Every Harry Potter fan knows that the world's most famous wizard was "born" in Edinburgh, Scotland.
This is where JK Rowling was living while working on the first book(s) of the series - as well as where she would finish the last pages of the final one.
If you've ever wondered where exactly the first words in these iconic books were ever written out, then look no further!
To see these iconic locations yourself, just check out our virtual tour, or consider taking our GPS-Enabled Self-Guided Harry Potter Walking Tour of Edinburgh.
There, you'll find all of the locations we list below as well as a helpful map to help you plan your journey!
6 A Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DH (map)
This is a must-visit for every Harry Potter fan. In 1997, this cafe was owned by JK Rowling’s brother-in-law, Roger Moore.
At the time, Rowling didn’t have much money so she would hide out in cafes.
Ordering a coffee now and again, she worked on the groundbreaking first book of her Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
She spent a lot of her time here, owing to the family connection as she knew she could stay as long as she liked.
After that cafe closed, the space was turned into a Chinese restaurant and then into a cafe called Spoon.
After that, it was renamed Nicolson's (which was the name it traded under during the time of Roger Moore) and just recently has been renamed AGAIN back to Spoon.
Although the Elephant Cafe usually claims the title of the “birthplace of Harry Potter” we know that Spoon played just as large a role in the creation of the legendary series.
Speaking to the BBC in 2001 Rowling described Nicolson’s as, “...the place where I wrote huge parts of the book.”
And we know where she sat as she also revealed she always preferred the window street.
As a nod to its history, on the side of the building sits an understated plaque.
It reports, “JK Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of Harry Potter in the rooms on the first floor of this building.”
21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN (map)
Take note that the Elephant House was severely damaged in a fire in 2021 and, as of the end of 2022, has still not reopened.
The previous owners have gone into liquidation so the future of this important Edinburgh landmark is currently unclear.
This unassuming cafe is a destination for thousands of Harry Potter fans every year - as well as fans of Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith who were well-known patrons.
A sign on the front of the cafe erroneously claims that this is the “birthplace” of Harry Potter. But Rowling herself addressed this sign and is quoted as saying:
“I’d been writing Potter for several years before I ever set foot in this cafe, so it’s not the birthplace, but I *did* write in there so we’ll let them off!”
So although this claim isn’t true (that accolade goes to the former Spoon Cafe), a lot of Harry Potter was written inside this cafe.
JK Rowling spent a lot of time here whilst writing her second and third Harry Potter books in particular: The Chamber of Secrets and the The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Around the time she was working on Azkaban she actually gave an interview here inside the Cafe.
Interestingly, the upper-floor windows give views of some Potter-esque locations in the city.
Firstly, it's easy to spot Edinburgh Castle perched on top of the rocky hill - just as Hogwarts is.
It's also possible to glimpse George Heriot’s School with 4 distinct towers in which students belong to 4 different houses.
And lastly, there's a clear look down Candlemaker Row - bearing a non-coincidental similarity to Diagon Alley.
From this cafe, it is easy to see Rowling's inspiration nearly everywhere you look.
And if you ever visit, make sure to take a trip to the loo!
The walls are absolutely covered in Harry Potter graffiti with messages and drawings left by fans who have traveled from all over the world to come here.
26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ (map)
Okay, so JK Rowling never actually did any physical writing while she was in this kirkyard (that we know of, anyway..!).
But, it's included on the list as this is where she found the names of some of the characters she would soon be bringing to life on the page!
As the kirkyard is not far from the cafes JK Rowling used to frequent, she would occasionally walk through here for inspiration.
Today, Harry Potter fans from around the world come here to see the gravestones whose engravings inspired so many of the book’s characters.
Here you will find the tombs of Thomas Riddell, who lent his name to that of the Dark Lord Himself, as well as that of William McGonagall a poet who shares a surname with the head of Gryffindor House, and a Mrs. Elizabeth Moodie who perhaps gave her name to a certain Mad-Eyed Professor.
