Reality and fiction get intertwined in this medieval city full of legends, ghosts and castles. There’re many alleyways and small pedestrian streets that you can get lost in admiring the sites that inspired J.K Rowling to write a wizarding world sitting in its cafés. Traveling to Edinburgh is going the place where the magic began.
'The Elephant House' (Edinburgh): The café where the magic was born.
Imagine this: You have just moved to Edinburgh. Money is scarce and you spend most of your time inside the city cafés writing. And there’s an idea that does not leave your mind: A young wizard with a scar that will mark his destiny…
This is how Rowling’s life looked like when she arrived to the Scottish capital in the 90’s. And ‘The Elephant House’ was one of the cafés where she wrote, mainly, the second and third book of the saga. Its bright red exterior is hard to miss on the George IV Bridge.
At the back of this coffee shop, with amazing views of Edinburgh Castle, Rowling sat for hours with a cup of a hot beverage (or several) immerse in the magical world we all now know of. Ask for a seat near the window to escape from the rain and who knows… maybe you’ll come up with a fantastic idea for a book that will revolutionize the world!
Another site touched by magic is the Spoon café on Nicolson Street. Here, Rowling wrote the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone. In fact, there’s a plaque that proves it on the corner with Drummond St, although back then the Spoon was named Nicolson’s Café and the inside was a bit different.
And from the café where Rowling started the books we walk to the 5-star hotel where she finished the saga: the Balmoral Hotel in Princes St.
Built in 1902, Balmoral is the most prestigious hotel in the city, it is no coincidence that its name means “majestic dwelling” in Gaelic. People like Elizabeth Taylor or The Queen Mother stayed in its luxury rooms but the 552 suite will forever (and officially) be the J.K Rowling suite after she wrote here the last worlds of Harry Potter on 11th Jan 2007. Click on the ‘Accommodation’ button and spend the night like a successful writer in Edinburgh!
When you make your way back to the city centre from Balmoral Hotel, walk along High St to find J.K Rowling’s handprints on the floor in front of the Edinburgh City Chambers!
Greyfriars Kirkyard (Edinburgh): Lord Voldemort's grave.
We enter now the graveyard where, however paradoxical it might sound, some Harry Potter characters were born: Greyfriars Kirkyard. Yes, it is said that J.K Rowling got some inspiration from the names on its tombstones to name Tom Ryddle, Minerva McGonagall o Mad-Eye Moody.
This graveyard is open to the public and located in the middle of Edinburgh, only 100m away from ‘The Elephant House’, it’s not hard to imagine Rowling pacing around here to clear her mind from her exhausting writing sessions.
Thomas Riddel’s grave is the most famous tomb inside the graveyard. Seeing the exact spot where the name of the most powerful and dangerous Dark wizard of all time is (almost) written attracts many visitors, so much so that the grave can be easily find searching it in Google Maps
Although according to Edinburgh’s legends this site is haunted… it’s worth a visit to look among the graves for the ones related to Harry Potter and also to pay Bobby your respects. Wait…Bobby who? Yes, the famous dog who became known in the 19th-century for spending more than a decade guarding the grave of his owner until he died. Loyal like a Hufflepuff!
Click on the ‘Activities’ button and join some of the Harry Potter tours we’ve selected so you can visit this and the rest of enchanted sites in the city! You’ll get why Rowling was very much inspired by Edinburgh!
George Heriot’s School (Edinburgh): Hogwart's inspiration.
What we know about Hogwarts is that it’s located somewhere in Scotland, that it’s a seven-storey high building with four towers and that it kind of looks like a castle. Oh! And that its staircases move when you least expect it!
With such description, George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh is believed by many to have served as the inspiration for the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This prestigious private school was built in the 17th century and first opened as an orphanage.
However, others think that the true inspiration for Hogwarts was Edinburgh Castle. Do you remember that ‘The Elephant House’ has views of this historic site? Well, it’s not hard to imagine Rowling getting some ideas while writing in this café… And there is no doubt that Hogwarts would be as impressive to look at as it’s Edinburgh Castle.
But the writer has never confirmed or denied anything about Hogwart’s inspiration. What it is true though is J.K Rowling saw both the school and the castle almost daily living in Edinburgh. And maybe those stuck with her.
Do you want to keep exploring Scotland following in the footsteps of Harry Potter? Departing from Edinburgh, you can easily get to, for example, Alnwick Castle near the Anglo-Scottish border. Or you can step into the mysterious Highlands, the land where Hogwarts is supposed to be hidden in plain sight. Keep reading to know more!
Glenfinnan Viaduct (Glenfinnan): On our way to Hogwarts.
We leave Edinburgh to visit the Highlands and its beautiful landscapes which will bring us closer to Hogwarts! Ready to hop on the Hogwarts Express or, as the muggles call it, The Jacobite?
Known as the best train ride in the whole wide world, The Jacobite starts Considerado como el mejor viaje en tren del mundo, The Jacobite empieza su recorrido cerca de la montaña más alta de Gran Bretaña (Ben Nevis) y termina junto al lago de agua de mar más profundo de Europa (Loch Nevis).
And of course, it rides over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a beautiful structure completed in 1901 that Harry and Ron flew over when trying to catch the Howgart Express driving the flying car in the second movie!
The viaduct was erected to connect the cities of Fort William and Mallaig and it takes about 3 hours and a half to get to from Edinburgh. If a train raid is not your cup of tea (or you are concerned about a Dementor’s attack), you can watch the train crossing this structure daily from May to October from a near viewpoint. It won’t be hard to imagine Harry and the rest of the gang sitting comfortably inside the train!
Loch Shiel (Glenfinnan): Hogwart's lake.
Sadly, it’s not possible to see Hogwart’s castle from Glenfinnan Viaduct, but from this point you will actually be able to admire the grounds that surround the school in the films. Loch Shield, known in the area as the Black Lake or the Great Lake, doubled as Hogwart’s lake in some of the Harry Potter films.
For example, this was the setting for the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire… (we wonder if there’re actually sirens and other magical beasts living under those deep waters.)
If you’re staying in Edinburgh but want to make a day-trip to these Harry Potter locations… Click on the ‘Activities’ button and get ready to travel to Hogwarts!
Loch Eilt (Lochaber): Dumbledore's grave.
Your Harry Potter trip to the Scottish Highlands (or the Hogwart’s grounds) is not complete until you raise your wand towards the sky in front of the resting place of the wisest and most powerful wizard of all times… Albus Dumbledore.
His grave is located on the Eilean na Moine island, within the atmospheric Loch Eilt, and only 10km away from Glenfinnan Viaduct
The peacefulness and beauty of this place is in harsh contrast with the heartbreaking scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 where Voldemort desecrates Dumbledore’s tomb to steal the Elder Wand from him.
This location is the grand finale of a trip you’ll always remember! Oh! And don’t forget to keep the secret… you know it’s for the best if muggles are not aware that magic exists so close to them!