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Edinburgh, Epicenter of All Things Harry Potter

Edinburgh, Scotland, is, without a doubt, the epicenter for any diehard Harry Potter fan.


Darling Daughter (DD) and I can claim space in that realm.


Man and woman grabbing at papers as they fly around the room.
Darling Daughter and me trying to grab our Hogwarts invitation at Warner Brothers Harry Potter Wizarding World. **

The first Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 1997 when DD was just eight years old. It was an instant hit in our household.


We read every book in the series together. Well, kind of. She’d read away at them during the day and I would dive into them after she’d gone to bed at night.


We saw all the movies together. She was a college senior by the time the first of the two-part finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, came out. She drove home for my birthday just so we could see it together on the local IMAX big screen.


This has continued to present day. A few years back she knitted us winter scarves, mine Gryffindor and hers (boo, hiss) Slytherin, and visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. (I’ve since also visited the one in Orlando.)


And a year ago last December we spent extra time during our tour of Warner Brothers Studios Hollywood in their Harry Potter Wizarding World experience.


So it should come as no surprise I took time during my Scotland trip searching out some of the locales associated with Harry Potter.


Greyfriars Kirkyard


At the top of the list, if you go nowhere else you have to go here, is Greyfriars Kirkyard.


Tall grave marker, built into a stone wall, with name of Eliizabeh Moodie.
Elizabeth Moodie tombstone in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Inspiration for Harry Potter's Mad Eye Moody? **

The kirkyard is, essentially, the graveyard literally surrounding Greyfriars Kirk, a parish church of the Church of Scotland opened in 1620. The names of major characters in the Potter books can be found on the tombstones within the kirkyard.


The story goes that JK Rowling often strolled through the kirkyard during the time she was writing the first Harry Potter books. Reportedly she said she did not intentionally use the names she saw there, but acknowledges she may have subconsciously picked up on them.


Buried within the kirkyard is a Robert Potter, probably not all that uncommon, but also a William McGonagall, Elizabeth Moody, Margaret Louisa Scrymgeour Wedderburn and Thomas Riddell.


Tall mark set into a stone wall of Thomas Riddell Esq.
Tombstone of Thomas Riddell Esq., also the real name of Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort. **

The corresponding characters in the Potter books are beloved Hogwarts Professor Minerva McGonagall, auror Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody, Minister of Magic in the final book Rufus Scrimgeour, and the biggest of them all, Lord Voldemort himself, Tom Marvolo Riddell. (Trivia note: Lord Voldemort is an anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddell.)


Most interestingly, all of those last four tombstones are within several feet of each other in a section behind what is called Flodden Wall. By the way, nearly 100,000 people are buried in the kirkyard so this is no small place and finding all four of those in relatively the same place seems more than a coincidence.


Elephant House and Spoon


Good news/bad news. Rowling spent a lot of her writing time in two Edinburgh coffee shops, The Elephant House and Spoon. She especially spent time in the back of The Elephant House that just happens to have a great view of Greyfriars Kirkyard.


Front of The Elephant House, a bright red storefront with a sign that reads Awaiting Reparo!
The Elephant House, where JK Rowling spent a lot of time writing her first Harry Potter books, is still closed after a major fire. **

You can still visit both places today, but there’s a catch.


The Elephant House had a massive fire in August of 2021 and went into liquidation shortly after that. It has remained closed ever since, BUT the owner is saying it will reopen sometime this summer. It didn’t look like a lot going on when I was there so we’ll see.


Spoon, on the other hand, is open and doing well today, as the Chinese restaurant, DunDun Delicious. You certainly can visit, and they do pay a bit of homage to Harry Potter on their website, but it doesn’t have quite the same ambiance as when Rowling was toiling over her writing.


Victoria Street and Museum Context


I’d barely left my hotel room, walking toward Old Edinburgh and the Royal Mile, when I began texting DD a photo of the streets and buildings in front of me. Nearly every area of that part of town, stretching up to Edinburgh Castle, high on the hill, feels like it was taken from a Harry Potter movie.


