Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh

Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh

Visiting Edinburgh

Despite the connection between Edinburgh and the Harry Potter series, none of the filming for the movies took place in Edinburgh. However, you can find Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland, including the Hogwarts Express steam train.

JK Rowling came to Edinburgh in 1993 to be nearer her sister and although she had already started work on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, much of the writing of the seven Harry Potter novels would take place in Edinburgh.

Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh

Nicolson’s Cafe (now Spoon)
Address: 6a Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DH
Distance from Apartment: 20-minute walk

Nicolson’s Café was the place where J. K. Rowling as a newly divorced single mother wrote parts of her first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She had already started writing the novel before her arrival in Edinburgh, but she would finish the manuscript in Edinburgh, writing in her spare time while taking care of her young daughter Jessica.

Nicolson’s Café has long since closed but has more recently been turned into a bistro named Spoon. There is a plaque on the corner of Drummond Street saying that “J.K. Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter in the rooms on the first floor of this building”.

The Elephant House
Address: 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Distance from Apartment: 5-minute walk

The Elephant House, which has a sign proclaiming itself as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, was where J.K. Rowling penned later Potter novels and is probably the best known of the Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh. The café was also once frequented by a number of other now famous writers such as Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith.

The cafe owes much of its current popularity to J. K. Rowling, and this is the busiest of all the Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh. The decor here is mostly elephant related, but there are some Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling associated photos on the wall. Perhaps the greatest homage to Harry Potter here lives in the bathrooms so be sure to visit the toilets during your visit.

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard
Address: Greyfriars Place, Edinburgh. EH1 2QQ
Distance from Apartment: 5-minute walk

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is the graveyard surrounding Greyfriar’s Kirk (church), and it was a place close to both of the mentioned coffee houses frequented by J. K. Rowling. It has been said that some of the gravestones here may have given Rowling inspiration for some of her famous Harry Potter characters. The most famous is the grave of Thomas Riddell which may have inspired the name for the fictional evil Lord Voldemort (birth name: Tom Marvolo Riddle).

George Heriot’s School
Address: Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ
Distance from Apartment: 30/40-minute walk

George Heriot’s School was built in 1628 and first opened as an orphanage and charitable school (hospital) for boys and is today a co-ed prestigious primary and secondary school. This notable turreted Scottish Renaissance school with its four buildings is believed by many to have served as the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

George Heriot’s School is still an active school and therefore not open to the general public, but you can still admire the building through the gate or from different spots in the city. You can see it from a several places, including from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Lauriston Place, Edinburgh Castle esplanade, and the Geroge IV Bridge.

Balmoral Hotel
Address: 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
Distance from Apartment: 5-minute walk

The Balmoral Hotel is a 5-star 19th century hotel in central Edinburgh, and it was here that Rowling finished her final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is also here that she famously wrote on a marble bust of the god Hermes in the expensive suite, scribbling the following on the bust: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007”.

Victoria Street & the Grassmarket Area
Address: Victoria St., Edinburgh EH1 2HE
Distance from Apartment: 5-minute walk

Victoria Street is a narrow-curved street in central Edinburgh’s Grassmarket area and is believed by some to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley (a cobblestone shopping street with stores selling wizardly supplies) in the Harry Potter books.

Victoria Street is a colorful old street with many brightly painted shops and buildings, some with pointed roofs, which many fans say are similar to the shops described along Diagon Alley. More generally, some believe that many of the streets (like West Bow and Candlemaker Row) and buildings in the Grassmarket area may have served as inspiration for Rowling.

JK Rowling’s Handprints
Address: 253 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ
Distance from Apartment: 1-minute walk

J.K. Rowling’s handprints were reproduced on flagstone in front of the Edinburgh City Chambers after J.K. Rowling was awarded the Edinburgh Award in 2008 for her contributions to the capital city. This was soon after she had finished the final book in the Harry Potter series.

You can find the golden handprints on a flagstone just off the Royal Mile, in front of the Edinburgh City Chambers. You can also find the handprints of others who have won the award (established in 2007), including writer Ian Rankin and athlete Sir Chris Hoy.

Edinburgh Castle
Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Distance from Apartment: 10-minute walk

Edinburgh Castle, the most recognizable landmark in the city, is a fortress castle with existing buildings dating back to the 12th century. Some say it was an inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

Department of Magic
Address: 9 Blair Street, Edinburgh EH1 1QR
Distance from Apartment: 5-minute walk

The Department of Magic offers a small tavern, Magic Potions Cocktail Masterclass, and two magic-themed escape room puzzles. Everything is Harry Potter, witches, magic, and/or wizard themed.

Reservations

You need to make reservations in advance (online or by phone) if you want to do one of the escape rooms (2 to 5 people each) or the Magic Potions Masterclass. If you have booked one of the escape rooms, be sure to arrive a little before the starting time so you can get the directions and don your wizard robes. You can also stay to have a drink before or after or to play the free table games.

Harry Potter Walking Tours in Edinburgh

Harry Potter Walking Tour
This 2-hour walking tour of Harry Potter sights in the city runs most days and visits the locations that inspired JK Rowling when she was writing the novels. This is one of the longer and more comprehensive Potter tours in the city.

Harry Potter Walking Tour
There is also this very similar 2-hour tour, and you can compare prices and times for the best fit.

The Potter Trail
Another popular option is The Potter Trail walking tour which is a 1 hour 15 minutes to 1.5-hour walking tour. It is free but tips for the guide are strongly recommended (and generally expected).

Reservations

You don’t need to book The Potter Trail tours in advance (unless you are in a larger group), just be at the meeting spot (normally at Greyfriar’s Bobby statue but check the website) before the tour time to join.

Day Tours from Edinburgh to Filming Locations

If your travels are taking you further afield in Scotland or the UK, you might want to book a Harry Potter themed day trip or guided multi-day tour that takes in many of the filming locations from the Harry Potter films such as Alnwick Castle and Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Jacobite Steam Train (Hogwarts Express): As any Harry Potter fan will know, if you want to get to Hogwarts you have to take the Hogwarts Express train. Thrillingly, the Hogwarts Express is a real train and you can ride it!

But it isn’t really called the Hogwarts Express, its real name is The Jacobite. The now famous steam train has been operating since 1984 under different names and operators. The service was started as a way to boost tourism and to keep open the scenic train route between Fort William and Mallaig.

The steam train was used as the Hogwarts Express in the films, and the train and parts of its train route were shown in all 8 of the Harry Potter films. Scenes included exteriors, interiors, and scenery along the route. The most iconic is the train going over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Glenfinnan Viaduct: One of the most iconic scenes in the Harry Potter movies is when the Hogwarts Express crosses a rail bridge on the way to Hogwarts. This location is used in at least three of the movies but is perhaps most well-known because of the flying car scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Ron and Harry find themselves being chased across the bridge by the train.

Loch Shiel: Loch Shiel is a freshwater lake and is the fourth longest loch in Scotland. It is located near both the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Glenfinnan Monument. Within the realm of Harry Potter, Loch Shiel can often be seen as background scenery in the films and we believe it shows up at least briefly in all 8 movies. It is also the setting for many of the scenes of the Black Lake (or “Great Lake”) although directors often used several lakes to depict the same location depending on the scene.

West Highland train line: The West Highland train line was opened in 1901 to connect rather remote parts of western Scotland. The train line runs from Glasgow and then branches off to terminate in either Oban or Mallaig. In Harry Potter, many of the filming locations we list can be seen from or are located near this train route including Rannoch Moor, Loch Shiel, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and Loch Eilt. Scenes shot from and along this line were used throughout the films, especially in shots of the Hogwarts Express.