Comprehensive Guide to the Top Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh Scotland

Edinburgh has a deep connection with the wizardly world of Harry Potter and there are several Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh that fans can visit. Most notably, it was the home of J.K. Rowling when she wrote the majority of the Harry Potter books. Rowling has acknowledged her connection to the city stating that “…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.” Want to sit and sip coffee in the same café that J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books? See turreted buildings that may have been the inspiration for Hogwarts? See graves and streets that may have influenced the names of Harry Potter characters? Drink a pint of butterbeer in a local pub? We’ll provide all you need to know to find these places on your own or visit them on a fun walking tour. However, as we dug into the evidence we found that some of the places and sights associated with J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter seem to be based more on fiction than reality. We’ll provide not only a list of the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh and how to visit them, but we’ll also try to separate fact from fiction in their relationship to Harry Potter and his famous inventor.  

Royal Mile Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling grew up in England but it is interesting to note that she is 1/4 Scottish on her mother’s side, and her parents actually met on a train ride to Scotland. Fateful train rides seem to run in the family as Rowling would first have the idea for Harry Potter on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. Rowling would come 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. Despite the connection between Edinburgh and the Harry Potter series, none of the filming for the movies took place in Edinburgh but part of the Harry Potter films were shot elsewhere in Scotland, including many of the famous Hogwarts Express train scenes. But fans will still find many places to visit that were real-life places in J.K. Rowling’s life and places around the city that may have inspired Harry Potter characters and places. The great things about these sites is that most of them are very close together and are easy to walk to from central Edinburgh.

Ready to learn about the top things to do in Edinburgh for Harry Potter fans? Grab your broomsticks and wands and let’s get started as we explore the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh!

Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh

Here is a comprehensive list of the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh. We’ve visited them all, most of them several times, so do let us know if you have any questions. These are listed in no particular order although see map towards end of post about where they are each located in Edinburgh:

1. Nicolson’s Cafe (now Spoon)

Address6a Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DH

Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection 

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. Rowling had very little money in her early years living in Edinburgh and she would often go to write in the city’s cafés. The story goes that she would go to coffee houses to write as the price of a cup of coffee was cheaper than heating her apartment and she loved good coffee. Nicolson’s Café was a first floor restaurant (second floor for Americans) on the corner of Nicolson and Drummond Street and was at the time co-owned by Rowling’s brother-in-law Roger Moore.

Tips for Visiting

Nicolson’s Café has long since closed. The location was then turned into a Chinese buffet restaurant but has more recently been turned into a cafe/restaurant named Spoon. You’ll also find 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”. Stop into Spoon for some nibbles and a glass of wine! This place is generally much less busy than The Elephant House so go here if looking for a quieter place to sip coffee in a former haunt of J. K. Rowling.

NOTE: You may see the cafe’s name and address incorrectly spelled across the Internet by people who have simply copied and pasted the wrong name and address from others (there are hundreds of people who appear to have done this!). The street is Nicolson Street not Nicholson street and the cafe was called Nicolson’s Cafe not Nicholson’s Cafe.

Spoon plaque Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Spoon cafe Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Fact or Fiction?

This one is fact and it has a plaque to prove it. J. K. Rowling has talked about how she had very little money when she moved to Edinburgh and that she spent a lot of time writing in cafés. Rowling said this when asked about the best place to write in an Urbanette interview: “It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writers block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think. The best writing café is crowded enough to allow you blend in, but not too crowded that you have to share a table with someone else.”  Her baby daughter Jessica would sleep next to her while she wrote. She wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in long-hand and then later would type it out on a typewriter at home. From what I have read, she wrote parts of her first Harry Potter novel(s) here but not sure for how long she frequented it. That said, the actual cafe she visited (Nicolson’s Cafe) is long gone but the building is still there and you can still get coffee here.

2. The Elephant House

Address: 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN

The Elephant House cafe Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection

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. 

