Study Abroad Feature: Edinburgh and Harry Potter

4 min read

Olivia Papp ’23

Features Editor

Last week, I wrote about Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, a place that is thought to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter universe. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a few of the connections between the Harry Potter series and Edinburgh.  

This week in Edinburgh, Scotland, my friend and I were walking alongside the cobble-stoned street of the Royal Mile when we walked by a tour group that appeared to be Harry Potter themed, per the umbrella which read “Harry Potter guided tour.” As Harry Potter nerds, we both promptly joined the tour group. From this hour-and-a-half walking tour around Edinburgh, I learned so much about the ties between the Harry Potter wizarding world and Edinburgh. Subsequently, I learned much about J.K. Rowling’s process in writing the series which would transcend children’s literature and make reading cool again.  

On the tour, I learned that the original birthplace of the story of the boy who lived was on a train from Manchester to King’s Cross station in 1990. While traveling and peering out the window, Rowling had the idea of a magical young boy traveling to school. After grabbing a napkin, Rowling began writing down this idea.  

In 1993, Rowling moved to Edinburgh to be closer to her sister. While, at this time, she had already begun her work on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it is a known fact that she wrote a great deal of the series in Edinburgh. I also discovered that Rowling gained much of her inspiration from wandering around the historic streets of Edinburgh between her writing sessions in cafes. Rowling only needed to look up to see the cement sphinxes lounging atop the buildings or even the engrained unicorns. These mythical creatures would go on to inspire Rowling’s creativity for the Harry Potter Universe in her writing. 

The Elephant House café as well as Nicolson’s Cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, were some of the places Rowling spent most of her time writing the series in the beginning stages. A sign is posted outside the Elephant House café, reading, “Birthplace of Harry Potter,” which, of course, is not true, as Rowling had the idea of Harry Potter long before she moved to Edinburgh. As more books belonging to the Harry Potter Universe were published, Rowling found she could not merely sit down and write in cafes anymore, as she garnered too much attention. Rather, in 2006, Rowling moved her writing spot to the Balmoral Hotel for about six months, which is arguably the nicest hotel in Edinburgh.  

When walking in through the beautiful Greyfriars Kirkyard next to the gardens below Edinburgh Castle, a few of the names on graves correlate to the Harry Potter universe. As Rowling did stroll through Edinburgh for inspiration, it is clear she must have wandered around the Kirkyard as well. As an example, Tom Riddel, the inspiration and alias for the character Voldemort, is memorialized in the graveyard. Another name that appears on a grave is William McGonagall, who shares the same last name with the fictional character Minerva McGonagall, who is one of Harry’s professors at Hogwarts. Another name is Elizabeth Moodie, suspected to have inspired the character Alastor Moody or ‘Mad-Eye Moody.’ While Rowling never did directly admit to intentionally using these names for her books, she did say they may have been a subconscious inspiration for her to write them in.  

On the tour, we walked by Rowling’s handprints in the cement. It seemed as if her hands had been scuffed up a bit, as the cemented area was a bit smudged. This could be because many people put their hands over her prints. Her handprints are in front of the Edinburgh City Chambers and were put there after she won the Edinburgh Award in 2008, shortly after having finished writing the final installment of the Harry Potter series. The Edinburgh Award goes to a special person who has contributed much to the capital city of Scotland.  

It is incredible that each day, I get to walk along the same streets which Rowling used to walk along, looking for inspiration for, perhaps, the most popular book series in the world. For any Harry Potter fanatic, Edinburgh is a must-see destination.  

You May Also Like

+ There are no comments

Add yours