Self-Guided Harry Potter Tour in Edinburgh

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a massive Potterhead. Although Edinburgh had featured on my bucket list for a very long time, it was the city’s connection with the famous boy wizard that made me know I had to visit. 

I couldn’t wait to do a Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh after discovering that so much of the wizarding world had been inspired by landmarks dotted around the city. J.K. Rowling moved to Edinburgh after leaving Porto, where she was said to have found the inspiration for Flourish and Blotts in the beautiful bookshop, Livraria Lello.

The move signified a turbulent time for Rowling, who had recently separated from her husband. Armed with just three chapters of Harry Potter, she took her young daughter to Scotland’s capital, in the hope of making a fresh start. 

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Why Edinburgh?

It originally seemed that it was family that brought J.K. Rowling to Edinburgh. However, since her arrival in 1993, she has confessed to falling in love with the place and still lives there to this day.

Sign about J.K.Rowling outside Spoon Cafe.
Edinburgh has a strong link with Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling.

“Edinburgh is very much home for me and is the place where Harry evolved over seven books and many, many hours of writing in its cafés.”  – J.K Rowling, upon accepting the Edinburgh Award. 

There are plenty of Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh, some of which have concrete evidence to point to the boy wizard connection whereas certain others, are just based on speculation. Either way, they are all brilliant places to enjoy on a Harry Potter tour! 

Guided Harry Potter Tours, Edinburgh

For those of you who are looking to see the main Harry Potter sites around Edinburgh but don’t fancy finding them all yourself, a guided Harry Potter tour is ideal. There are plenty of options out there and I would probably recommend booking in advance through Get Your Guide if you are visiting during summer. After all, Harry Potter is very popular and these tours book up quickly.

There is also a brilliant free Harry Potter walking tour that runs daily. It is called The Potter Trail and attracts hoards of visitors, even in the off-season. Follow your cloaked guide as you run around Edinburgh, wand in hand, freezing all the traffic lights. It probably goes without saying that although this tour is marketed as free, it is actually donation based and you are encouraged to donate what you think the experience what worth. When I did The Potter Trail tour it was fantastic and I encourage everybody to tip generously if they feel the same!

Guide dressed in cloak on Harry Potter tour, Edinburgh.
I definitely recommend The Potter Trail guided tour.

A Self-Guided Harry Potter Tour, Edinburgh

For other nerds like me who don’t want to be confined to the tight schedule of a guided Harry Potter tour, a self-guided option is a better option. 

Self-Guided Harry Potter Tour Map

Although you can see these Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh in any order, the following route plan makes the most sense as a walking tour. Please use the map below to see all of the locations featured on the walking tour and also other attractions around the city that may interest Harry Potter fans.  

Spoon Cafe, 6A Nicolson St, EH8 9DH

Although the Elephant House Cafe claims to be the birthplace of Harry Potter, this is in actual fact, not true. Spoon Cafe, formerly known as Nicolson’s Cafe, was co-owned by J.K. Rowling’s brother in law. He let her drink coffee in his cafe for free whilst she was a struggling writer and this was where she penned several chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 

Spoon Cafe exterior, Edinburgh.

Unlike The Elephant House Cafe which has capitalised on this connection, the only indication of this cafe’s link to Harry Potter is a small plaque on the wall outside. 

J.K Rowling always said that it was a running joke between her and her brother in law that if Harry ever got published, she would get the cafe loads of publicity. Little did she know how right she would be!

Surgeons Museum, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW

Here is one for the nerdiest of you. Anyone remember that section in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone when Snape asks Harry where he would find a bezoar? Well, a bezoar is actually a real thing and you can see one in Edinburgh’s Surgeons Museum. 

For those of you that don’t know (and why would you unless you were taking a potions class with Snape?), a bezoar is an undigested clump of matter which forms in the stomach. In the museum, you can see a few examples of these, including bezoars formed by the digestion of human hair. Nice. 

As a warning, the Surgeons Museum is most famous for its pickled body parts which may not be suitable viewing for all, especially young children. 

Potterrow, Potterrow Street, Edinburgh EH8 9BL

Potterrow Street has long been rumoured to have been some of the inspiration behind Harry’s surname. However, these claims have never been backed up by J.K. Rowling. Whilst it is likely she knew of the street’s existence, she has always said she chose the name of Harry Potter simply because she liked that it was a nice, ordinary name.  

Potterow Port Sign in Edinburgh.
I’m not sure why the spelling is different on this sign!

George Heriots School, Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ

Next to Greyfriars Kirkyard is the George Heriot School. This is said to have been the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Not only is the building architecturally stunning with real turrets but it also uses a house system. 

