Believe it or not, June 2017 marks two decades since the first book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was published. Plenty of pilgrimage sites await fans in Scotland, the author’s homeland. Even if you’re going for the kids, you don’t need to know a thing about Quidditch or Muggles to appreciate the country’s enchanting landscapes.
Scotland’s stately capital brims with many real-life references and literary influences on the Harry Potter books. Join The Potter Trail (meets at the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby on George IV Bridge; check website for tour dates and times), a free walking tour that gives an inside look at the hidden nooks that highlight the city’s history in connection with the series.
Whether or not you join the tour, be sure to drop by The Elephant House (21 George IV Bridge; 011-44-0131-220-5355; tea for two, $7*), where Rowling drafted her early novels while gazing out at Edinburgh Castle. You won’t find Butterbeer on the menu, but you can order a proper cup of tea. Once fortified, round the corner to the moody cemetery of Greyfriars Kirk (Candlemaker Row, 011-44-131-664-4314). Rowling may have found inspiration here for the original name of archvillain Lord Voldemort (Tom Riddle) at the gravestone of Thomas Riddell.
Farther afield in the Highlands, hop on old-timey locomotives to gaze out at the landscape that has served as the setting of magical tales even before Potter came along. You can board the Jacobite Steam Train (single rides, from $39)—also known as the Hogwarts Express—to see the countryside and traverse the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which are shown in the Harry Potter films. The line begins and ends at the town of Fort William. From there, it’s about seven miles to Steall Falls, the backdrop of the swashbuckling Triwizard Tournament scene in the 2005 movie version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
While you’re in the British Isles, you may want to cross the border to London for one more wizardly experience. In honor of the 20th anniversary, on October 20 the British Library (96 Euston Rd.; 011-44-0330-333-1144; admission, $21) is unveiling a new exhibition, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” which will cover everything from medieval depictions of some of the mythical creatures found in the series to the origins of the philosopher’s stone.
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: June 2017