This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
My kids grew up with Harry Potter. We listened to the books on CD as we traveled for family vacations and as we did mundane daily things like drive to school and baseball games. We saw all of the movies. The stories were captivating and well-written. They gave us plenty of puzzles to solve and plot lines to speculate about where they would lead. Harry Potter was a great shared experience for us, helping to forge our family bond. It will always hold a special place in our hearts, and we surely appreciate the fine work of author J.K. Rowling, who took us on these magical journeys. I suspect that there are millions of families of our generation who could tell a similar story about how beloved the Harry Potter series has been to themselves and their families.
J.K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh for most of the time while she was writing the Harry Potter books. Thus, there are a number of Harry Potter-related sites in Edinburgh. We had a blast walking around Edinburgh to find and see some of the most prominent Harry Potter-related sites. We’re sure that many fans of the series would like to do the same.
The four key sites we visited are all in close proximity in a single area of Edinburgh. If you hustled, you could probably see them all up close within 30 minutes. But take your time, reflect on your own fond memories of the Harry Potter series, and make some new fond memories in Edinburgh.
I’ll note that there are some other Harry Potter-related sites in Edinburgh that we didn’t get to, including some whose connection to Harry Potter is somewhat tenuous. For a brilliant and detailed article of all of the “real” and “iffy” Harry Potter sights in Edinburgh, see this Comprehensive Guide to the Top Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh Scotland, from our fellow travel bloggers (and apparently fellow cat-lovers), Independent Travel Cats.
With that, we’ll cast our best “Aparecium!” spell, and reveal the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh.
Where Are These Harry Potter Sites?
To start off and get you oriented, here is a map to show you these key sites. This should help you get to the sites and show you just how close together they are. We’ve placed Edinburgh Castle in the upper left of the map to help orient you.
We’ll work our way around, starting at the top (W Bow St & Victoria St) and continuing down/clockwise through George Hariot’s School.
(1) West Bow St. & Victoria St. (Diagon Alley)
With your first glance up West Bow Street, your mind and memories will instantly transport you to Diagon Alley. As you exit the east end of Grassmarket Square, look to your left, past the old well guarding the middle of the street, up West Bow Street. The road rises uphill and curves to the right, eventually making a rounded 90 degree turn as it becomes Victoria Street. All along the left side of the road, around the outer curve, you’ll see one small shop after another, each painted and decorated differently. Even aside from the Harry Potter connection, it’s a magical, captivating view that pulls the camera straight out of your pocket.
Unfortunately, my middling photography skills and iPhone didn’t do justice to this view. So let me supplement here with a far better imageIn true Harry Potter fashion, one of the stores along West Bow Street is a joke shop, the Aha Ha Ha Jokes & Novelties Shop. We had a fun time checking out all of the gags in the store and even bought a batch of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans to try out. [Spoiler alert – some of the flavours are truly awful!]
And since the time we visited, it appears that two Harry Potter-themed stores have opened on Victoria Street – the Museum Context Diagon House, and The Boy Wizard. We only wish these stores had been around when we visited!
Of course, being an Arkansas Razorback, all things pig are near and dear to me. And there’s a small restaurant on Victoria Street called Oink. We liked the idea, but it didn’t look like the pigs fared too well there.
(2) The Elephant House
The Elephant House is Harry Potter-famous as the cafe where J.K. Rowling sat and sipped coffee while she wrote several of the Harry Potter books. It’s certainly a cute cafe where you might duck in to pick up a snack and a cup of coffee yourself, even if it weren’t legendary for its HP connection. And true to its name, the Elephant House is full of elephant figurines and imagery. Its website claims that it has “over 600 elephants of all shapes and sizes.” It’s a true elephant-lover, coffee-drinker’s paradise.
Of course, The Elephant House’s HP fame means that there are tons of Harry Potter fans stopping by all day, at all times. A sign out front proclaims The Elephant House as the “‘Birthplace’ of Harry Potter,” and there is indeed some HP-related memorabilia inside the House.
You can also eat full meals at The Elephant House, and Independent Travel Cats vouches for the food. We just went with hot drinks and pastries, which were good.
Note that Independent Travel Cats says that The Elephant House has become so popular that they recently instituted a policy where you need to either order food or a drink, or else pay a small fee to come inside just for photographs.
The Elephant House opens at either 8:00 am or 9:00 am and closes at either 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm, 7 days a week. Exact hours are on The Elephant House website. The address is 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN, and the phone number is (+44) 0131-220-5355.
