Scotland is the birthplace of haggis, scotch whiskey, and golf. Most importantly though, Scotland is the birthplace of Harry Potter. Looking around the Scottish countryside, with its rolling hills and mass expanse of greenery, there’s no wonder that JK Rowling created a world filled with witchcraft and wizardry. Travelling to Scotland is like walking through a magical wonderland. If you’re a Potterhead (like me), get out your brooms and acquire your wands because we’re about to unlock the wondrous world that is Harry Potter’s Scotland. Alohomora!
Ride the Jacobite Steam Train (aka The Hogwarts Express)
If you’ve ever dreamt of getting your Hogwarts letter, running through Platform 9 ¾, and riding on the Hogwarts Express, the Jacobite Steam Train is the closest any Muggle will ever get. Located in the sleepy town of Fort William, you can board the Jacobite Steam Train and ride the two-hour scenic route to Hogwarts – I mean, the fishing town of Mallaig. On the way there, you can see quite a few of the famous filming sites from outside your window. The pure magic comes from crossing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. It’s the same viaduct from the movies, which is enough to get any Potterhead’s heart racing. On board, you can get Butterbeer Hot Chocolate or a more adult Dementor’s Kiss. Make sure to scream “We’ll take the lot!” when your server asks if you’d like anything from the trolley. You can either get the Harry Potter VIP experience, which means you can sit in a train carriage like the ones in the movies or you can ride in the ordinary train cars. The tickets for the steam train sell out FAST, so it’s best to be a Hermione and book months in advance. Either way, it’s sure to be a magical look into Harry Potter’s Scotland.
📍 Fort William station, Highland PH33 6TQ
➡ Tickets: www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite
Hike to see the train go over the Glenfinnan Viaduct
Though you get to cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the Jacobite Steam Train, it can be a stampede trying to get to the proper window and putting your camera or phone out the window to get the shot can be a bit exhilarating. To get the full view of the Glenfinnan, you can hike about 10 minutes from the Viaduct Viewing station to get a perfect view of the Glenfinnan in all its glory. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it just in time to see the Jacobite Steam train crossing the viaduct, steam rising into the air.
📍 A830 Rd, Glenfinnan, Inverness-shire, PH37 4
➡ Directions and timetables: www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/glenfinnan-monument
Stop and see the sights in Glencoe
Driving through the Scottish Highlands feels like a dream. Everywhere you look, it’s like you’ve ventured into Rowling’s imagination. Driving through Glencoe is indeed the moment when you realize you’ve stumbled into Harry Potter’s Scotland. Glencoe is the filming location for Hagrid’s Hut, so walking through the green marsh is spellbinding (pun intended) because you can almost imagine yourself walking alongside Harry and his friends to Hagrid’s place. You might also recognize Glencoe as the place where Hermione punches Malfoy and the moment where Xenophilius Lovegood calls the Death Eaters on Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.
📍 Glencoe, Highland
Visit Glasgow University
Conspiracy theory: Glasgow University, with its Gothic spires, is Hogwarts in disguise. Sitting on top of a hill right next to Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow, you can see why one could develop this hypothesis. Glasgow University, one of Scotland’s oldest universities, is built with ashen brown bricks and its roof slopes up in castle-like peaks. Anyone can explore the campus during the day, and that means you’ll be able to wander the campus grounds for as long as you’d like. Wonder in awe at the cloisters that look like the Great Hall and climb the massive staircases to see if they move when no one is looking. Some of the University’s famous alumni include Lord Kelvin, Gerard Butler…. and Harry James Potter, perhaps?
