Edinburgh’s magic: A Harry Potter itinerary for a film-inspired trip

Discover the magic hidden in the Scottish landscapes where the Harry Potter films were shot!

Edinburgh, a cinematic city

The elegant, cultural, and cosmopolitan Scottish capital is an unavoidable movie set for lovers of the seventh art. This charming and historic city has offered its star-studded cobblestone streets, monuments, cafes, and emblematic corners to countless productions. If you want to visit the place where the original idea of the Harry Potter saga was born, this is your cinematic destination!

Harry Potter Saga (2001-2011), a route through hidden locations

Undoubtedly, this Nordic country is the chosen place for Potterheads or lovers of the immensely popular Harry Potter saga. Here await some of the most iconic locations of this famous production. We land in the Scottish capital to discover the place where J.K. Rowling began shaping the saga of the clever and young wizard, drawing inspiration from the beautiful views of the castle and the architectural magic that emanates from this fairytale city.

Turn your trip into a cinematic experience and visit the cafes and hotels that inspired the famous books! Don’t forget your cloak and head to number 130 High St to embark on a tour you’ll hardly forget. 

Imagine you’ve just moved to Edinburgh and spend hours writing in some of the city’s cafes, shaping an idea that obsesses you: a young wizard with a scar that will mark his destiny… This was J.K. Rowling’s life when she arrived in the Scottish capital in the 90s. ‘The Elephant House’ with its characteristic red facade at 21 George IV Bridge, was one of those cafes where the writer wrote much of her second and third book of the saga. Day after day, Rowling repeated the same ritual, sitting at the back of the shop overlooking Edinburgh Castle, ordering one coffee after another, absorbed in the famous magical world we all know. On this literary route, the bistro Spoon (6A Nicolson Street) cannot be missed, where our protagonist was born thanks to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

From the cafe where Rowling wrote the first chapter of the saga, we move to the luxurious Balmoral Hotel on Princes St, where she put the finishing touches on the successful production. Built in 1902, it is the most prestigious hotel in Edinburgh. In fact, its name means “majestic residence” in Gaelic. Here, illustrious characters such as Elizabeth Taylor or the Queen Mother stayed. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, suite 552 is one of your favorite places, as it was forever renamed after J.K. Rowling. Increase the excitement of this cinematic experience and head to the old town, with its medieval layout, to look for Rowling’s handprints on High St, very close to the Royal Mile.

Greyfriars Cemetery: Voldemort’s tomb and sinister legends

We continue following the wizard’s footsteps and head to Greyfriars Cemetery (Greyfriars Kirkyard), placed right in the city center, just 100 meters from ‘The Elephant House.’ It is said that the famous author chose some of the names of her protagonists during her walks through this eerie cemetery. Some tombstones served as inspiration for characters like Tom Riddle, Minerva McGonagall, or Mad-Eye Moody.

The Edinburgh locals claim that the graveyard is haunted, but you can’t leave Edinburgh without getting lost inside. In addition to visiting the famous tomb of Thomas Riddle, the most dangerous wizard of all time, don’t forget to visit the resting place of Bobby, a little dog who became famous in the city in the 19th century for staying by his owner’s grave for 14 years.

This legendary corner is also a place of worship for the inhabitants of the Scottish capital. On the very few sunny days, it turns into a kind of park and it’s common to see Edinburgh locals strolling or reading a book. Nevertheless, it remains a sinister place full of macabre legends. Like that of George Mackenzie, a lawyer who in the late 17th century imprisoned over a thousand Covenanters (a religious community) who died tortured, earning him the nickname Bloody Mackenzie. If you dare to approach his mausoleum, you may suffer the same fate as many who tried… a truly movie-like adventure!

George Heriot School (Edinburgh): the inspiration for Hogwarts.

Although the author has never officially confirmed having been inspired by any building to conceive the famous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, its description bears a striking resemblance to George Heriot’s School, a prestigious Scottish educational institution in the center of Edinburgh that opened its doors as a boarding school in the 17th century.

What we do know about Hogwarts is that it is located somewhere in Scotland, with several floors and towers, castle-like structure, and staircases that change position at will. Other theories suggest that Edinburgh Castle was its true inspiration. Built atop a hill, the image of this castle is as imposing as it would be to behold the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the first time.

Excursion to the Highlands from Edinburgh

We leave behind the charming Edinburgh to immerse ourselves in the enchantment of the legendary Highlands, the setting for movies like Harry Potter, Braveheart, the James Bond saga, or the series The Crown. Do you have your ticket ready to board the Hogwarts Express or, as Muggles know it, The Jacobite? Considered the best train journey in the world, The Jacobite begins its route near the tallest mountain in Britain (Ben Nevis) and ends next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe (Loch Nevis). One of the most famous Scottish settings from Harry Potter is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Here, the spectacular sequence of the Hogwarts train chase and a flying Ford Anglia crossing the historic viaduct on the way to the School of Witchcraft was filmed.

This is how the big screen immortalized the lush green meadows of Glenfinnan, in the Scottish Highlands. Just a few kilometers from here, scenes from ‘Skyfall’ by James Bond were also filmed. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re in the right place, as this area also includes the “Black Lake” (Loch Shiel), the lake surrounding the School of Witchcraft where the Triwizard Tournament was held in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If the train journey isn’t for you (or you’re worried about being assaulted by Dementors), from May to October you can watch The Jacobite cross the 21 arches at 31 meters high from a nearby viewpoint. You won’t find it hard to imagine Harry and his friends traveling in one of the carriages!

The viaduct is located 3 and a half hours from Edinburgh and was built in the late 19th century to connect the towns of Fort William and Mallaig. Precisely, this cinematic journey is not at odds with visiting picturesque villages like Fort William, a tiny fishing town. Here, you can experience firsthand the friendly and hospitable nature of the Scots and immerse yourself in their customs and ways of life. In the city, you will find accommodations to suit all tastes and budgets.

Do you want to know how to comfortably visit all these magical places from Edinburgh? Click on this tour and get ready to travel to Hogwarts!

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Picture of Esther Rodríguez Andreu

Esther Rodríguez Andreu

A journalist by vocation and profession for 25 years, I have turned my passion into my work. Sometimes they merge in such a way that I no longer know if I work for pleasure or if it is my passion that drives me to discover the world and then tell about it and transmit all those sensations and experiences. I am currently a contributor to 'El Viajero', 'El Pais', the magazine Descubrir and the newspaper '20 minutos'. I am part of the editorial team of the magazine 'Top Viajes' and I am the author of the blog maletaintrepida

Date of publication: 26 de April de 2024
Last updated: 13 de June de 2024