Tips for Visiting

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. On our last walk by the cafe, there was a note on the door saying that the cafe has instituted a policy where you need to either order food or a drink or pay a small fee for photographs if you want to come inside. The Elephant House is typically open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so stop by for a meal anytime or just a cup of coffee and pastry. You’ll be asked to wait and then place an order at the counter before being seated. This place is a popular tourist spot and can be a zoo so best to come early or late to avoid waiting in a long line for a seat. However, despite the loads of tourists the lunch we had there recently was reasonably priced and portions were generous. Ask for a seat near the window (if you can) for views of nearby Greyfriar’s kirkyard and the more distant Edinburgh Castle. 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.

The Elephant House cafe Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling The Elephant House cafe Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling The Elephant House cafe Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Fact or Fiction?

Fact with a dash of fiction. It is definitely a fact that Rowling wrote here and there are photos and interview materials to prove that Rowling spent some time writing here. However its claim to be the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” has little basis as Rowling has stated that she conceived the idea of Harry Potter on a train ride from Manchester to London in 1990 and had already started writing her first novel prior to her arrival in Edinburgh in 1993. In fact she has stated that she wrote part of it while in Portugal. She continued working on the novel after moving to Edinburgh in 1993, finishing the first manuscript in 1995. The Elephant House opened in 1995. So while she may have not started Harry Potter here and most likely did not write any of the first novel here, she definitely spent some time writing here when working on subsequent books. There is a good video interview of J. K. Rowling in The Elephant House on the coffeehouse’s homepage, at the time of the interview Rowling had just sold her second Harry Potter book and was working on a third. 

3. Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

Address: Greyfriars Place, Edinburgh. EH1 2QQ

Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection

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).A gravestone for Voldemort’s father is mentioned in the books and depicted in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with the fictional movie gravestone bearing the names of Thomas Riddle (Voldemort’s paternal grandfather), Mary Riddle (grandmother), and Tom Riddle Snr. (the character’s  father). In Edinburgh there is the gravestone of the real-life deceased Thomas Riddell Esquire, of Befsborough in Berwick, who died at the age of 72 on November 24, 1806. The gravestone also commemorates other Riddell family members, including his son Thomas Riddell Esquire who served as a Captain of the 14th Regiment and died at Trinidad in the West Indies in September 12, 1802 at the young age of 26. 

There are several others graveyard names that have been thought to perhaps be tied to Harry Potter characters, and one could spend forever trying to find similarly named people in the graveyard. In fact there are graves that have the first or second names of many characters in the books. However, there are two other ones that seem to regularly attract Harry Potter fans. The first is the gravestone of William McGonagall, who shares a last name with fictional Harry Potter character Professor Minerva McGonagall played in the films by the revered Dame Maggie Smith. The real-life William McGonagall was a Scottish poet and weaver, and is actually rather well-known (at least in Scotland) for being a notoriously bad poet. He died in September 29, 1902 at age 77. Finally there is the grave of Mrs. Elizabeth Moodie which some think may have inspired the name of the fictional Harry Potter character Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. The real-life Ms. Moodie  was wife of James Barid, the Deputy King’s Remembrancer of Exchequer. 

Tips for Visiting

The graveyard is almost always open to visitors so it is any easy place to visit although finding the graves is more difficult, but if you go behind the church and stick to your right, most of the graves of interest to Harry Potter fans are in this back section behind remains of the old Flodden wall. Look for an entrance and then follow the well-trodden path or a fellow tourist and you’ll likely find them pretty quickly. Harry Potter fans should remember that this is an active church and graveyard and to be respectful when making a visit here.

In addition to the Harry Potter connection, the church and graveyard are an interesting place to visit in Edinburgh. Greyfriars Kirk (Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk) is a parish church of the Church of Scotland. The church was built between c. 1602 and 1620 and it is most notable for being the site of the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. It is still an active church as well as a concert and event venue, and there is a small museum in the church that contains an original copy of the National Covenant document. The church is normally open to the public during the busy tourism months (Monday-Saturday from April to October) as well as being open to guests for worship services year round. The kirkyard is famous for being the burial site of many prominent Scottish people, the site of the Covenanter’s prison (can only be visited on tours), and perhaps most famously for being the burial site for Greyfriars Bobby (and his owner John Gray), the loyal Skye terrier who is said to have sat next to his master’s grave for 14 years. 

Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling William McGonagall Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Thomas Riddell Voldemort Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling Thomas Riddel Voldemort Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Fact or Fiction?