📍 University Avenue, Glasgow G12 8QQ
Walk down Victoria Street
Victoria St in Edinburgh is what inspired Rowling to create Diagon Alley. Located diagonally (get it?) up a hill, Victoria St is a rainbow of colours amongst the older, browner buildings often seen in Edinburgh. The buildings are an array of blue and bright pinks. The street is littered with coffee shops, magic shops, and Harry Potter souvenir shops. For the hardcore Harry Potter fans, there is a joke shop nestled at the end of the street — precisely like the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
📍 Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2JW
Explore The Elephant House
Known as being the ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’, the Elephant House is where JK Rowling (allegedly) spent most of her time writing the first few Harry Potter books. It’s a rite of passage for any Potterhead passing through Edinburgh. The cafe is bright and cheery, filled with elephant statues and the hustle and bustle of any popular cafe. What makes The Elephant House so unique, though, are their bathrooms. That may sound strange but – bear with me – the bathrooms are covered floor-to-ceiling with graffiti written by other Harry Potter fans. You could spend at least fifteen minutes in there, laughing at all the Harry Potter jokes and quotes written on the wall. Remember to bring a Sharpie so you can add your own – and don’t worry, the staff not only allow writing on the bathroom walls, but they in fact encourage it.
📍 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Have a coffee at Spoon
Spoon, known initially as Nicolson’s Cafe, is the place where JK Rowling wrote the first few pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on napkins. However, the cafe doesn’t claim that it’s the ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’ the way The Elephant House does. Many say it deserves the credit, though. It’s not as much of an experience as visiting The Elephant House, but regardless of this, JK Rowling graced the cafe with her presence often, so it’s worth a visit. Also, their coffee is fantastic.
📍 6A Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DH
Try Afternoon Tea at the Balmoral Hotel
The Balmoral Hotel is where Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In many ways, The Balmoral Hotel is the final resting place of beloved characters like Dobby, Fred, Padfoot, and Mad-Eye Moody. It’s also the place where Rowling spilt her soul and finished the installation of the books that changed so many lives (I’m not crying, you are…?). The Balmoral Hotel is quite fancy, so the best way to explore the hotel is by booking afternoon tea in their Palm Court restaurant. If you, by any chance, happen to have £1,500 lying around, you can also pay to stay in the JK Rowling Suite, which holds the writing desk where Rowling wrote that “All was well”. Rowling also scribbled “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007” in black marker on the wall.
📍 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
Visit Tom Riddle’s grave
Located in the eerie Greyfriars’ Kirkyard is the real grave of Thomas Riddle Esquire. JK Rowling has spoken about how the graveyard was a place of peace for her. It’s no wonder that all her time wandering through the kirkyard (Scottish for churchyard) caused her to gain inspiration from the gravestones. Along with Tom Riddle’s grave, you can also find the graves of Elizabeth Moodie and William McGonagall. One can imagine that they are the distant relatives of Mad-Eye Moody and Professor McGonagall. You can find Tom Riddle’s grave on our good ole handy friend, Google Maps, along with directions to other Harry Potter-inspired gravestones in Greyfriars on YouTube. You may also be able to find James Potter and the tomb of Peeves the Poltergeist.
📍 Greyfriars Kirkyard, Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE
Peek through the gate at George Heriot’s School
After you’ve found Tom Riddle’s grave, peek through the gates at George Heriot’s School, which was another inspiration for Hogwarts. Although you can’t walk through campus the way you can at Glasgow University, you can see why Rowling took inspiration from it. The architecture is gorgeous and evocative of a medieval castle. The school is indeed not lacking in character. Though George Heriot’s School is now one of the most prestigious primary schools in the UK, it was once a hospital that cared for orphans. Even today, the school has a fund set up that allows the administration to welcome orphaned children with open arms, tuition-free. Both the ‘Boy Who Lived’ and Tom Riddle were orphans who were displaced and then happily welcomed at Hogwarts. The uncanny similarity between Heriot’s and Hogwarts doesn’t go unnoticed.
📍 Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh EH3 9EQ
Explore a castle
Scotland is full of castles, all of them full of magic, and all this exploration of Harry Potter’s Scotland would make just about anyone itch to explore a real-life castle. There are quite a few notable ones to see like Melville Castle, Cawdor Castle, Urquhart Castle, and Edinburgh Castle. If you want to kick it up a notch and honestly feel like you’re living the Harry Potter dream, you can even stay in the Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh.
About the author
Tess is an American who left her life behind in NYC to start a new one in Zurich, Switzerland. She’s also a certified bookworm and a Harry Potter nerd. On her travel blog, she writes about her adventures as an expat, self-guided literary tours in famous literary cities around the world, and mental health. You can follow her adventures on her blog or on Instagram.
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