George Heriot's School

An outstanding example of Scots Renaissance architecture, now known worldwide as a mecca for Harry Potter fans.

TravelCurious Tip

Want to go inside? George Heriot’s School opens to the public on Doors Open Day in September

George Heriot’s School is renowned as an outstanding example of Scots Renaissance architecture. Its main building is a turreted edifice surrounding a large quadrangle, all built out of sandstone, and the intricate stonework above each window is unique, much of it carved by William Wallace, the then King’s master mason.

The school was built in 17th century with funds bequeathed by George Heriot, who served as goldsmith and banker to King James VI and was commonly known as Jinglin’ Geordie. On his death, he left roughly 25,000 Pound Scots to found an institution to care for the “puir, faitherless bairns” of Edinburgh.

His wish was carried out: originally known as George Heriot’s Hospital, his building served as a home and school for orphaned children until 1886, when it changed to become a fee-paying school. However, to this day it still serves its charitable purpose of providing free education to fatherless children. In recent years it has been among Edinburgh’s best performing schools.

A flash of inspiration

Pupils at George Heriot’s School belong to one of four houses: Lauriston, Greyfriars, Raeburn or Castle. If that seems a little familiar, there’s good reason: this school served as inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. JK Rowling has lived in Edinburgh for years, and wrote the first Harry Potter book while staying warm in The Elephant House cafe. Get a coffee and see where the magic happened.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Edinburgh
St Giles’ Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral has been at the spiritual heart of Edinburgh for over 900 years.
Situated below Edinburgh Castle, the Grassmarket area was not only used for trading throughout the centuries but also for public executions.
Greyfriars Kirkyard
For over five centuries, Greyfriars Kirkyard has been home to hauntings and wizards. Look out for McGonagall or something more spine-chilling, like one Tom Riddle.
Parliament Square
The historic hub of the Old Town of Edinburgh.
Elephant House
Go inside and sit at Rowling's favourite table!
George Heriot’s School / Hogwarts
Spot as many similarities as you can between George Heriot’s School and Hogwarts!

Related Tours

Harry Potter in Edinburgh: Private Half-Day Walking Tour
On this fantastic Harry Potter-inspired walking tour of Edinburgh, you will visit some of the haunts where J. K. Rowling would sip coffee and put pen to paper writing the first Harry Potter books as her baby daughter slept in her pram. Learn about this extraordinary author, see the places she drew inspiration from, and purchase novelties from Potter-themed shops. 

On your private tour, you will:

  • Meet your tour guide outside the exclusive Balmoral Hotel, where J.K. Rowling finished writing the last book in the series, the Deathly Hallows;
  • Stop by Museum Context, aka Diagon House, a shop selling all things related to Harry Potter from wands to broomsticks to stuffed Hedwigs and Harry Potter T-shirts as well as a variety of other magical goodies;
  • Walk up to Edinburgh City Chambers to see J.K. Rowling’s handprints and signature;
  • Pause at the Heart of Midlothian mosaic where Edinburgh Old Town begins to hear how Edinburgh influenced the author - and the impact J. K. Rowling has had on the city; 
  • Pass by the Writers' Museum, where the first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone / Philosopher’s Stone that J.K. Rowling illustrated went on public display;
  • Explore the narrow curved and cobbled Victoria Street, Candlemaker Row, and West Bow in the central Grassmarket Area - believed by some to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley (a cobblestone shopping street with stores selling wizardly supplies) in the Harry Potter books;
  • Enjoy a famously delicious Scottish whisky ice cream on us! 
  • Visit the Greyfriars Kirkyard after your icecream break, where several of the most prominent names in the series seem to have originated, including Riddle, Moodie and McGonagall;
  • Admire the medieval gothic architecture and house names of Edinburgh’s George Heriot's School, does it remind you of… Hogwarts?;
  • Stop outside the McEwan Hall - the graduation venue for the University of Edinburgh, and where J.K. Rowling received her honorary degree;
  • End your magical tour outside the location where it all began, where Nicholson’s once stood - the cafe where J.K. Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter books! 

In December 1993, J.K. Rowling left Portugal and moved to Edinburgh with her baby daughter, and a suitcase containing the first three chapters of Harry Potter. Living on benefits as a single mother, she plotted out the whole 7 book series, creating the magical world of witches and wizards hidden from the Muggles. Finally, on 1st September 1998, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

The rest you might say is history…

Fast-forward a decade or two, and over 500 million copies have been sold, 8 films made, with an enormous and adoring fanbase that hasn’t diminished with time.

Your private tour of J.K Rowling’s Edinburgh began when she finished the Harry Potter series with the last book the Deathly Hallows, at the Balmoral Hotel.  

Your tour takes you through the parts of Edinburgh that may have inspired J.K. Rowling’s magical world - the cobblestone streets around the Grassmarket, evocative of a certain Diagon Alley. Stop outside Edinburgh City Chambers, where you’ll see J.K. Rowling’s handprints and the McEwan Hall, where she was awarded an honorary degree from the prestigious Edinburgh University. You’ll also wander through the eerie Greyfriars Kirkyard where Rowling may have picked up some of the more famous names in the books - you will see the real Tom Riddle’s grave! 

Your magical tour ends at the location where Nicolson's Cafe once stood (now under a new name and management). It was owned by her brother-in-law and is where she would pop in to write chapters of the first Harry Potter book while her baby daughter slept. It is where the magic all began!



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