at The Cauldron

The Cauldron is also not officially Harry Potter themed, but their Potion Making Classes look like great fun!  Where else can you wear a cloak, wield a working magic wand & use molecular mixology to brew drinkable elixirs??

I hope that’s enough for you to get your magical fill of Harry Potter in Edinburgh!  If you know of any other Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh that I haven’t mentioned please let me know! 

The Vennel Viewpoint of Edinburgh Castle
The Vennel Viewpoint of Edinburgh Castle

Harry Potter Themed Accommodation in Edinburgh

There are a few apartments which could make you feel as though you are bunking down in a Hogwarts dorm – without having to share your room!

The Witchery has luxurious rooms which are sumptuously decorated.  Their Library Suite has a bedroom hidden behind the bookcase, walls upholstered in Paisley fabrics, rich, red, antique velvet drapes, oak and tile floors, and a seating area with Victorian sofas from Taymouth Castle.  It comes at a price though, starting from £395 per night including breakfast.

Canongate Luxury Apartment is another witchery themed apartment where you can stay for around £150 per night.  There are 2 bedrooms, including the master bedroom which certainly conjures images of Harry Potter.  Portraits and bookshelves cover the walls, although the portraits don’t move, unfortunately.

Airbnb also has a couple of Harry Potter styled apartments too, like this central Fun-Filled Harry Potter themed flat and this Magical Wizarding Residence, complete with a Dementor in the corner!

Aha Ha Ha Joke Shop on Victoria Street - Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh
Aha Ha Ha Joke Shop on Victoria Street – Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh

If you prefer to stay in Muggle accommodation, these are some “normal” recommendations for where to stay in Edinburgh:

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

Hostels in Edinburgh

Unfortunately, Edinburgh is quite expensive, compared to other destinations in Scotland.  However, if you are backpacking Edinburgh on a budget there are plenty of hostels in Edinburgh to choose from.
 
I stayed at High Street Hostel which is just off the Royal Mile, and a short walk (up steps!) from the train station.  I was only there briefly but there were comfy beds, friendly staff, and a reasonable breakfast.  It gets great reviews on Hostelworld so I’m happy to recommend it.  You can check all the hostels in Edinburgh on Hostelworld here.

BOOK YOUR HOSTEL NOW

Hotels in Edinburgh

There are lots of hotels to choose from in Edinburgh, but as you might expect, the better the location you choose, the higher the price! 

Luckily, Edinburgh is quite a compact city, so if you don’t mind walking you can find hotels in Edinburgh which balances price and location with great quality. Edinburgh Central Rooms, for example, gets good reviews for a decent price, and the location isn’t bad either.  Or you can look through all the hotels in Edinburgh here.

Airbnb in Edinburgh

As I spent 3 nights in Edinburgh I wanted to book an Airbnb so I could enjoy a private room and cook a couple of meals at ‘home’ to save a bit of cash.  I stayed at this Airbnb which was a room in a beautiful flat, hosted by Al, a friendly welcoming chap. 

He even brought me a jar of biscuits so I was very happy with that!  The bedroom was lovely, and I slept really well here.  It was about 15-20 minutes’ walk into the centre of town, and it was just around the corner from Pickerings Gin Distillery which I also planned to visit.

If you prefer to book a full home on Airbnb instead of a private room there are lots of choices too, like this beautiful apartment in a historic building.  You can check all the options for Airbnb in Edinburgh here.

If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $52 credit to use on your first trip!  Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click the button for your Airbnb coupon.

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Last updated: June 6, 2020

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