Walking the Harry Potter Trail in Edinburgh (And it’s Free!)

Travel Guide , United Kingdom / September 30, 2017

Edinburgh is such a captivating and classic capital city located at the heart of Scotland. Little did I know that there are some traces of Harry Potter around this city. But how does Edinburgh relate to Harry Potter, you may ask?

This corner of the street is the one that inspired…. well, just scroll down first!


It’s known to be the city where JK Rowling got most of the inspiration when writing Harry Potter.  It all started when she moved to Edinburgh on 1993 to be nearer to her sister. Although by the time she came she had already started writing on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but much of the writing of the seven novels took place here. None of the HP shootings took place in Edinburgh. But there are some scenes that are taken in other cities in Scotland, like the famous train express (it’s definitely still on my bucketlist, darn it’s so far from Edinburgh).

This classic Scottish city pretty much inspired her on crafting the Harry Potter world. Literally—from taking names on the graveyard until crafting Diagon Alley from a street. The good news is that you can still visit these places yourselves until now. Better yet, there’s a tour specifically dedicated to show you Harry Potter’s History in Edinburgh.


Greyfriars Bobby Monument where they usually organise its meeting point


Explore The Potter Trail With a Wizard (On a Budget!)

“The little bits and pieces of this city actually inspired the making of the Harry Potter story. It includes random signs you might saw on the street.”

I won’t really know much about anything if I hadn’t joined The Potter Trail tour. Basically they conduct this tour everyday on 3PM for FREE. You can pay as much as you like at the end of the tour as a donation. Richard, the tour guide keeps us entertained with his silly jokes, really!




At the beginning of the tour, Richard basically gave us all a wand that represents each 4 houses—Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. I chose to join the house of Slytherin *evil laugh*. We will use this wand to cast a spell every time we will cross the road to stop the traffic lights.


The wand Richard gave us to stop Muggle traffic


Here are 7 Harry Potter spots he took us to throughout the tour;

1. The Elephant House

If you look at the tagline, they claim themselves to be “Birthplace of Harry Potter”. But not technically, since the café itself was founded after where Harry Potter was already born. Yet JK Rowling did spent a lot of time here writing for the later books. 

It’s called Elephant House for a reason after all

Nutella Cake


The Elephant House is a casual café that’s nice to chill or eat pastry at. We don’t really visit the inside of the café during Potter Trail tour. After the tour I decided to try to enter it myself. The café’s concept was mostly Elephant decor and of course a lot of  JK Rowling or Harry Potter traces like in the walls. The most interesting part? The toilet! It’s full of Harry Potter fans writings all over it. 


This way to the ministry. Hats off my favorite doodle.


There is a table spot where you can see the view of Edinburgh Castle clearly from here.

The view of Edinburgh Castle from a spot in Elephant House


2. The School that Inspired Hogwarts

The school that is said likely to inspire the houses of Hogwarts’s School of Witchcrafts and Wizardry is known as George Heriot’s School. That’s because its house system is sorted into four different houses, which inspired what we known as the four houses of Hogwarts—Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.



Back then, this school was an orphanage and charitable school for boys, but now it became a prestigious primary and secondary school.


3. Greyfriars Kirkyard

Richard told us that grave markers here is known to have influenced a few characters’ names in the Harry Potter story. One example is William McGonagall, who inspired the name for Hogwarts’ teacher Professor Minerva McGonagall. Turns out he was named after a poet that is famous in Scotland. Not only he’s a poet, but he is famous because of his bad poet! 



The cemetery itself is also thought to have inspired the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire. Can you tell?


We then went to the grave that inspired Lord Voldemort, which the person’s real name is Thomas Riddell. If you may notice in the Harry Potter story, Voldemort was actually named as Thomas Riddle. Just slightly different. 

Why, you ask? It’s actually to make the name can be rearranged to L-o-r-d V-o-l-d-e-m-o-r-t… in which we might not be needing a double L. #FunFact101

The grave of Thomas Riddell in Greyfriars Kirkyard, said to be the inspiration for Lord Voldemort


Anyway, you can also find Sirius Black grave which is basically just a work of a fan. It’s kind of hilarious.

Sirius Black’s grave, but not really.


4. Potterrow

Near the University of Edinburgh, there is a port called Potterrow Port. It is said that JK passed this place often and might have picked up Harry’s last name here. 



5. Victoria Street

This cute and colorful street is known to be the one that inspired Diagon Alley. But yeah, Muggles only sees them as Victoria Street. There are classic book stores, souvenir shops or pubs around here. You can even find shops that sell “Diagon Alley” signs.


One of the antique stores in Victoria Street


6. Spoon

One of the café (formerly Nicolson’s Café) is known where JK Rowling started writing the first Harry Potter novel, The Philosopher’s Stone. The former Café where she wrote in is known as her brother’s-in-law’s café. This place is much more less crowded from Potter fans than in The Elephant House. 




7. The Balmoral Hotel

This five star hotel is known as the place where JK Rowling finished the last Potter book, where the room she spent writing is now named JK Rowling Suite. It is said that she wrote on a marble bust of the god Hermes in the expensive suite saying “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007”. Well, this room is now priced around £1,000 a night. Well well… Not to worry for us backpackers who would like to have an inside look, trying an afternoon tea inside the hotel is one of the recommended thing to do too.



My Overall Comment on the Potter Trail Tour

  • Whether you are a total Harry Potter fan or not—I even consider myself a moderate—I think this 1 hour and 45 minutes tour is totally worth it! It’s fun to see Edinburgh and learn a little about the background to Harry Potter.
  • Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes as we will be walking down the streets.
  • Set your expectation for the number of tour participant, since people would just show up on the meeting spot without needing to pre-book. Thankfully while I am there, the number of tour participants were just decent.
  • Check out Potter Trail’s website for more info because they have special edition tours on certain dates of the year. You might be lucky.



Sabrina Anggraini