I started writing this post in the bar of Edinburgh’s famous Balmoral Hotel, where J.K. Rowling lived while she wrote the final Harry Potter book.
As I sat there with my laptop, propped up by a tartan-plaid pillow, sipping a very overpriced cocktail, the staff and other patrons were probably thinking, “Wow, she could be the next J.K. Rowling, writing the next big thing!”
Or… maybe not. Maybe she’s just writing a blog that only her parents read. Let’s give the poor girl some complimentary bar snacks.
Anyhow, in addition to the Balmoral Hotel, there are quite a few Harry Potter-related sights in Scotland, and M and I saw several of them on our trip:
The third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, filmed the scenes outside Hagrid’s hut on location here. It’s stunningly gorgeous, and we had lunch here in the hikers’ inn/pub after our hike.
Jacobite Steam Train
The scenes of the Hogwarts Express with the train steaming its way north to Hogwarts along dramatic scenery and across the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct were filmed in Scotland. We didn’t actually go see this ourselves, as it’s a bit farther north than where we were, but you can actually take a ride on a steam train along the route (the train doesn’t look like the red Hogwarts Express, though; you can see that on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.)
Edinburgh is where J.K. Rowling primarily wrote the books, and we saw more than a few people walking around wearing their HP fan attire, from Chudley Cannons t-shirts to full-on wizard robes.
The Elephant House Cafe
The self-proclaimed “birthplace of Harry Potter,” this is the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling spent time writing the first book, back when she was penniless. Lots of fans flock here and there are now photos of her sitting there (posed, after she became famous) up in the restaurant, and supposedly there’s a lot of HP-themed fan graffiti on the walls of the loos (I didn’t actually go in to confirm this).
Grey Friars Kirkyard
This is definitely one of the spookiest graveyards I’ve been to, and I can imagine Ms. Rowling wandering around here and drawing inspiration from the place. In fact, there’s a Thomas Riddell buried here. She’s confirmed that there could be a subconscious connection there, but hasn’t said outright that’s where she got the name for the most dastardly wizard of all time. (There’s also a McGonagall buried in here.)
This curved, whimsical street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley—there’s even a joke shop. It now has a shop selling HP merch, called Diagon House, and a queue out front to get in.
J.K. Rowling’s Hand Prints
The City Chambers building along the Royal Mile features the bronze hand prints of winners of the prestigious Edinburgh Award, which Rowling won in 2008.
George Heriot’s School
This turreted, castle-like 17th-century school is said to be the inspiration for Hogwarts.
Finally, the Balmoral Hotel, where she lived while she wrote the last book. The suite she inhabited has been renamed in her honour, and now bears an owl-shaped door knocker and includes the writing desk she used during her stay. And costs somewhere around £1,000 a night. A £15 cocktail doesn’t seem quite so bad now.