A lot of fiction and a bit of fact. This one is harder to confirm but Rowling has never stated (to my knowledge) ever having directly used any names from the tombstones at Greyfriars Kirkyard in her Harry Potter books. However, she has noted she draws names from all kinds of places and has mentioned gravestones as a good source of information and Greyfriars Kirkyard is a short walk from The Elephant House. In a 1999 radio interview with Christopher Lydon Rowling stated when asked where she gets her names that she invents some of them “…but I also collect them, from all kinds of places: maps, street names, people I meet, old books, old saints…”. Similarly, in a 1999 Barnes and Noble interview when asked about names: “And so far I have got names from saints, place-names, war memorials, gravestones. I just collect them — I am so interested in names.”

In terms of the Thomas Riddell gravestone, Rowling does not appear to have burrowed the name, at least not knowingly. According to several newspapers (although none provide any sort of verifiable quote), Rowling has been asked about the Thomas Riddell gravestone and whether it  inspired the name for the fictional evil Lord Voldemort, and she has said she did not intentionally use the name from the gravestone but that it may have “subconsciously” been an inspiration. For instance an Edinburgh News article in 2013 reported: “JK Rowling has previously said that the tombstone of Thomas Riddell Esquire in the famous Kirkyard may have subconsciously been the inspiration for nasally challenged Voldemort’s true name, since she often took strolls through the spot, which is overlooked by the Elephant House cafe, where she wrote several of the books.” So this connection seems weak at best. She has stated when asked about Harry Potter character names that “some of them are invented; Voldemort is an invented name” and it is French for “flight of death” or “theft of death” so we do know the origins of that part of his name.

I could find no information from J.K. Rowling or elsewhere that showed any connection between the gravestone or name of Elizabeth Moodie and the naming of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. Although I could also find no information on where she got this name. This one seems to have no basis in any facts.

J. K. Rowling has confirmed a connection between the name of Professor McGonagall and the Scottish poet (whose grave is at Greyfriars), stating when asked about how she came up with the name for the character in the 1999 radio interview with Christopher Lydon:  “yeah, McGonagall, old erm – very, very, very bad Scottish poet, McGonagall is – I just loved the name.” So Rowling may have indeed saw the name on the tombstone, although it is also likely that Rowling as a British person with Scottish ties would have known the poet’s name without having seen it on a tombstone. Out of the three, this one actually seems to have the most merit.

4. George Heriot’s School

Address: Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ

George Heriot's School Hogwarts Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection

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 Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 

Tips for Visiting

George Heriot’s School is still an active school and therefore not open to the general public. However, there are occasional Open Days where the school allows visitors inside, so do check the school’s website. Chances are it will not be open during your visit, but you can still admire the building through the gate. You can see it from a few places, including from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Lauriston Place, and the Geroge IV Bridge. 

Fact or Fiction? 

Unsubstantiated. I could find no evidence for it being true. I could not find any information on JK Rowling ever saying what building or buildings inspired her description of Hogwarts. She has said that Hogwarts is located in Scotland. However, given the fact that George Heriot’s School is a co-ed secondary school with four houses, four towers and the 17th century architecture, it is easy to see how many people have assumed that there may have been a connection between this school and Hogwarts. Especially since the George Heriot’s School is located in central Edinburgh and right next to the cafés that Rowling frequented regularly. However, the UK is full of historical schools and university buildings with turrets and interesting architectural features so a number of places could have served as inspiration. It could also have come mainly from her imagination or from another writer’s depiction of a school. From listening to Rowling’s interviews, I have learned that she very much likes to protect the identity of any real living people in her books, and I wonder if she has intentionally not revealed the exact inspiration (or likely multiple inspirations) for Hogwarts for this same reason? If for instance it was an active school like George Heriot’s School, Fettes College, or Donaldson’s School in Edinburgh, I could see Rowling not wanting to name it for fear that overzealous fans may overstep their boundaries in order to try to visit.

5. Balmoral Hotel

Address: 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ

Balmoral hotel Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection

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”. 

Tips for Visiting

The Balmoral Hotel is a luxury hotel and anyone can stay here for a price. You can even stay in the same room (552) as the famous author, which has been renamed the J.K. Rowling Suite. The suite is priced at about £1,000 a night and is a pilgrimage site for well-off Harry Potter fans. In the room, the marble bust she wrote on is still kept in the room but has been placed in a glass display case in order to protect it. 

