Places in Edinburgh that inspired the Harry Potter stories

Searching for Harry Potter in Edinburgh

Famed for its history and enchanting architecture, Edinburgh was the inspiration for much of the popular Harry Potter stories. Years before Potter-mania struck, J.K. Rowling sat in cafes in the city centre penning a manuscript destined to change the world. Today, visitors to Edinburgh can join the Potter Trail and re-live the magic.

The Elephant House Café and Nicholson’s Café

Woman writing in a book with a cuppa in a cafe

The Elephant House Café and former Nicholson’s Café is where the magic began – quite literally. As a single mother trying to make ends meet, Rowling could often be found working in local coffee houses. Not only was it a smart way to save money. (A cup of coffee was a lot cheaper than heating her flat for the day). It also became the birthplace of the Harry Potter novels.

Greyfrairs Kirkyard

Gates to Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh

From her nook in the Elephant Café, they say that Rowling could find much of her Potter inspiration by simply looking out the window. The nearby Greyfrairs Kirkyard cemetery, home to the original Thomas Riddell father and son duo, was where she unearthed the dark past of Lord Voldemort’s character. As the resting place of poet William McGonagall, she also found the perfect name for the beloved, no-nonsense Professor Minerva McGonagall.

George Heriot’s School

George Heriots School in Edinburgh at night

Long before Harry, Ron and Hermione got their letters from Hogwarts, George Heriot’s School was the clear inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With its four grand towers and steeped rooftop, right down to its winding staircases and traditional four school houses, you naturally expect to see black-robed witches and wizards making their way to class. The only thing missing from its spellbinding setting is a Quidditch pitch in the grounds.

Maggie Dickson Pub

Row of pubs and shops on Edinburgh Grassmarket

What people enjoy most about Edinburgh, is the rich, fascinating history that’s in every nook and cranny of the city. Like Maggie Dickson’s Pub. In the early 18th century, Maggie Dickson was sentenced to death by hanging. After a botched hanging in the town square, Maggie awoke in her coffin … much to the surprise of the cart driver. He rushed her back to the square. But since she had already received her punishment, the authorities allowed her to live. She became a local celebrity, and was affectionately called Half Hangit’ Maggie. Sound familiar? Maybe that’s because Maggie’s story inspired that of Nearly Headless Nick’s.

Victoria Street

Looking up the cobbled hill at night towards the colourful shop fronts of Victoria Street

Edinburgh city breaks are not complete without experiencing the Old Town’s gothic charms and old pub potions. It is the true medieval heart of Edinburgh city. And places like Victoria Street, with its narrow alleyways, elegant curve and colourful shop fronts, look like the perfect spot for witches and wizards to get all their bits and bobs. As the inspiration for Diagon Alley, you expect to find Mr Olivanders and Flourish and Blotts, or take a wrong turn down Knockturn Alley. In fact, Victoria Street now has its very own Harry Potter Shop!

Harry Potter Tours

There are so many interesting Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh, we have only just scratched the surface. Join the Harry Potter Trail, a free magical walking tour of the city, and discover them all for yourself! Not to mention many other famous book and film locations. Check out our Edinburgh accommodation offers and plan your visit today.