Harry Potter Pilgrimage in Edinburgh

Harry Potter Pilgrimage in Edinburgh

For Harry Potter fans, seeing places related to its story would be very exciting. The spots are widely spread across the UK, where Edinburgh in Scotland is one of them. It is known as the home of Harry Potter, because the author, J.K. Rowling, wrote most of those phenomenal books in this city. Here is the list of special destinations in the old town of Edinburgh if you want to take a Harry Potter pilgrimage.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Kirk is a Scottish name for a church. Dated back in the 15th century, Greyfriars Kirk is located in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town. The graveyard surrounding it is also historical, which hosts the burials of several notable Edinburgh residents.

Apparently many people love to have a walk in a cemetery, also called Taphophile. J.K. Rowling might have visited the Greyfriars Kirkyard to find the inspiration for some characters’ names in her book. In the tombstones, we can find names like McGonagall, Thomas Riddell (for Tom Marvolo Riddle), Moodie (for Mad-Eye Moody), and Scrymgeour (for Rufus Scrimgeour). 

How about Harry Potter? Yes, Potter name also appears in one of the tombstones in that old graveyard of Edinburgh! And not far away from the graveyard, near the University of Edinburgh, there is a street called Potterrow. Both might inspire Rowling for the name of her main character.

Located next to the Kirk, a private school for primary and secondary students might give the inspiration for Hogwarts School. George Heriot’s School features renaissance quadruple building which comprises 4 towers. The school assigns each student into one of 4 houses: Raeburn (red), Castle (blue), Lauriston (green), and Greyfriars (white). Quite similar to Hogwarts, isn’t it?

George Heriot’s School that resembles Hogwarts

I also would like to tell you one fun fact about Greyfriars Kirkyard that is not related to The Boy Who Lived. In the 19th century, a legend Skye Terrier named Bobby loyally guarded his master’s grave. He stood there every day for 14 years until the dog himself died. Someone then created his statue and put it on the street corner near Kirk.

J.K. Rowling’s favorite writing space

Although the Harry Potter idea was born and first written in some other parts of the UK, J.K. Rowling wrote many parts of the story while living in Edinburgh. She moved to Scotland’s capital with her daughter to live near her sister. She was broke at that time after her failed marriage, leaving her as a jobless single mother living off state benefits. Writing in cafes helped her daughter to sleep, thus she could write peacefully.

The first cafe where she often visited was Nicolson’s Cafe, which was co-owned by her brother in law. The cafe has been renamed to Spoon Cafe (and sadly has been closed in 2020 due to the slow economy impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic). Outside the cafe remains a plaque “J.K. Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter in the rooms on First Floor of this building.”

The other cafe she liked to come to was The Elephant House. The sign outside the place says “Birthplace of Harry Potter”. In fact, J.K. Rowling wrote most parts of the second, third, and fourth books in that coffee shop. Located just outside the Greyfriars Kirkyard walls, the cafe is very relaxing for writers and readers to sit over coffee and cakes.

The Elephant House, a cafe where J.K. Rowling often came to write Harry Potter books

Lastly, there is The Balmoral Hotel, a luxury five-star hotel in a Victorian-styled building near Waverley Railway Station, where J.K. Rowling finished the final book The Deathly Hallows. She rented Room 522 for about 6 months from August 2006 to write the final book of Harry Potter, which in the end she finished it on 11 January 2007. The room now is called “J.K. Rowling Suite” with an owl knocker on the door and her signature on a Hermes statue which costs around £1000/night to stay! A glass case is covering the signed statue now, perhaps to prevent any further vandalism. 

What a transformative way to write seven books ya. From spending days in cheap cafes with a child, to staying in a luxury hotel for six months leaving her toddlers at home (I believe they were 3 and 1 year old at that time)! As the author said during her interview with Oprah why she chose staying in the hotel, “there came a day where the window cleaner came, the kids were at home, the dogs were barking and I could not work and this light bulb went on over my head and I thought, I can throw money at this problem.”

Victoria Street a.k.a Diagon Alley

Still in the old town of Edinburgh, a curving cobblestoned Victoria Street might be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, the marketplace of witches and wizards. Lined up with unique and antique shops, it is one of the must-visit Harry Potter pilgrimage sites. 

Victoria Street that resembles Diagon Alley

Although there are no Ollivanders Wand Shop nor Madam Malkin’s, the street offers Harry Potter merchandise in The Boy Wizard and Museum Context shops. While The Boy Wizard sells the usual items that fans would love to buy, such as a non-alcoholic Butterbeer, the Museum Context also provides the experience. They fully decorated the shop with a Potter theme, perfect for taking selfies and Instagram pictures. On the third floor, they even set up a cosplay area with robes and wands that we can borrow to take a picture. 

We can say that Edinburgh is one of the sacred destinations for Harry Potter maniacs. I recommended taking the Pottertrail tour, which provides free and paid tours to explore the Harry Potter pilgrimage sites around the old town of Edinburgh. The guide is very passionate about Harry Potter and will make any Potterheads enjoy the tour since they share the same kind of nerds. And they will bring you to most of the places I listed above.

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