According to Rowling, she did not deliberately name Tom Riddle after the gravestone here, but she did admit it may have subconsciously been an inspiration.
She also officially confirmed that McGonagall’s name did indeed come from the “very bad poet” buried here.
It’s worth mentioning that in a 1999 interview with Barnes and Noble, Rowling is quoted as saying:
“And so far I have got names from saints, place names, war memorials, gravestones. I just collect them — I am so interested in names.” So it would appear this kirkyard did indeed inspire her.
Traverse Theatre Cafe
10 Cambridge St, Edinburgh EH1 2ED (map)
The Traverse Theatre Cafe doesn't get the recognition of Spoon and Elephant House.
However, it was here that JK Rowling not only wrote parts of the Harry Potter books, but it was where she first met the man who, unbeknownst to either of them at the time, would direct her West End Show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Director John Tiffany was working at the Traverse Theatre as the assistant director in the mid-1990's at the same time JK Rowling was working on her first books.
Tiffany said in an interview in 2015:
"Now and again I would see a woman with a pram writing in longhand in the café. We knew each other to nod at. I’d be having meetings with writers and actors and I’d see her. Eventually, we’d say hello to each other..."
A couple of years later, the director saw Rowling's picture in a newspaper and remembered the woman he had seen so often writing in the theatre cafe.
In 2012, the author was in talks to create a West End theatre show based on the Potter novels, and the show's producers arranged a meeting between her and their proposed director.
When John Tiffany and JK Rowling were introduced to each other, JK insisted she had met him before - and Tiffany brought up the Traverse Theatre, passing what turned out to be a very easy job interview!
So although this location doesn't come with the name recognition of some of the others, we know from both Tiffany and Rowling that she spent plenty of time writing at the Traverse Theatre Cafe.
The Balmoral Hotel
1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ (map)
JK Rowling began writing her iconic book series in a number of cafes, but she would finish it in one of the finest hotels in the city, The Balmoral.
The Balmoral is a 5-star 19th-century hotel, designed by architect William Hamilton Beattie, whose work in Edinburgh is prevalent, although this is clearly his masterpiece.
It was at the Balmoral, in Room 552, that JK Rowling typed out the final words of The Deathly Hallows.
Today, the room has been re-named the JK Rowling Suite, and the room contains a marble bust of Hermes (now contained in a glass display case), scribbled with the following, written in JK’s own hand:
“JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room on 11th Jan 2007.”
According to Rowling, she was having a hard time finishing her novel at home, so to get away from distractions and to be able to fully concentrate, she checked herself into the Balmoral.
Reportedly, very few people knew she was there, ensuring she got the peace and quiet she needed.
Rowling herself described the situation in 2010 when she did an interview with Oprah Winfrey here at the Balmoral. She stated the following:
“It turned out to be stimulating. As I was finishing Deathly Hallows there came a day where the window cleaner came, the kids were at home, the dogs were barking and I could not work, and this light bulb went on over my head and I thought, I can throw money at this problem. I can now solve this problem. For years and years and years, I would just go to a cafe and sit in a different kind of noise and work. I thought I can go to a quiet place. so I came to this hotel because it's a beautiful hotel, but I didn't intend to stay here, but they were so nice to me here and, I think writers can be a little bit superstitious and the first day of writing went well so I kept coming back to this hotel and I ended up finishing the last of the Harry Potter books in this hotel.”
Today, Harry Potter fans can reserve to stay in the JK Rowling suite, although, it’s worth mentioning this comes with a hefty price - over £1,000 a night!
From JK Rowling’s beginnings as an unemployed single mother, writing in the cafes of Edinburgh, to the luxurious penthouse suite where the books reached their conclusion, Edinburgh can truly claim to be the home of Harry Potter.
For those not planning a trip to Edinburgh in the future, don't forget all the Harry Potter locations you can visit while you're in London.