Could this be where the idea for Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin came from? J.K. Rowling has never outright confirmed this herself, although she always stated that Hogwarts was in Scotland. Even more interesting, J.K. Rowling is also said to have sent her own children to study at the school once she moved to Edinburgh permanently. 

As the school is still active, Potter fans have to be very careful when taking photos of the building. Generally, the school is not open to the public, however, occasionally, they do host events which allow public access. Pay close attention during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as this tends to be when these functions happen. 

Greyfriars Kirkyard, 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of Edinburgh’s most famous graveyards. There are a few reasons for this, namely because of the connection to the city’s most renowned canine, Greyfriars Bobby and also because of its supposed Harry Potter link.

The grave of Tom Riddle, Edinburgh.

As you walk around the graveyard, you will see a few familiar names jump out at you from the gravestones. The most famous is the grave of Thomas Riddell and his son of the same name, famously given to Lord Voldemort. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the difference in spelling but the reason for this is to ensure the anagram in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets worked effectively. 

It is not uncommon to see trinkets left by adoring Slytherins at the grave of Thomas Riddell. Although some years ago, the grave was hard to find in the cemetery, I have marked it on the map so Potterheads should have no trouble tracking it down! 

The grave of William McGonagall, Edinburgh.

Also in the graveyard, you will find the name William McGonagall thought to have inspired the name of Transfiguration Professor, Minerva McGonagall. Other potential character inspirations include Margaret Louisa Scrymgeour Wedderburn (maybe a muse for Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister for Magic in the final books) and Elizabeth Moodie (perhaps with a link to Mad Eye Moody).

The Elephant House, 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN

A must-visit for any Harry Potter fan is the Elephant House Cafe. Although it is probably not the birthplace of Harry Potter as its bold window sign claims, there is no denying that this is a spot that J.K. Rowling used to frequent during her writing of the early Harry Potter books. 

The Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh.

The Elephant House is open all day for food and is busy the vast majority of the time. I would recommend visiting for breakfast first thing in the morning as you are able to beat the queues that quickly build up over the day. 

Salmon on toast breakfast at Elephant House Cafe Edinburgh.

The food is very good and reasonably priced so although the Harry Potter connection is the main draw, the cafe is still worth a visit in its own right. There are nods all over the place to J.K. Rowling’s former visits here and this is perhaps no more apparent than in the toilets. 

Elephant House toilets with Harry Potter graffiti.

Fans have come from all over to leave messages for their hero and there are now so many that it is a struggle to read the graffiti underneath. Originally, the staff at the Elephant House used to paint over these quotes and messages but after failing to curb the graffiti, they eventually gave in and left the toilets as a sort-of shrine to Harry Potter and his famous creator.

WiFi sign at the Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh.

As well as playing host to J.K. Rowling, the Elephant House Cafe was is also a favourite amongst other authors, including Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith.

Displays about authors who have visited the Elephant House Cafe.

Victoria Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2JW

Welcome to Edinburgh’s most instagrammable street! Victoria Street runs adjacent to Candlemaker Row, both of which are suspected to have been influences for Diagon Alley.

Museum Context Sign, Victoria Street Edinburgh.

Museum Context is an official Harry Potter store located on the street which sells some truly stunning items that any good Potter fan will want to get their hands on. Also down this street is another HP dedicated shop: The Boy Wizard. There is also another one of these located along the Royal Mile. 

Perhaps the most Diagon Alley-esque part of Victoria Street is the Aha Ha Ha joke shop which is very reminiscent of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Sadly though, I didn’t see any redheads nearby during my visit (there were also no mirrors nearby)! 

Aha Ha Ha Joke Shop, Victoria Street Edinburgh.

Although perhaps the most beautiful of all the spots on this Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh, it is also one of the most popular and gets very crowded. If you are looking to get good photos without crowds of people, firstly, good luck and secondly, I advise that you get there first thing in the morning. Be warned that many of the cars parked down the road seem to stay there overnight, so even early arrival doesn’t guarantee a clear view of the street! 

City Chambers, 253 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ

Located down the Royal Mile lies the Edinburgh City Chambers. This huge council building features the handprints of those who have won the Edinburgh award in the courtyard. J.K. Rowling won for her contributions to the city in 2008 so her handprints have been immortalised outside for all to see! 

J.K. Rowling's handprints outside Edinburgh City Chambers.

The Balmoral Hotel, 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ

This 19th century, five-star hotel is the place where it all ended. As Harry Potter continued to grow in popularity and Rowling could no longer work undisturbed in cafes and coffee houses, she booked herself into the Balmoral to finish writing the Harry Potter Saga. 

A sign for the Balmoral Hotel Edinburgh.

Room 552 was the suite that she booked and she spent days holed up finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When she had finally completed the manuscript, she signed the bust of the Greek god Hermes which was in the room, in celebration. It says, “J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.”

