Edinburgh for the Broke Harry Potter Fanatic! – Around the ‘burgh on 80 Pounds
Having initially promised to visit Edinburgh to ring in 2016, I ended up leaving it far too late to book flights within my price range, and spent New Years’ in Kilkenny instead. Luckily I have a friend with whom I could stay in Scotland, and so Ryanair’s flash sale before Christmas allowed me to secure flights from Dublin- Edinburgh for €19.99 for a more budget-friendly weekend in January! (That’s about £15!)
Exceedingly so. The Airlink bus to and from the airport which leaves every 15-20 minutes or so was £7.50 for a return ticket, and brought me straight to my destination. While I contributed to the kitty in my friends’ flat for food and drink to last us the weekend (-£20), I still felt guilty enough about staying that I made a point to research all things Harry Potter around the city for us to do free of charge. Inspired by this post on the subject by World of Wanderlust, I happily concluded that an interesting day-tour was entirely feasible and cheap in such a dynamic and fascinating city.
Because who doesn’t love Harry Potter?
The truth is that Edinburgh is an exciting and beautiful enough city to mean that any walk up down and around the cobbled streets and ancient architectural delights is sure to appeal to anyone, be they a fan of Harry Potter or not.
Our first stop, The Elephant House Café, or ‘The Birthplace of Harry Potter’, has risen to fame as the spot where J.K. Rowling sat writing the beginnings of the series that came to define a generation (and my entire childhood, BA degree, the reason I did English in college, and probably the reason I’m writing this right now).
Arguably the most obvious choice on the list, I was excited to visit this place, but in hindsight The Elephant House turned out to be a café….fairly similar to any other.
Elephants aside, the fact that J.K. Rowling once sat in there and drank a mediocre cup of coffee and presumably a bowl or two of the rather bland carrot soup is definitely the most exciting thing to have ever happened within those walls.
Coffee, Harry Potter memorabilia and fans’ scribblings on the bathroom walls, along with cute elephant statues and pictures everywhere you can look, the place sounds ideal, right? Yes, in theory. But where The Elephant House excels in reputation, decor and renown, it lacks seriously in the quality of service department. As I’ve described, the coffee itself was mediocre, and the soup only barely satisfactory for the price we paid (£8-£10). As an enormous Harry Potter, coffee, and elephant fan, the prospect of visiting this place had possibly been built up far too much for me, and I left feeling somewhat disgruntled and irritated particularly by the persistant use of the Jokerman font on everything from the sign outside to the cheaply crafted mugs for sale by the till. Still, nobody ever said it was famous for anything but its proximity to JK Rowling in the throes of writers’ inspiration. I’ve written things in worse places.
We continued our tour down towards Greyfriars Kirk graveyard, a spooky burial ground which gave me chills down my spine even in the middle of the day – granted, Edinburgh in January is FREEZING at the best of times, but Greyfriars’ was on another level. It took us several rounds of the fairly small but hilly area to find what we were looking for – a medium-sized headstone detailing the remains of the Riddle family, the father of whom, Thomas, has unknowningly lent his name to a famous villian Who Must Not for Ministry reasons, ever Be Named. Tom Riddle, or Lord Voldemort, as those in the wizarding world have come to know him. The name on the headstone which spurred Rowling on to name the most good-looking boy in Slytherin was fairly nondescript, with nothing special to note except for the slightly more worn down pathway and footprints both leading up to and surrounding it.
Onwards from here we merely walked past the Balmoral Hotel into which Rowling supposedly checked in order to finish the 7th installment of the series, feeling more and more like we were taking a tour of Rowling’s psyche in the initial days of her inspiration and writing, rather than a tour of the magical world itself – something I for one was entirely happy to discover. I can imagine how others’ might expect slightly more obvious and tourist-directed attractions selling Potter merchandise and boasting themselves as a huge part of the series, but in all honestly, the genuine nature of this stunning city made it obvious how such inspiration and refuge had been drawn from it in the first place, and the lack of tourist extravagance was a huge bonus for me.
Unrelated to the Potter series, but beautiful all the same, we took a walk up Calton’s Hill to catch a 360 view of the city, and freeze off the remaining tips of our fingers. We also walked most of The Royal Mile, and got great views of the castle and the exterior of Camera Obscura.
That evening, in true cheapskate style that suited my poor purse down to the ground, we attended a house party where food and drink was supplied, and entry to the pub afterwards was free. El Barrio, a Latino pub/club proved a great evening’s entertainment with great music, cheap drinks (–£5) and people alike! The Three Sisters not too far away has also proven a favourite spot on previous occasions, but one night out this particular weekend just after Christmas was more than enough to satisfy everyone!
A yoga class at Meadowlark Yoga (£12) the following morning and a tasty vegetarian lunch at the Forest Café (£5-£7) which caters for Edinburgh’s artistically-minded and creative cretins (ie, the biggest hipsters in Scotland), I was happy to conclude that my weekend away had altogether cost no more than around £80 pounds (flights included).
I spent my final 3 pounds on a hot chocolate in the airport as I left the chilly Scotland behind to return to an equally as freezing Dublin airport. All in all a great weekend and definitely extremely affordable.
But fecking COLD!!
WOW – World of Wanderlust
The Elephant House
The Royal Mile Edinburgh
The Three Sisters Edinburgh – Website/Facebook/TripAdvisor
Calton’s Hill Edinburgh