The Real World of Harry Potter – Edinburgh Edition

In honor of the opening day of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood’s Universal Studios, I thought I’d share The Real World of Harry Potter in Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom). I’d also like to point out that while I enjoy Harry Potter, I'm not a Harry Potter enthusiast. I just happen to see these “Harry Potter” inspired spots quite a bit as an expat in Scotland.

Spoon Cafe (formerly Nicolson’s Cafe)

6A Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DH IMG_7509 It is said that Rowling wrote the books in many cafes because she couldn’t afford heat in her flat, but Rowling denied this in an interview stating that she wrote wherever she could get her baby to sleep. Apparently, it was at this cafe pictured above. It was previously Nicolson's Cafe and then a Chinese buffet restaurant, but now it's become Spoon Cafe. Spoon Cafe is located on the first floor of a building (which in U.S. language is the second floor!). I guess it helps that her brother-in-law owned it cause I don’t know if a single mom would want to bring a stroller (or “pram” as they say here in Scotland) up all those stairs to the cafe. I liked all the open space available. It was a nice spot to read, study, and work. We ordered the peach cake and an elderflower and a lime soda. The peach cake was good, but a little heavy and dense for me. They also serve soups, sandwiches, and coffee. Since this spot is not as popular as The Elephant Cafe, it's definitely a much calmer option if you're wanting the JK Rowling experience.

Spoon Cafe 1IMG_7511IMG_7512

Elephant House

21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN

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This is the coffeeshop that claims to be the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” even though I would imagine that she probably wrote more at Nicolson’s (now Spoon Cafe) since her brother-in-law was the owner and all that. J.K. Rowling did an interview here. In my opinion, this coffeeshop is probably the most famous Harry Potter/JK Rowling site. It’s a cute little spot with views overlooking Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriar’s Cemetery, and George Heriot’s School in the back room. There's nothing really “Harry Potter” about this coffeeshop. It really is an elephant-inspired cafe with lots of elephants on the walls and even an elephant chair. I guess a lot of Chinese tourists also flock here as even the signs and menus are in Chinese. Personally, I don’t think there is anything particularly special about the food or coffee, but this is where she wrote parts of the book. I ordered the mint hot chocolate which was very nice. It was light and not too sweet, but I didn't taste much chocolate. I also got this Malteser Cake (basically a caramel tart with malted chocolates on top) that was sweet and yummy. There is no complimentary wifi so it's not the best place to study or work, but I guess it'd be nice to meet up with a friend here. Due to the tourists, you'll probably queue for 5-10 minutes to order. It is also very important to visit the women’s restroom here. It's basically a shrine to Harry Potter. IMG_8029 (1) IMG_8027 (1) IMG_8030 (1)IMG_8028 (1)IMG_8046 (1)IMG_8172

Balmoral Hotel

1 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EQIMG_7495 There’s a suite in the hotel where Ms. Rowling finished The Deathly Hallows and it is now called the “J.K. Rowling Suite.” She signed the marble bust of Hermes and the door knocker is now an owl. There are copies of her books in the room too. The hotel was also the location for Ms. Rowling’s interview with Oprah. Sometimes, the harpist plays the Harry Potter theme song during afternoon tea in the Palm Court. Even the animal mascot for the hotel is an owl, inspired by Hedwick, a snowy owl. When kids visit, they can receive an owl as amenity for turndown service. The hotel itself is a 188-room 5-star luxury hotel with 3 restaurants (one is a Michelin-star restaurant and another is an afternoon tearoom), two bars (one is a whiskey bar), and a spa with a pool. You can also see the Edinburgh Castle from some of the rooms of the hotel. Most people don't realize that JK Rowling's room actually doesn't face the castle. I totally get why Ms. Rowling didn't mind writing in this grand hotel. IMG_7497IMG_7498 IMG_7499IMG_7496  

George Heriot’s School

Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ IMG_7471 (1) Just like Hogwarts, George Heriot’s School is prestigious private school in Edinburgh with four houses and four towers. J.K. Rowling was also training to be a teacher while she was writing Harry Potter, so she probably drew inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from here. You can see the school from Greyfriar's Kirkyard. IMG_7472 Hogwarts Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ

Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

IMG_7470 This is the graveyard that supposedly inspired two Harry Potter characters, Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort) and Professor McGonagall. J.K. Rowling apparently took walks around the graveyard. A man who died in 1806 at the age of 72 named Thomas Riddell Esquire is said to have inspired Voldemort’s true name and the poet William McGonnagall may have inspired the name for Minerva McGonagall, the head of Gryffindor. Greyfriar's Kirkyard is a great spot to wander around. It has nice views of some Old Town buildings and is also famous for being the graveyard where Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who spent the the rest of his life sitting on his master's grave. IMG_7474mcgonagall-300-ssIMG_7476LordvoldemortIMG_7469 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ

Victoria Street

Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2JLIMG_7478 This street is a narrow winding road with shops with another street built on top of it. People like to believe that Victoria street inspired Diagon Alley. I love this street for its colors. The street includes clothing shops, a joke shop, and a book shop (just like Diagon Alley!)

City Chambers

253 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1YJIMG_7479 Recipients of the Edinburgh Award have their handprints carved in the City Chambers (like Hollywood). As a recipient, JK Rowling’s handprints are on display there.

Dog House 

18-22 Clerk Street, Edinburgh EH8 9HXIMG_8173 Okay, so this did not inspire Harry Potter, but no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a pub experience. Also, this pub serves butterbeer, just like Three Broomsticks in the Harry Potter books! A pint of butterbeer costs £3.30 (a half pint is £1.70). My husband didn't like it, but I thought it was fine because I only like sweet drinks. They recently started serving some awesome wings from Wings (as featured on Buzzfeed’s List of 21 Things to Eat in Edinburgh Right Now). The wings were solid although we probably shouldn't have ordered the Taps Aff (highest level of spice). That one was crazy spicy. The pub is also home to Hero, the English bulldog, the chillest and cutest dog ever. Don't forget that even bulldogs were part of the world of Harry Potter (Marjorie Dursley’s dog)! IMG_8176 IMG_8174 IMG_8175IMG_8177Hero the Dogripper the dog Last but not least, for my friends who are real Harry Pottter fans, you can take a walking tour of Edinburgh designed especially for people like you. It’s called the Potter Trail and it’s free…although I just outlined all the spots for you to do your own Harry Potter-Inspired tour of Edinburgh.


My name is Chelsea and I’m an ESFJ. I love wearing yoga pants, eating avocados, and Disneyland. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studied hospitality management and theatre in Southern California, and am currently stranded in Scotland while my husband works on a PhD. In the meantime, I work for a five-star hotel and am trying to enjoy its perks all around Europe.