Room 552 has since been christened the Rowling Suite and avid Potterheads can book their own stay there if they happen to have a cheeky £1000 lying around. We can all dream, right?

The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

Princes Street Gardens, Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2HG

This is a spot that fails to make it on many Harry Potter tours, but Princes Street Gardens is still an important stop. These gardens were created by draining Edinburgh’s Nor Loch, a large loch previously used as a medieval defence method alongside Edinburgh Castle. 

Rumour has it that it was this old loch that acted as the inspiration for the Black Lake, which surrounds Hogwarts.

Edinburgh Castle Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG

In her time living in Scotland’s capital, J.K. Rowling would have seen Edinburgh Castle from all angles. Although Rowling has never explicitly stated that the castle inspired Hogwarts, with it being so present during her writings of Harry Potter, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that there is some link between the two.

Other Magical Activities in Edinburgh

If you’ve completed this Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh and are still looking for more Potter magic to fill your trip, then don’t miss these places!

Harry Potter Themed Bus Tour 

Hop onboard a vintage double-decker bus to be wined and dined whilst taking in the Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh! Upon arriving at the Harry Potter bus tour you will be given your table and served up some delicious I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butterbeer! 

There are two food options to choose from, either Italian antipasti and wine or pizza and Prosecco. Tours depart both Friday and Saturday evenings and can be booked here. 

Dumbledore bumblebee graffiti in Edinburgh.
The influence of Harry Potter can be seen all over Edinburgh.

The Witchery

Located just a five-minute walk from Edinburgh Castle, The Witchery Restaurant is a five-star dining establishment set in a former 16th-century merchant’s house. Although not directly linked to Harry Potter, the decor certainly feels a little Hogwarts in places! 

A four-course meal will set you back $53/£40 per head but with all of the locally sourced Scottish produce available, it is well worth the price tag.   

The Cauldron 

The Cauldron Magical Experience is a class in which you use your own wand to brew beautifully drinkable elixirs, also known as cocktails. Tickets start at £29.99/$39 and include a welcome drink, two cocktails and the immersive experience. 

More Harry Potter Locations

Ride the Hogwarts Express

Those looking to ride a real steam train along the same bridge (The Glenfinnan Viaduct) that appears in the movie, need to head to Fort William, in the Highlands. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct from viewpoint.
The Hogwarts Express travels over the Glenfinnan Viaduct!

The Jacobite Steam Train, also known as the Hogwarts Express, departs from here before making its way to Mallaig, the jumping-off point for ferries to the Isle of Skye. 

The West Highland Line navigates through some stunning scenery, including Ben Nevis. The train only runs from April to October and gets booked up way very early. Therefore it is very important to book your place in advance. 

Visit Alnwick Castle

A popular filming location for not just Hogwarts in Harry Potter but also as Downtown Abbey, Alnwick Castle is a popular day trip from Edinburgh. As always, if you are short on time, it is worth booking your trips and excursions in advance. 

Accommodation in Edinburgh for Harry Potter Lovers! 

Castle Rock Hostel ($)

My favourite hostel in Edinburgh is Castle Rock. Although not strictly Harry Potter themed, it does feature a Harry Potter dorm and is rated as one of Scotland’s best hostels. Located in the best spot in the city, opposite the castle, this hostel is an ideal place to stay. 

Dorm beds start at just $14 (£11) per night which is pretty great when you consider the number of social events on offer, communal areas and the size of the rooms. For budget backpackers, there is no better choice in Edinburgh! 

Canongate Luxury Homestay ($$)

This Harry Potter themed apartment overlooks the Royal Mile and is the perfect base for any diehard fan. The attention to detail is incredible and the master bedroom has been made to look like (a rather extravagant version of) the Gryffindor dormitory. 

The location is excellent and the apartment promises to be everything you’ve ever wanted and more. However, as you would expect, it comes with a steep price tag. There is a two-night minimum stay requirement which costs upwards of $238USD (£208). Whilst not completely unattainable for average Joe, you’re probably only going to book this accommodation as a special treat. 

The Balmoral Hotel ($$$)

Only one hotel could bag this spot on my accommodation list for Harry Potter lovers in Edinburgh. Already featured on the self-guided walking tour, The Balmoral has plenty of Potter history. 

The Balmoral Hotel and flags.

Those with a wallet fat enough can stay in the famous J.K. Rowling suite where she finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This room features a bust of Hermes which J.K. Rowling signed once she was finished with the manuscript. I would hate to think what would happen if I defaced a bust of a Greek God in a 5-star hotel but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t get a suite named after me! 

Search for more accommodation in Edinburgh here. 

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