Harry Potter in Edinburgh
If you’re headed to Edinburgh, Scotland, this month for the Fringe Festival, don’t miss out on all of the Potter connections that the city holds! In addition to the fact that many Potter actors have performed at the Fringe (Jessie Cave, Dawn French, Julie Walters), the city is home to author J.K. Rowling. There are a handful of locations around the city that influenced key parts of the Harry Potter series, and they are all worth a look for any Potter fan!
The Elephant House
The first stop any Harry Potter fan should make in Edinburgh is the Elephant House. This cute and innocuous cafe is famous for branding itself as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Much of Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban were written in the back room here, overlooking a castle view. The cafe is a must-see, especially as the bathroom walls are covered in messages left by Harry Potter fans over the years. Be sure to bring a marker with you so that you too can leave a note on the walls for Jo and Harry.
The back room of the Elephant House overlooks Greyfriars Kirkyard, a cemetery that inspired the creepy Riddle graveyard in Goblet of Fire. J.K. Rowling would regularly stroll through the cemetery, and it was here that she may have been inspired to name some of her characters. The graves of aristocrats Thomas Riddell and his son, Thomas Riddell, Jr., are housed within. There is also a memorial to the poet William McGonagall. These graves may take a while to find within the cemetery walls, but it’s worth the search to look upon the real “Riddle” grave.
George Heriot’s School
Also just outside the window of the Elephant House is George Heriot’s School. The architecture of this independent primary school was the inspiration for the look of Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling also drew inspiration from the house structure that was in place at the school. Their four houses, Castle, Raeburn, Lauriston, and Greyfriars, were the basis of the concept of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. During the festival, you can’t get closer to the school than the gates unless you have a ticket to a show since it is home to the BBC Fringe this year, but you can still get a good view of it from the graveyard and around the back wall.
Many of the University of Edinburgh’s school buildings lay along a road called “Potterow” – a street that many say may have inspired the name for our hero, Harry.
St. Giles Cathedral
St. Giles Cathedral lies in the heart of Edinburgh, and upon stepping inside, you could swear you were standing inside the Great Hall. The sweeping ceilings and stone walls would make any Hogwarts student feel at home.
While you are visiting St. Giles Cathedral, be sure to stop at the City Chambers directly across the street. In 2008, J.K. Rowling was the recipient of the Edinburgh Award, a public honor awarded to an individual who has made a positive impact on the city. Because of this, her handprints and name are marked on the pavement outside the council chambers.
Victoria Street is an essential Potter destination since it served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley! You could imagine that you are walking the streets of a wizarding marketplace while you are on this winding street with colorful shops and lively customers.
As a bonus, just this year, a new Harry Potter shop was opened on Victoria Street: Diagon House: Purveyors of All Things Potter. The interior of the store is very reminiscent of something you might see in Diagon Alley, with products stacked high and along narrow staircases. You can be sure that you will find that piece of Harry Potter merchandise you have been searching for here.
Whether you are in town for the Fringe or looking for a weekend getaway, Edinburgh is an often-overlooked Potter destination that holds many dear memories and attractions you wouldn’t want to miss.