Edinburgh: The birthplace of Harry Potter

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Broomsticks, magic wands and flying cars? You may not find them here in Edinburgh but it is still known as the birthplace of Harry Potter, and Kat explains exactly why that is.

Our own Disneyland

Every fandom has a home where its members can visit for a pilgrimage. London’s Baker Street housed young Sherlock Holmes as he solved crimes with Dr John Watson. New Zealand’s wilderness is your best bet should you go looking for hairy footed Hobbits with a jewellery obsession. Edinburgh houses a fandom of its own.

As home to all things Harry Potter, considering JK Rowling wrote the books here and was inspired by local landmarks, Edinburgh is the epicentre of a very magical Scotland. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Ron and Harry’s use of a flying car to get to school on time, and is only a short train ride from Edinburgh. Glencoe boasts the real beauty of green Scottish Highlands while also hiding the Hogwarts castle amongst its many rolling hills. For a fan who spent their childhood reading instead of breaking the law, attending upon Edinburgh is an absolutely essential tick off the ol’ bucket list. Edinburgh is the Disneyland for all Harry Potter fans. A stroll through the town reveals how much fiction and reality have crossed over. From subtle nods to actual-real-life inspirations, here are all the spots you need to visit if you’re a fan.

Victoria Street and the Royal Mile

Diagon Alley is brought to life amongst the charming Victoria Street. There are a few streets in the UK that claim to be the 'inspiration for Diagon Alley' but (I may be biased here), Victoria Street is definitely the one and only. It has a very unique shape, whilst not quite diagonal, the curved street is quite magical in itself. There are two Harry Potter shops, and countless other colourful establishments that are well worth a visit. There’s even a joke shop, which should definitely be called Zonko’s! Missed opportunity there in my opinion.

Another reason that Edinburgh is definitely the inspiration for Diagon Alley is very evident with a walk down the Royal Mile. In the Potter Universe, Diagon Alley is adjacent to Knockturn Alley, for the darker, creepier wares. In the real world, the Royal Mile is flanked by small streets/alleys called 'closes'. These are so reminiscent of Knockturn Alley that I felt a bit like a rebel taking pictures down there, I could hear Mrs Weasley shouting “Not one step down Knockturn Alley!”

Byres close
Victoria Street
Knockturn Alley?

Museum Context

The first and definitely best Harry Potter store to open in Edinburgh, Museum Context is reminiscent of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Not least because it’s almost always full of people (I would suggest using some of your student time-flexibility to visit on a weekday). Every nook and cranny of this store is full of magical details and products to purchase. And the staff are always very friendly too.

One of the many Harry Potter themed attractions
A must-stop on your Harry Potter tour
Some of the magical merch available
Some of the magical merchandise available

Elephant House and Spoon

After all that exploring, you’ll probably be in need of some nourishment. The Elephant House is just a short walk from Victoria Street and is heralded as 'the birthplace of Harry Potter', although fun fact: the cafe only opened the year after J.K Rowling finished writing the first book so it can’t really have birthed Potter. Again, this cafe is quite busy a lot of the time, so a weekday visit is a must. Another go-to place is to visit the loo. Not in order to enter the Ministry of Magic though, to have a peek at all the graffiti all over the walls from previous Harry Potter fans’ visits. And, maybe take a pen and add your own?

A lesser known Harry Potter landmark is Spoon on Nicholson Street. This is a spot that J.K. used to write in, mostly because her brother-in law owned the place and so wouldn’t kick her out if she stayed for hours on end. There’s a rumour that she used to write in cafes because she was too cash-strapped to turn her home’s heating on. This is untrue, however, and the real reason she frequented so many Edinburgh cafes was because of her baby daughter Jessica (she would only fall asleep while walking in her stroller, so J.K. would walk until she was asleep and then pop into the nearest cafe to do some writing). If you do visit Spoon, try and get a spot in the corner by the window which was her favourite table.

Elephant house cafe
Spoon on Nicholson Street

Tom Riddle’s grave

In memory of Thomas Riddell

Just behind the Elephant House cafe is a graveyard where you can find quite a few names from the books. Supposedly JK Rowling got inspiration for character names from this graveyard. I’ve seen McGonnagall, Moody and Scrimegeour, but there may be others! The most popular grave belongs to the Dark Lord himself, Thomas Riddell. Fun fact: the spelling of Riddell had to be changed to Riddle for the anagram “I am Lord Voldemort” to work.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything and living in Edinburgh reveals more and more magic by the day. The real life chess pieces that inspired the wizard’s chess board are shown in the National Museum of Scotland. In June there’s a full Harry Potter festival held at a local school with actors from the films in attendance. And of course, more Harry Potter shops selling more chocolate frogs than even Ron could handle!

Kat is from South Africa and is studying MSc Environmental Sustainability at Edinburgh Napier University.

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