Fact or Fiction? 

This is definitely a fact and has been confirmed by statements by  J. K. Rowling and Balmoral Hotel staff. Rowling stated that she was having a hard time finishing the novel at home and wanted to get away from distractions for a while and decided to head to the Balmoral. Apparently very few people knew she was staying here and it was kept quiet until after she finished her book (ah, the days before everyone was on social media). It is pretty amazing how Rowling wrote her first book while living on welfare and working in cafés and was able to finish her book in one of the most expensive hotels in Edinburgh. Note that some new articles and blogs report the wrong hotel room number, but it is definitely 552 based on my research.

6. Victoria Street & the Grassmarket Area

Address: Victoria St., Edinburgh EH1 2HE

Victoria Street Diagon Alley Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection 

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 which is a colorful old street with many colorful 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.

Tips for Visiting

The Grassmarket area is a great place to wander around if you are visiting Edinburgh for the first time. Victoria Street is a pretty street and not far from The Elephant House or the location for the weekly Grassmarket market (every Saturday). The Grassmarket area is a popular place for tourists to eat, drink, shop, and take photos. You can even find a novelties shop that sells magic items called AHA HA HA Jokes & Novelties at 99 West Bow as well as Diagon House on Victoria Street (see more below). There is a sign with Diagon Alley alongside a nice mural on The Maple Arts building on Candlemaker Row that reads: “No setting could be more perfect for a magical school of witchcraft & wizardly than the majestic Gothic grandeur of this old toon. So it is no surprise that J.K. Rowling selected Scotland as the home of Hogwarts, or that several sites lie nearby this Diagon Alley.”

**Update April 2017: The sign and mural were both gone when we walked by this week from The Maple Arts building, hopefully the sign and another mural will return soon!**

West Bow street Grassmarket Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Diagon Alley Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Fact or Fiction? 

Unsubstantiated. I could find no evidence that J. K. Rowling has made any statements that Victoria Street or Candlemaker Row (or any other street) inspired her description of Diagon Alley. However, given that Rowling would have certainly have walked along these streets during the time she was writing Harry Potter and they were so close to some of the cafés she visited, it is indeed possible that Victoria Street and other parts of the Grassmarket area did provide some inspiration.

7. Diagon House

Address: 40 Victoria Street, Edinburgh EH12JW

Diagon House Edinburgh Harry Potter trail sites

Harry Potter Connection

Diagon House is a shop selling all things related to Harry Potter from wands to broomsticks to stuffed Hedwigs and Harry Potter T-shirts. It is actually just a re-branding of the Museum Context store which has long sold a collection of official licensed Harry Potter items along with an eclectic collection of gifts and home accessories. They also have a second location on 42-44 Cockburn Street which also sells Harry Potter items.

Tips for Visiting

If you are looking for Harry Potter souvenirs in Edinburgh, Diagon House is your best bet to find them. It is an independent family-run store and in addition to Harry Potter stuff, it sells some other interesting gifts and items. I am a fan of their vintage style gifts and items, especially the globes.

Fact or Fiction? 

This is just a store selling Harry Potter items, there was never a Diagon House in the book or films, and J.K. Rowling has no known relationship to this building. 

8. Former Rowling Residences

Addresses: All over the city

Harry Potter Connection

Edinburgh is often referred to as the birthplace of Harry Potter. Rowling has lived in several places in Edinburgh since 1993 and still resides here although she also now owns properties elsewhere in the UK and abroad. According to a book by Joanne Soroka, Rowling first stayed with her sister in a flat on Marchmont Road, before moving to Gardner’s Crescent, then South Lorne Place, and Hazelbank Terrace. She then lived in a Merchiston area mansion at Abbotsford Park with her family until 2009. Rowling and her family now live behind high hedges in the Edinburgh area of Branton.