(3) Greyfriars Kirkyard
Greyfriars Kirkyard is a large graveyard. It’s tranquil, with lots of grass, hilly paths, and a variety of interesting tombstones and grave markers. It would make for a lovely and relaxing stroll, if you don’t mind being amongst the dead people – and, in the company of the most evil and powerful wizard of all, He Who Shall Not Be Named, the incomparable Lord Voldemort!
Indeed, the grave of Thomas Riddell lies in Greyfriars Kirkyard. And every HP fan knows that in Voldemort’s pre-dark Lord days, his given name was Tom Marvolo Riddle, an anagram of Lord Voldemort. We don’t care if J.K. Rowling truly gained inspiration for Tom Riddle’s name during her strolls through Greyfriars Kirkyard, we’re going all in on this story – as do the many, many HP fans who make the pilgrimage into and through Greyfriars Kirkyard to view the famous grave.
Based on the tombstone, Thomas Riddell was an attorney from Berwick County, Scotland, who died in Edinburgh in 1806 at the age of 72. Sadly, he was preceded in death by his son, also named Thomas Riddell, who served as Captain of the 14th Regiment and died at Trinidad in the West Indies in 1802, only 26 years. His daughter Christian Riddell, barely outlived him, passing away in 1808 at only 31 years of age. It doesn’t exactly scream “evil wizard,” but then again, he was a lawyer! (Ha! I can say this since I’m a lawyer too!)
It appears that the grave is desecrated from time to time with graffiti, and indeed when we were there, the word “Voldemort” was painted across the bottom of the tombstone. Come on, people, please don’t do this to Thomas Riddell’s grave or anyone else’s for that matter.
As you can see from the map, Greyfriars Kirkyard is just a few steps down George IV Bridge street from The Elephant House. If you’re leaving The Elephant House, turn right to head south down George IV Bridge, then turn right at Candlemaker Row to the front entrance of the graveyard. Along the way you’ll see the Greyfriars Bobby pub with a statue of a dog out front, the Skye Terrier named Greyfriars Bobby. The legend of Greyfriars Bobby is touching, whether true or not. I’ll leave it to you whether you want to click on the Wikipedia link, or visit Edinburgh in person to read it for yourself.
Once you get to Greyfriars Kirkyard, how will you find Thomas Riddell’s grave? It’s not exactly on the main path. We were fortunate when we were there – our girls searched and found a YouTube video that directed us, and fortunately the place where the YouTube video started was only a few steps from where we were standing at the time we pulled up the video!
Fortunately for you, the location of Thomas Riddell’s grave is now marked on Google Maps, and we’re going to give you a map that shows you exactly how to get there.
Enter Greyfriars Kirkyard at the red star, take the path along the left side of the church, turn left at the second major pathway, the follow that pathway as it curves to the right and goes down the hill behind the wall, until you see Thomas Riddell’s grave near the end of the path, on the right.
And finally, while you’re in Greyfriars Kirkyard, you can also visit the grave of Scottish poet William McGonagall, whose last name was the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor House, Professor of Transfiguration, and eventually Headmistress of Hogwarts. We’ve also marked the approximate location of William McGonagall’s grave on our map, with a blue star.
Greyfriars Kirkyard is generally open and accessible, so you should be able to visit if you go at a reasonable hour. Be mindful of any ongoing church services, and please be respectful of your surroundings here.
(4) George Heriot’s School
Of the Harry Potter sites we visited in Edinburgh, this is the one we were least sure about, by far. The story is that George Heriot’s School was the inspiration for Hogwarts. Frankly, we don’t see it. It does have 4 towers and apparently, 4 schools, but it’s a stretch to say that this visually invokes Hogwarts (particularly the movie version) by any means.
Take a look for yourself:
George Heriot’s is an active school. It was founded way back in 1628, and it appears to be a very prestigious school. It’s not open for visitors, and no tours are available. You can approach the school from the Lauriston Place side and get reasonably close to it. You can also see it well from above, from parts of the Edinburgh Castle grounds or from the rooftop of the Camera Obscura attraction if you go there.
And thus concludes Middle Age Miles’ tour of Harry Potter-related sites in Edinburgh. As we mentioned, there are some other potential HP-related sites you could visit, but we believe we’ve hit the high points here. We hope you’ve enjoyed the real-life version of the wizarding world!
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