Cobblestone, curving, hilly, street on rainy day, lined by shops.
Edinburgh's Victoria Street, believed by many Harry Potter fans to be inspiration for Diagon Alley. **

One street in particular, Victoria Street, is recognized for special distinction by Potter fans. It’s believed it served as Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.


In the books, Diagon Alley is a cobblestoned alley of wizarding magic filled with restaurants and shops. Victoria Street is a winding, cobblestoned street, filled with restaurants and shops of all sorts of colors and sizes.


Fans will especially want to check out Museum Context, situated at 40 Victoria Street, Edinburgh’s officially licensed Harry Potter store.


Outside Museum Context. Purple building with large storefront windows.
Museum Context, official Harry Potter store on Edinburgh's Victoria Street. Formerly Robert Cresser's Brush Shop. **

Though three stories tall, the quarters are tight and you’ll find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with other customers. They even have a waiting area outside with a doorman controlling the number of people allowed in at any one time.


The building was founded in 1873 as Robert Cresser’s Brush Shop, selling brooms until 2004 (after five of the Harry Potter books had already been published). Perhaps brooms like those Harry, Hermione and Ron were known to ride. Another coincidence? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.


P.S. While you’re in that area, you might also want to stop by The Enchanted Galaxy, across the street. Though not the official Potter store, it has a large selection of Potter items.


Other Potter Spots


Among places I didn’t make it to but, if you’re interested, are:


Traverse Theatre Cafe - My red bus tour of the city drove by the cafe, so I did see it along the way. It’s another location Rowling is known to have worked on her books.


Plaque on building wall reading, On this site Sept. 5 1782 nothing happened.
The sign to the right, outside Museum Context, seems to be a thing throughout England with it found in many places. No one seems to know why. **

Balmoral Hotel, Room 552 - You’re not going to see this one, unless you have a lot more money than I. I did, however, have a couple drinks in the hotel bar, if that counts.


Rowling secretly checked into Balmoral’s Room 552 for six months in 2006/07 to finish that final book mentioned above, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


The room is now called the Rowling Suite. I have no idea how much it costs to stay there. I do know the suites can start for as much as $2,000, a night.


If you have that kind of money and find yourself staying there, check out the marble bust of the Greek god Hermes inside. Rowling graffitied it, signing on the back, “Finished writing Harry Potter + the Deathly Hallows in this room on 11th Jan 2007.”


The hotel didn’t seem to get too upset. At the time, the bust sat in front of a window on a pedestal, facing into the room. It’s still in front of that window, but now it’s looking out it, with its back toward the room, so guests can see Rowling’s graffiti for themselves.


George Heriot’s School - Heriot’s is a private grade school and high school rumored to be the inspiration for Hogwarts, Harry’s wizarding school. (Get it? Heriot’s sounds like Hogwarts.)


Blue shop front with sign reading Chalmers Tweed and Cashmere. Above door is big fake, comic, glasses and nose.
One of the quirky, colorful, shops on Edinburgh's Victoria Street, believed to have inspired Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. **

The school has four towers and, like Hogwarts, students are divided into four houses with ongoing competitions throughout the year. Go Gryffindor!


As a private school, the public isn’t generally allowed inside, but you can view it from the outside and it’s just a short walk from Greyfriars Kirkyard.


The Jacobite - Finally, if you’re up for a train ride, hop onto The Jacobite steam train, also referred to as the Hogwarts Express. The train passes through several locations where the movie was filmed, including Glenfinnan Viaduct, which Harry and Ron fly over in a car.


Wait!


I’ve mentioned I’m a Gryffindor and DD is a Slytherin, I feel so sorry for her. If you want to find out what Hogwarts house you belong to, take the official Hogwarts House Sorting Quiz.


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**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.


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