Tips for Visiting

There is not much to visit other than the outsides of buildings and some peeks of houses through gates, but a stroll through these areas may give Harry Potter fans a sense of the neighborhood in which Rowling has lived and how her circumstances have changed from a woman living on welfare to a best-selling author worth millions. It may also introduce visitors to some new Edinburgh neighborhoods that are well off the well-beaten tourist path. Just note that J. K. Rowling and her family enjoy their privacy as do the people who live in her former residences, and you are wise to respect this. I decided not to publish any of the actual addresses (or photos) of her former or current residences and out of both respect for those who live in them and for the fact that none are open to the public so there isn’t much to see at any of the locations.

Fact or Fiction? 

Fact. Rowling has indeed lived in Edinburgh since 1993, and there is little doubt that she wrote a substantial amount of the books while in the city although she did begin writing the series prior to her arrival in the city.

9. Potterrow Street

Address: Potterrow Street, Edinburgh EH8 9BL

Potterrow Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection

There is a street in central Edinburgh called Potterrow Street that some say it may have given J. K. Rowling inspiration for her famous hero’s last name.

Tips for Visiting

Along Potterrow Street, you’ll find University of Edinburgh buildings, students housing, and a few student geared eateries. Potterrow Port is a pedestrian underpass tunnel under Potterrow Street. There is not much to see here for Potter fans other than the signs.

Potterrow port Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Fact or Fiction?

Fiction. This particular association seems to have no evidence to stand on from what I can find other than the assumption that Rowling likely walked or drove along this street during the time she was in Edinburgh. In fact, there is substantial evidence against the street name having influenced Rowling in naming Harry Potter. In a 1999 Barnes & Noble online chat (the first she ever did in America), Rowling was specifically asked where she came up with the name Harry Potter. Here is what she said: “Because Harry is one of my favorite boy’s names. But he had several different surnames before I chose Potter. Potter was the name of a brother and sister who I played with when I was very young. We were part of the same gang and I always liked that surname.” Later in a 2000 Scholastic interview she reiterates this and goes on to say that if her first child had been a boy, she would have named him Harry and chosen a different name for her boy hero.

10. JK Rowling’s Handprints

Address: 253 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ

Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling handprints


Harry Potter Connection

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.

Tips for Visiting

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.

Fact or Fiction?

Fact. J. K. Rowling did indeed receive Edinburgh Award. She said the following when accepting the Edinburgh Award in September 2008 (as reported by The Telegraph on September 20th): “It is an absolute honour to receive this award, as 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.”

11. Edinburgh Castle

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG

top 21 things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Harry Potter Connection

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. 

Tips for Visiting

Edinburgh Castle is the most recognizable landmark in the city and one of the main tourist attractions in Edinburgh. Whether or not it has any connection with Harry Potter, I would  definitely recommend a visit for any visitor. Located at one end of the Royal Mile, you’ll see it from multiple viewpoints from around the city and it is easy to visit. It is very popular so I’d recommend trying to visit when it first opens or nearer to closing time to avoid large crowds. A popular (but busy) time to be at the castle is for the firing of the gun, which takes place nearly every day of the year to mark 1pm. You can read more about the castle in an earlier post where we highlight 21 top attractions in Edinburgh

Fact or Fiction? 

Unsubstantiated. As noted for George Heriot’s School, J.K. Rowling has not named any locations as being an inspiration for Hogwarts, just that Hogwarts is located in Scotland in the books. of course Rowling would have seen the castle regularly as someone living in Edinburgh as it is visible from many locations and in fact you can see it from the windows of The Elephant House. J. K. Rowling when asked to visualize Hogwarts in the 2000 Scholastic interview, said that she imagines it as “A huge, rambling, quite scary-looking castle, with a jumble of towers and battlements. Like the Weasley’s house, it isn’t a building that Muggles could build, because it is supported by magic.” This does suggest that Hogwarts may be based on a castle. However, given that the UK and Europe have thousands of castles, there is no data to suggest it was based on Edinburgh Castle (or even a real castle at all) other than the fact that it was near to the place she wrote the books.

12. Edinburgh International Book Festival (August Only)

Address: Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4HQ

Edinburgh festivals in August guide festival Edinburgh festivals in August guide

Harry Potter Connection?

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the world’s largest celebration of books and is an annual 2-week event that has included J.K. Rowling. It was one of the first places Rowling gave a reading from her first Harry Potter novel in 1997. She also attended in 2004 and 2014. 

