The Road Less Traveled: Top Five Harry Potter Sites in Scotland

The Road Less Traveled

Last summer my family and I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland for what turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. Traveling with kids, the Harry Potter sites were a must see, and although there are many companies that offer Harry Potter tours around Edinburgh, we were able to find and navigate the sites easily on our own.

As a bonus, although I didn't know it at the time, Edinburgh would serve as the inspiration for some of my most favorite textile designs.

Top Five Harry Potter Sites in Scotland

1. The Jacobite Steam Train Journey from Fort William to Mallaig

Hands down the highlight of our trip and a must-see for any Harry Potter fan. Harry Potter fan or not, you will marvel at the landscape whizzing past you on this 84 mile journey between Fort William and the picturesque town of Mallaig (pictured below). Travel tip... the open windows in the vestibule between the cars is a great place to stand and take pictures, especially if you want to get a shot of the Glenfinnan Viaduct (pictured above) made famous by the Harry Potter films.

2. Glencoe

Just up the road from Fort William (30 minutes or so) is Glencoe, the site of many movie film locations, including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We drove through Glencoe and didn't stop, however, this area is much more picturesque and interesting than Fort William. In retrospect, I might have stayed in Glencoe over Fort William for our visit to the area. Traveler tip... Three movie sets, including Hagrid's Hut, were built in Clachaig. Although the Glencoe sets are gone, Harry Potter fans will recognize the site opposite Clachaig Inn, which was used in filming The Half Blood Prince.

3. Greyfriars Kirkyard

This cemetery surrounds Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh. Thomas Riddle (aka Voldemort), Professor McGonagall, and Mad-Eye Moody are buried here, as is Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who is the most famous dog in Scottish history (you already know from my pooch purses that I'm a dog lover). This is the one Harry Potter spot that I wish we had had a tour because the cemetery is quite large and there is no "map" per se to lead you to the tomb of he who must not be named (sadly defaced and pictured below). Still, if it's a nice day and you are up for a scavenger hunt, your family can search the cemetery for the tombs that inspired some of JK Rowling's beloved (and not so beloved) characters. Travel tip... sign up or eavesdrop on one of The Potter Trail free tours. You can't miss these guys while walking around the cemetery. They are the guides in the robes.


4. The Elephant House

A stones throw away from Greyfriars Kirkyard is The Elephant House (aka "the birthplace of Harry Potter"). This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling worked on the first book. On our short visit to Edinburgh, we stopped there for dessert and tea several times. My kids loved it. The highlight of the cafe is undoubtedly the bathroom which is covered with signatures of Potter fans from around the world. It is the photograph I took in the bathroom (pictured below) that inspired one of my favorite original textile designs (check out my Boy Wizard Clutch). Travel tip... bring cash. Twice on our trip there the cafe's credit card machine was down and we had to run to a nearby cash machine to get cash.

5. Edinburgh Castle

Although Alnwick Castle, the film location of Hogwarts, is located 80 miles south of Edinburgh (about a two hour drive), I can't help but think that Edinburgh Castle influenced J.K. Rowling somehow. In fact in July 2005, Edinburgh Castle was the site of the launch party for The Half Blood Prince. Imagine J.K. Rowling herself reading from the book to a group of 70 youngsters at the stroke of midnight in the Great Hall. Edinburgh Castle is family friendly and fascinating. Reenactors bring the castle's storied to past to life. One of highlights of my daughter's castle visit was learning to fight with pikes in schiltrons, free with admission (pictured below). Traveler tip... Go early in the day because in the afternoon, it's crowded, really crowded.

We used Edinburgh as our base and ventured out from there. While there are many hotel options in the city, we found a great self catering apartment through Greatbase. We stayed at their Royal Mile Mansion property and couldn't have been happier. The location can't be beat (just off The Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and Hollyrood House) and a short walk to pretty much anywhere. The accommodations were spacious and gave our family of four plenty of room to spread out. I couldn't recommend Greatbase highly enough.

As mentioned above, photographs I took at The Elephant House inspired the design of my boy wizard original textile design, but I also want to mention a graffiti wall (pictured below) that inspired my Love is Love clutch. I, like many female travelers to Europe, felt a little bit anxious about taking my family abroad after the terrorist attacks in Paris. In fact we visited Edinburgh just days after the shooting at The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. I have to say that seeing this graffiti wall during a bus tour of the city, put me at ease and made me fall in love with the Scottish people even more.

While this list is just a small sampling of sites in and around Scotland, Edinburgh is quite literally a City of Literature. How can you not be inspired?

Want to learn more? Here is my list of blogs that will make you want to pack your bags and book your trip today.

1. Emma's Travel Tales

Emma's blog is like reading the travel diary from your best friend who lives in Scotland. She clearly loves writing about her home country and has lots of travel tips and tricks for visiting Scotland and beyond.

2. Blond Wayfarer

So I'm not the only one inspired by Scotland and J.K. Rowling. Rowling inspired Rachel Elizabeth, aka Blond Wayfarer, as well. Start by reading her blog post about How Scotland Changed Her Life and for more literary inspiration, check out her post on The Best Bookish Cities in Europe.

3. A Dangerous Business

For more Scotland eye candy that will literally make you want to pack your bags and go, check out Amanda's blog post Photos That Will Make You Want to Pack Your Bags and Move to Scotland. Amanda also has a nice post on Hunting for Harry Potter in the UK.

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