Your 3-Day ‘Harry Potter’ Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, pronounced Edin-burrow, is the mysterious, laid-back and crazy-cool capital of Scotland where old meets new in some of the most surprising ways. It’s also one of the spots where J.K. Rowling herself put pen to paper on a series that needs absolutely no introduction—Harry Potter. Just take a stroll around the Old City and you can see how much Edinburgh sparked Rowling’s creativity, and the tribute she made to her surroundings through the books.
EDINBURGH’S ‘HARRY POTTER’ SPOTS
The Elephant House
The bathrooms at The Elephant House are covered in Harry Potter messages and graffiti—and even some fan fiction—which makes a lot of sense when you consider the cozy café is one of the many places throughout the city where Rowling sought refuge during her time creating the Hogwarts world we know and love. The coffee and tea house and restaurant, where Rowling wrote the earlier novels “in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle,” stakes its claim as the “birthplace” of Harry Potter with a large window front display on its now-iconic fire-engine-red signage. Unlike many of the other cafés in town that make similar claims, it have photographic proof.
Victoria Street (aka Diagon Alley)
Just a two-minute walk from Elephant House, you’ll find tourists dashing into the middle of traffic to snap a pic of the colorful, multi-hued Victoria Street, long considered the inspiration for Diagon Alley. The curved street slopes upwards and many of the shops house restaurants with alfresco dining above them. While you’ll mostly find souvenir shops here today, one of which is even dedicated to Potter merchandise, there are a few treasures to be had if you have a discerning eye. Pro tip: Check out the Red Door Gallery for unique art, jewelry, knitwear and more.
George Heriot’s School (aka Hogwarts)
As you continue your wizardly walk around Edinburgh, there are a few other spots that should be on your list: George Heriot’s school is not officially but probably, definitely, partially the inspiration for Hogwarts and it’s easy to see why when you peek its Scots Renaissance architecture filled with castle-like domed peaks and turrets. And Greyfriars Kirkyard graveyard serves as the resting place of a one “Thomas Riddle,” aka Lord Voldemort—whether it’s a coincidence or not, lots of fans of the series love finding and visiting his grave.
WHAT TO DO AND EAT IN EDINBURGH
Take a Tour of Edinburgh Castle
The city formed around Edinburgh Castle, the home of Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, which were used in the coronation of Scottish rulers. As many powers fought to control Scotland over the centuries, the castle evolved into a fascinating fortress perched on the top of a volcanic rock, meaning it now offers stunning views of the city below it. Take a guided tour or pick up an audio guide and carve out a good chunk of one of your days here so you can witness the portcullis gate with its actual raised spikes, the 16th-century Great Hall built for King James IV and the prisons located below it, a Royal Palace, and many other historical sites. A walk through the Prince’s Street Gardens afterwards will not disappoint, nor will a hike to Arthur’s Seat, a peak in Holyrood Park with panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas.
Eat at Sheep’s Heid Inn
We won’t lie—Scotland is not really known for its food. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good meal...you just need to know where to go. Chances are a pub like The Sheep’s Heid Inn, which has been around since the 14th century, is a sure bet. Visited by QEII in 2016, this royal-approved spot serves up a robust menu that includes classic Scottish dishes and everything from thin-crust pizzas to mezze platters.
Another one of the quality meals in town can be found at Number One, a Michelin-starred subterranean eatery filled with comfy banquettes just as perfect for an intimate date with bae as it is a special night out with your crew. For a beautiful tea service in a handsome library surrounded by books, look into Colonnades at the Signet Library.
Stay at The Dunstane Houses
This luxe boutique hotel, available for booking on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, is split across two historic Victorian estates that sit diagonal from one another on a handsome road just outside the city center—and a quick walk from Starbucks, which is naturally appreciated when traveling abroad. Imagine it as the place where a grown-up Hermione and Ron set up digs and share with all their kids—rich wood paneled archways and staircases, ornate crown moldings, a library that welcomes filled to the brim with books, photographs of the countryside and coastline and Scotland of the past, handsome antiques and bay windows that flood with light. While all the rooms are great, we’d recommend opting for The Dunstane Suite or The Hamnavoe Suite, each with its own unique decor but both stunning and Scottish in a contemporary way and featuring their own soaking bathtub, which will be hard to resist.
SPLURGE ON J.K. ROWLING’S FORMER DIGS
At the fancy pants Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel, you can even stay in Rowling’s suite, #552, where she hid out after the success of the series and even finished the very last pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Renamed in her honor, the suite contains Rowling’s writing desk, is filled with trinkets and has comfy turret alcoves for guests to slink into; there’s even an owl door knocker to really keep things on theme.