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Which University is the no. 1 choice for Harry Potter fans?

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YMCA Global Study Harry Potter Study Abroad

It’s hard to avoid the similarities between the city of Edinburgh and the world of Harry Potter as it was in this bewitching city that J K Rowling penned the iconic first book and the final pages of the universally loved series, coincidentally while she was studying at the University of Edinburgh! YMCA Global Study short courses at Edinburgh University will enable you to soak up the enchantment of the city and explore the cobblestoned streets where our world and the wizarding world first came together. The city has so many magical locations that inspired the story of our favourite bespectacled wizard, but unless you have done your research you might miss a few. Because we at YMCA Global Study are super nice (and love HP ourselves of course) we have made you a list of the top 10 must-see locations in Edinburgh for any Harry Potter fan:

You probably already know this one but it is a must-see: the Elephant House Cafe. This is where Rowling penned the very first novel before it changed all our lives. With beautiful window seating, cozy atmosphere, and a view of Edinburgh Castle it is easy to see why the author was a frequent visitor while writing the first novel – and if you need proof of it’s claim to be the “Birthplace of Harry Potter”, the cafe has devoted one of its walls to photos of Saint Rowling hard at work. And you didn’t hear this from us, but if you would like to leave your mark (and we aren’t talking lightning scars here guys) then take a trip to the loo and don’t forget a pen – the walls of the bathrooms are covered in odes to Rowling, great potter-puns, and magical pick up lines.

It has its own Hogwarts. I know they call it George Heriot’s School, but come on. This building is amazing! Its turrets and domes and castle-like exterior all add up to the school being a real-life version of Hogwarts, only it is placed in a city setting and is unfortunately missing the great lake and giant squid. The school even has four different houses just like Hogwarts, and was probably Rowling’s inspiration for the magical school’s system. Unfortunately it is not open for tours as it is a real school (those lucky kids), but this building will give you chills even from the outside as it brings your childhood imaginings to life.

Get goosebumps at Greyfriars Kirkyard, the burial place of the real Riddle family. I don’t know how the Scottish do it but they can even make a graveyard eerily enchanting. This one has been in use since the 16th century and carries some interesting Harry Potter related gravestones. Most well-known is that the graveyard houses the real tombstone of Thomas Riddell esq. and his son, who very likely inspired the similarly spelled Tom Riddle we all know and love (to hate). Less well-known is another Harry Potter related tombstone in the graveyard, apparently belonging to a notoriously bad poet – one William McGonagall. His relation to fan-fave Minerva is unknown but how many McGonagalls can there be really?

Have a cuppa at Spoon – another haunt of the fabulous author extraordinaire. Although Elephant House is more well-known, Rowling loved the environment of cafes and restaurants for writing her novels and Spoon was another place she visited regularly. Back then it was called Nicolson’s Cafe, yet the building itself has not changed much and it is easy to see how someone could relax and let their imagination go wild here. Plus, as it is the less well-known of Rowling’s haunts and doesn’t shout its Potter connections as loudly as Elephant House, this cafe is in my opinion a great place to visit if you are looking to experience the Harry Potter connections without the touristy rush.

Ever fancied shopping on Diagon Alley? Victoria Street and Candlemaker Row are very convincing substitutes. Seriously, these streets are so similar to the famous wizard shopping strip in London you may find yourself walking into a store and asking for directions to Gringotts. Take a stroll down the winding streets and have a look at the quirky collection of shops and you can easily imagine you are shopping for your school supplies, plus keep a look out for the plaque and mural on Candlemaker Row celebrating this link to the books!

Why not visit the room where Rowling put down her pen and celebrated after finishing the final book? Rowling couldn’t really keep up her cafe-writing trend by the time she was finishing off the last book, and so the Balmoral Hotel became the place where the final pages were penned. Room 552 has since been renamed “The Rowling Suite” and still contains the writing desk where she made the difficult decisions of who would survive the final battle and what would become of Harry Potter. It also contains a marble bust of the Greek god Hermes which Rowling signed and dated on the 11th of January 2007, after popping some champagne of course, because this was the day she finished the series forever…. or so she said (we live in hope).

Knowing where the Edinburgh City Chambers are on the Royal Mile might be handy. And I say handy because the recipients of the Edinburgh Award get to have their handprints immortalised in the City Chambers courtyard – I hope you appreciate the work I put into that pun. The award is presented to an individual who has made a positive impact on the city, so of course it was given to a well-deserving J K Rowling in 2008. In light of her receiving this award I think this is an especially great place to visit and think about how much of an impact this series has had on so much more than just the city of Edinburgh, it’s impacted the world.

Find the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. Okay, here is not the place for the many pickup lines associated with the chamber. It is the place however to let you know that on the Royal Mile there is also an unusual structure which looks eerily similar to the one in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom which opens to reveal the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets… enemies of the heir beware.

Original Drawings by J K Rowling, and I’m not JKing. Puns aside, make sure you check out The Writer’s Museum. Okay I’ve had my pun-fun and you’ve all put up with it long enough, but trust me it’s worth it for this trip – the Edinburgh Writer’s Museum has a first-edition copy of the Philosophers Stone that includes original drawings (can I say this enough!) AND personal anecdotes from J K Rowling herself. This book is one-of-a-kind and was donated by Rowling to raise money for English PEN and Rowling’s own charity Lumos – it is definitely a must-see.

Harry Potter on campus? Check out Teviot Row House and familiarly named Potterow. There are even Harry Potter associations on the University of Edinburgh campus itself, with a street called Potterow  – there had to be some inspiration for Rowling there right?  There is also a building called Teviot Row House that is the oldest purpose-built student union in the world and looks very much like one of the many wings of the Hogwarts castle. You would be in the perfect position to really soak up the city’s magic if you applied for one of YMCA Global Study’s courses at Edinburgh University!

If this article has piqued your interest in Edinburgh and YMCA Global Study, and I hope it has, then make sure you check out our website! You should also subscribe to our email newsletter for more content like this as well as some information on the different short study courses we run at a range of universities across the world.


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