The Real World of Harry Potter - Edinburgh Edition
January 1, 1970
Spoon Cafe (formerly Nicolson’s Cafe)
6A Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DH
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.
21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN
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.
1 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
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.
Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ
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.
Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ
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.
Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ
Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2JL
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!)
253 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ
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.
18-22 Clerk Street, Edinburgh EH8 9HX
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)!
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.