Tips for Visiting

If you are in Edinburgh in August and enjoy books, you should definitely plan a stop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Unlike most of the other August Edinburgh festivals (check out our planning guide), this one takes place almost entirely in one location at Charlotte Square gardens in a series of large tents. Anyone can attend the festival for free and peruse the book stores, read a book in the square, go to book signings, and take part in the free programming. However, you do need to book a ticket if you want to attend most of the author talks and readings. Authors range from the famous (e.g., J.K. Rowling, Philippa Gregory, Ian Rankin) to the relatively unknown. If the weather is good, you could spend a few pleasant hours reading a book in the square and enjoying a cup of coffee (there is an on-site café).

Book festival Edinburgh festivals in August guide Book festival Edinburgh festivals in August guide

Fact or Fiction? 

Fact. J.K. Rowling has read and talked at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and to my knowledge she has attended at least three times. In fact, way back in 1997 when no one reading this post had probably ever heard of Harry Potter, an unknown new author listed as Joanne Rowling read to a group of about 20 children from her first book. Fast forward to 2004, and a special tent had to be erected to contain a crowd of 600 Harry Potter fans (chosen via lottery given the enormous demand) and special security employed as J.K. Rowling returned to the book festival. In 2014, J. K. Rowling made a surprise appearance at the Book Festival to introduce Malala Yousafzai. It is very possible she may do so again in the future. However, it is likely she’ll be promoting a non-Harry Potter book on any future appearances.

13. The Dog House

Address: 18-24 Clerk Street, Edinburgh EH8 9HX

The Dog House Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Connection

Of the many Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh, The Dog House is a fairly new one to be associated with Harry Potter. This association is due to the fact that it has started selling butterbeer. In the Harry Potter books, butterbeer was sold at a number of wizardly pubs, notably The Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head.

Tips for Visiting

The pub is mostly known for being dog friendly (and its resident English bull dog Hero) and for its chicken wings. It is also an oddly decorated pub with all sorts of things hanging on the walls and from the ceiling, including a teddy bear graveyard. Recently it seems to have introduced butterbeer in hopes of drawing in more Potter fans. You can buy butterbeer by the pint of half-pint, which is made by using a syrup (that the pub buys) mixing it with Foster’s beer. I honestly expected it to taste horrible but it tasted like buttered popcorn and beer, and we found it very easy to drink. A pint of butter beer (£4 during our visit) at The Dog House is a great way to end a day of exploring in Edinburgh.

The Dog House butterbeer Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling The Dog House butterbeer Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Fact or Fiction? 

Fiction. Well, butterbeer is a fictional drink and the drink served here was not an inspiration for Rowling and as far as we know Rowling was not involved in its development. However, the pub does indeed serve butter beer and the drink is based on the one described in the Harry Potter books. It is a relatively recent addition to the pub’s drink list (we think it was first sold in 2015).  J.K. Rowling did not base butterbeer on a real drink (although there were historical drinks called buttered beer or ale), she simply made it up for the books. When Rowling was asked by Bon Appétit magazine in 2002 what it tastes like, she said: “I made it up. I imagine it to taste a bit like less sickly butterscotch.” Many recipes and versions of butterbeer exist online now and many are alcoholic (like the one at The Dog House). In 2010, Universal worked with Rowling to produce a nonalcoholic butterbeer that is now sold at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (along with several other Harry Potter inspired drinks and foods) which is said to be cold and frothy and taste a bit like shortbread and butterscotch. 

Exploring the Harry Potter Sites in Edinburgh: Take a Harry Potter Tour? 

For many Harry Potter fans, they want to learn as much information as possible on Harry Potter connections and see all the Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh with a group of fellow Potterheads. These fun guided tours are designed for fans and will take you to all the main Potter sites, including The Elephant House, Victoria Street, the Grassmarket, and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. One popular option is The Potter Trail which is a free tour, but tips for the guide are strongly recommended (and generally expected). These tours were designed as gratuity-only so fans with any budget could enjoy them. You don’t need to book The Potter Trail tours in advance, just be at the meeting spot (normally at Greyfriar’s Bobby statue but check the website) before the tour time to join. You can also contact The Potter Trail to book a private tour. For a longer more in-depth tour that includes more of the Old Town as well, there is also the Harry Potter Walking Tour of Edinburgh run by Celebrity Planet which is a 2.5 hour Harry Potter themed tour, showcasing the main Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh. There are also other literary oriented tours in Edinburgh not focused on Harry Potter but are likely to include mentions of J.K. Rowling, such as The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour and The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour.

