Have you heard of the Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh? Does the thought of eating here make you get all Wingardium Leviosa? Then you are a true Harry Potter fan.
Edinburgh is a town with serious literary chops, amazing art, architecture and history to explore. But one of the things I was most excited to see when I went to Edinburgh, was the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book.
She was a young mom at the time, and poor. She spent a lot of time in the cafe writing, and staying warm, her baby in the pram beside her as she dreamed up a whole other world.
I wonder if she had any idea of the impact her books would have on her life, the city of Edinburgh and people all over the world?
There’s still something like magic abuzz in this cozy, inviting, pinkish-tinted cafe. The intoxicating, baked-in scent of coffee and cakes immediately puts you at ease.
An eclectic but homey collection of elephant themed items and first edition books, signed by JK herself, work a spell.
Despite celebrity, there’s nothing pretentious about this neighborhood cafe. Piles of pamphlets and local event flyers line the windowsills. Faded news clippings and children’s drawings cling cheerfully to the walls.
It’s a safe-zone in plain sight of the Hogwarts-like castle on the hill above, and the dark gothic cemetery below. It’s almost reminiscent of the Weasley’s home. All that’s missing are the self-stirring pots and floating clicking needles, magically knitting sweaters.
But there is a constant tip-tip-tapping of other dreamers who settle in by the front window, laptops perched on the bar. You can’t fault them for hoping that some of the residual magic can still rub off on a muggle.
Today, unsurprisingly, the Elephant House is a popular bucket list destination for Harry Potter fans from all over the world. It’s part of the international pilgrimage path. There’s almost always a line out the door, and you must wait to be seated. We found the crowds thinned and the wait time pretty short in the evening, however.
Signs on the door ask visitors to make a donation to the cafe’s current charity, if you just want to come in and take pictures, which is really lovely. If you’re going to be a famous cafe, why not make the world a better place? When we visited they were raising funds to help schoolchildren in a poor area in the North of the Philippines.
They serve light fare as well as tea and cakes at the cafe. I was delighted to see all the gluten free options on the menu, including the delicious Elephant shortbread and a classic Victoria Sponge.
If you visit, you MUST use the restroom. Every inch of space is covered with grafitti. My favorite quote was on the back of the toilet. “This way to the Ministry of Magic.” You guessed it. The arrow was pointing right into the bowl.
From infants to octogenarians, and from every corner of the world. It’s fun to people watch and guess which visitors might be wizards in disguise.
I believe in magic, and that JK Rowling tapped into a vein of storytelling magic and inspiration that runs through the city of Edinburgh. It was fun just to sit and soak in the place where her talent blossomed and her vision launched. The world is a different place for that talent and vision.
The Elephant House Cafe still seems like exactly the sort of place to write and dream in, or just while away an hour having delicious tea and cakes.
Want to know where JK Rowling drew some of the inspiration for the names of her characters? Check out the nearby Greyfriars Cemetery behind the cafe. It’s one of the most haunted graveyards in the world!
CNN has an excellent list of all the other places Harry Potter fans must check out in and around Edinburgh.