Although not an Edinburgh native, JK Rowling has spent many years in Edinburgh so it is no surprise that the magical world of Harry Potter has a great deal of resemblance to Scotland’s capital. With cobbled streets, winding alleyways and Gothic architecture, the city is ‘riddled’ with the essence of Harry Potter.
Where the magic first sparked – The Elephant House Café
The Elephant House Cafe sells itself as the birthplace of Harry Potter. JK Rowling is said to have visited the cafe to catch some warmth when she first moved to Edinburgh and while there, found inspiration for many of the first Harry Potter books. Seated at the rear of the cafe, Rowling would have been treated to ‘ridikkulus’ views of the eerie cemetery of Greyfriars Kirk and the towering magnitude of Edinburgh Castle, both of which could easily have served as inspiration for Hogwarts and Voldemort’s cemetery. Even the toilets have a touch of the wizarding world so make sure to have a look. A visit to the Elephant Cafe will surely ignite the magic of Harry Potter in your soul, as well as warming it up with a nice cup of tea.
Inspirations for the wizarding world – the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle
Wander up the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s most famous street, and you might think you have somehow slipped in to Harry’s memories through the Hogwarts pensieve, especially on a foggy misty afternoon. The quirky, cobbled streets and twisting, intriguing closes resemble the likes of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. At the top of the Royal Mile sits Edinburgh Castle, a landmark that served as inspiration for the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The imposing castle is perched on a volcanic rock in the heart of the city and dominates the skyline – much like Hogwarts itself. It only takes a tiny bit of imagination to fill the Castle’s red roofed great hall with floating candles. The best place to experience the true magnitude of the Castle is from Princes Street, so once you have explored the Royal Mile, quickly apparate down to Princes Street for a spectacular view.
Edinburgh’s very own Hogwarts – George Heriot’s School
The grandeur of George Heriot’s school is another landmark which is said to have inspired Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Situated in Edinburgh’s old town, the 400 year old building is an impressive piece of architecture made up of beautiful brickwork and towering spires. Simply strolling past this impressive building is enough to feel a shiver of Potter magic.
Characters inspired by real people – Greyfriars Kirkyard
Tucked away at the back of Greyfriars Kirkyard, lies the grave of 19th Century gentleman Tom Riddle. It is widely believed that JK Rowling drew inspiration for the novel’s villain, Lord Voldemort when happening upon this gravestone. Whispers are beginning to flutter throughout the city that the graveyard is home to another historic gentleman that served as inspiration for the books. William McGonagall, unfortunately considered to be the worst Scottish poet to date, is also buried in the cemetery and it is believed that Rowling loved his surname so much that she pinched it for her character Professor McGonagall.
See the hands that wrote the books immortalised in stone at Edinburgh City Chambers
You won’t catch the golden snitch in Edinburgh, but you can find golden imprints of JK Rowling’s hands. Rowling is the second author after Ian Rankin to have handprints immortalised in stone at the remarkable Edinburgh City Chambers. Located just off the Royal Mile, the tribute is a must see for Potter fans. Try placing your hands in the golden imprints and you never know – it could be a Port Key that will whisk you away to Hogwarts.
The final flicker of magic – The Balmoral Hotel
JK Rowling completed her final book of the series, The Deathly Hallows, while staying at The Balmoral Hotel, so it is only apt that the suite she stayed in is now named after her. The suite contains her writing desk, a brass owl door knocker and her signature is on a Hermes bust in the living room. The hotel is one of Edinburgh’s most luxurious and Potter fans worldwide have been known to pay almost £1000 a night to stay at the iconic JK Rowling suite.
No matter where you wander to in Edinburgh, you won’t need a pair of Luna Lovegood’s special glasses to see the magic in this remarkable city.
Douglas Walker is Chair of Unique Venues of Edinburgh.
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