For families traveling with children, we can highly recommend the private Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh for Kids run by Context Travel. Laurence and I took this tour to see what it was like and even though it is geared towards kids, there is still plenty of information for the parents as well. The first part of the tour focuses on Scottish writers more broadly and helps kids learn about some of Scotland’s most famous writers like Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson through exhibits and hand-on activities. Then the second half is focused on J.K. Rowling and takes families to visit all the main Harry Potter sites. Note that if you book this tour or any other tour with Context Travel, using the link above should get you 10% off any Context Travel tour (whether in Edinburgh or anywhere else in the world!). 

Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland J.K. Rowling

Should I take a Harry Potter tour?

I think that if you are a big fan of Harry Potter, the tours are well worth taking and you’ll likely be able to meet some like-minded travelers. However, I will say that the line between fact and fiction is blurred during some of these tours, but if that doesn’t bother you, I’d recommend looking into taking them. For families, I’d check out the private tour offered by Context Travel. If you’d prefer to do it on your own, the sites are all fairly easy to find and you can use this guide and map below to help plan your own walking tour of all the Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh. 

Harry Potter Edinburgh locations map JK Rowling

Other Noteworthy Places of Interest for Harry Potter Fans

There are so many noteworthy places to visit in Edinburgh, and for first time visitors to Edinburgh, I’d recommend starting with this list of our 21 highlights of Edinburgh. For second time visitors or those looking for some lesser known attractions, I’d also check out this guide to loads of lesser known attractions in Edinburgh. Walking up and down the Royal Mile and around the Old Town reminds many visitors of the world of Harry Potter with its cobbled streets, narrow alleys, and historical stone buildings.

top 21 things to do in Edinburgh Scotland

Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature and there are a lot of great literary places to learn more about the writers and poets of Scotland, including The Writers’ Museum (free) and the Scottish Storytelling Centre (free). Outside of The Writers’ Museum, the Makars’ Court includes quotes from a number of important British writers and poets on the flagstones. Learn more about the city and its people at the Museum of Edinburgh (free) and The People’s Story Museum (free), and explore the full history of Scotland and its culture via the National Museum of Scotland (free). The Lewis chessmen, some of which are on display at the National Museum of Scotland, were the inspiration for the chessman of Wizard’s Chess in the Harry Potter films. For some childhood fun, consider the Museum of Childhood or the Camera Obscura and House of Illusions (entry fee), both contain some illusions that Harry Potter may have appreciated. The great thing about many of Edinburgh’s museums is that they are free to enter (although donations are greatly appreciated!). 

writers museum hidden top Edinburgh attractions Scotland

Lewis Chessmen Edinburgh Museum of Scotland Harry Potter

remind you of the Wizard’s Chess pieces in the film?

For Harry Potter fans, I would also recommend searching to see if there are any Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling events happening during your visit. For instance, a couple of months ago a rare first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that was illustrated by J.K. Rowling went on public display at The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. Other Harry Potter and/or J.K. Rowling events and exhibitions are not uncommon in the city. 

Comprehensive Guide to all the Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh Scotland. Want to sit and sip coffee in the same café that J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books? See turreted buildings that may have been the inspiration for Hogwarts? See graves and streets that may have influenced the names of Harry Potter characters? Drink a pint of butterbeer in a local pub? We'll provide not only a list of the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh and how to visit them, but we'll also try to separate fact from fiction in their relationship to Harry Potter and his famous inventor.

There you have it, our guide to the top Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh! Which of these would you want to visit? Have you been to any of these Harry Potter sites? Feel free to let us know if you have any updates on information about the sites or know of any additional J.K. Rowling or Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh you think should be added to this list. As always, we love your comments and feel free to ask us any questions about Harry Potter sites in Edinburgh or any other question you may have about visiting the city or Scotland in general!