Are you a Harry Potter fan? Then Edinburgh is the perfect city for you!
It all started in 1993 when Joan Rowling moved from Porto to Edinburgh with her daughter Jessica. Back then, life was not smiling at her. She had an abusive husband and was living with him and their daughter in Portugal. When she finally managed to live him, she decided to come back home to the UK.
Although JK Rowling is from England, she chose Scotland. Her sister was living in Edinburgh at the time and as we all know, when things go wrong we want to know with people we love and love us back.
JK Rowling didn’t really know Edinburgh but yet made it her home. She shaped her vision of Harry Potter in Edinburgh. The city influenced her more than we could imagine.
Of course, her previous experiences were a source of inspiration as well. She beautifully put together elements from Edinburgh, London and Porto together.
BeeLoved City tells you everything you need to know about Harry Potter in Edinburgh.
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Harry Potter City Tours
The best way to discover Harry Potter in Edinburgh is to take a walking tour. Although you can discover most of it by yourself, Harry Potter walking tours in Edinburgh are fantastic. You will have a guide bringing you to all the main spots and telling you the story of the author and many other things related.
You can find Harry Potter tours everywhere. A quick search on Google will give you the answers to that. They generally range from £12 to £30.
However, I recommend the free Harry Potter tour by City Explorers. If you’ve never been on a free city tour before, here is how it works. You do not pay anything upfront and at the end of the tour, you can tip the guide. That way you only pay what you think it was worth.
These tours run every day at 2 pm and last 1h30. They leave from High Street (in front of the Royal McGregor pub).
The guide will tell you everything about JK Rowling, her life, the inspiration for Harry Potter, Edinburgh Awards and will bring you to the main sites such as Victoria Street, Potterrow…
The Elephant House
The Elephant House is a café located on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh Old Town. It’s particularly famous for being the birthplace of Harry Potter. When she moved to Scotland, JK Rowling spent a lot of time in cafes, especially the Elephant House, writing the first Harry Potter books. She was particularly inspired by the place and its view on George Heriot’s school and the city.
So, if you want to put yourself in her shoes for a bit, just go to the Elephant House and grab a coffee or cake!
It is a very nice and reasonably priced café.
Another thing to note, you can graffiti the toilets with all your Harry Potter-related thoughts! Some of them include theories, ideas and opinions. One of the rare places where you really want to spend time in the toilet!
Because of the success of Harry Potter, the Elephant House has attracted a lot of visitors that just wanted to check out the place and the loo without buying anything. For that reason, there is a £1 fee for the toilet. All the money from the loo is given to charity.
Nicolsons cafe (now trading as Spoon)
Unlike the Elephant House, Spoon (formerly known as Nicolson’s café) gives some mixed messages about its relationship with Harry Potter. On the front of the café you will find a sign saying Harry Potter was written here. Inside, there is a sign saying otherwise.
That having been said, JK Rowling did say she wrote parts of Harry Potter in this café too.
Victoria street aka Diagon Alley
There are several streets that were the inspiration for Diagon Alley. As a matter of fact, you will find 3 in Edinburgh and another couple in London and Porto. Of course, JK Rowling didn’t just copy one street, she just took the best elements of this handful of streets and combined them with her imagination to create the true Diagon Alley.
However, Victoria Street is the closest real-life version of Diagon Alley.
Located in the old town of Edinburgh, this beautiful street is colourful and full of little and quirky shops. There is even a joke shop at the bottom! So if you want to check out the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes joke shops in Edinburgh just go there!
Potterrow Port is a little tunnel located near Spoon café. It was used as a set in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (movie 5), the scene where dementors attack Harry and Dudley.
At the time, the director of the movie and his team didn’t quite know how to film that scene. They couldn’t find a suitable set.
They met with JK Rowling in Edinburgh and left the meeting with that unresolved issue. On the way back to the hotel, they walked near Pottermore row. The name probably caught their attention, for obvious reasons, and they went closer to have a look. As it turned out, it was the perfect place to film that scene!
After that, they recreated Pottermore row in the Warner Bros Studios in London and filmed the scene. As much as they would have wanted to film it in Edinburgh, the weather in Scotland is too unpredictable.
PS: This is not where the name Harry Potter comes from.
As previously said, there are many things in Edinburgh that inspired JK Rowling. Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of them. When she moved to Edinburgh, she used to go there for a stroll with her daughter. Some people go to a park, JK Rowling goes to a graveyard! Why not after all!
She spent a lot of time there and looked at the graves, this is where she picked some of the names.
You can find the grave of Moodie, McGonagall and Thomas Riddell.
In 2006, JK Rowling is writing the last book of Harry Potter. As you can imagine she is under a lot of pressure and decides to go away from her kids for a couple of days to be able to write the end of the book calmly. She stays at the Balmoral hotel, just above Waverley Station.
At that point, she is way too famous to go to cafes to write the books. People would keep bugging her, asking her how it ends… So she needs a calm place away from everyone.
The hotel turned out to be such a good piece of heaven, she ended up staying for 4 months to finish the book.
Side note about that, the room she was staying in costs £1000 a night. I let you add that up!
She wrote for the 4 months of her stay and on January 11th, finally… Harry Potter was finished!
To celebrate, she called her publicist and graffitied the room! Up to that day, if you stay in this room, you can still see the inscription “Harry Potter was finished here on the 11th of January 2007.
The Edinburgh Award was set up in 2007 to recognise an individual’s outstanding achievements and contribution to the city of Edinburgh. JK Rowling was honoured by the City of Edinburgh and received the price in 2008, on Hermione Granger’s 19th birthday.
Her handprints are now on the Edinburgh Award plaque on the ground in the city of chambers court (high street).
There are many more stories around Harry Potter in Edinburgh and I shall let you discover them once you get there but if you love the books, it is really the place you want to go to. It has nothing to do with Harry Potter in London. In London, you will find filming locations, the studios… everything that has to do with the movies. But if you love the books, Edinburgh is the place for you. That’s where everything started. Harry Potter is everywhere!