Recently I wrote about the Game of Thrones filming locations on Ireland (the island). Scotland has also been a key filming location for several movies, including James Bond: Skyfall, Highlander and scenes in Braveheart (which was mostly filmed in Ireland). The Outlander TV series is filmed here, and Doune Castle is featured throughout Monty Python and the Holy Grail. However, Scotland is undoubtedly most famous for scenes from Harry Potter, which JK Rowling said she always considered was located here.
Edinburgh is full of Harry Potter trivia. Aside from the Elephant House Cafe incorrectly advertising itself as the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” (the story was born as an idea on a train from Manchester to London in 1990 and the first chapters were written in Portugal in 1993), there are other places in town with definite influences on the story. The Greyfriars Kirk graveyard includes tombstones for Moodie, McGonagall and none other than Thomas Riddell!
Next door to Greyfriars Kirk is the George Heriot’s School. Established in 1628 as a school for orphaned boys (sound familiar). It is now one of the more prestigious schools in Edinburgh. The students there are divided into four houses and wear posh uniforms. The building itself has four castle turrets and looks like something out of a fairy tale.
While none of the movies were specifically filmed in Edinburgh, other places you might recognize. Technically the castle used for the first two movies is just across the border in England. Alnwick Castle is quite the tourist spot now, and not exactly budget-traveler friendly.
But this story is about Scotland. Remember the Hogwarts Express? The train is a real steam train, called the Jacobite Express, and the iconic bridge the train passes over is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. If you park at the Glenfinnan train station (not the Glenfinnan Visitor Center, which only has paid parking), you can park for free and walk 1 mile along a beautiful trail through the hills to a spot overlooking the viaduct. Time it just right (around 10:50 am or 3:15 pm) and you’ll see the train pass by on the bridge, complete with whistles and puffs of steam. Just get there early, as you might have quite the crowd joining you on the slopes.
Then there is Steall Falls in Glen Nevis, just outside of Fort William. This might not be as recognizable from the fourth movie, as the clips of it are rather fast, and the massive arena where Harry battles the dragon is definitely not real. But the falls are real and stunning, cascading down the side of the mountain. What’s even cooler is that the only way to get to the waterfall is across a rope bridge, which is actually just three steel cables you have to navigate across. The trail to the falls is 1.2 miles from the last car park on the road, although the trail beyond the falls continues several more miles through the glen.
Another glen has been used for numerous scenes. This one is less recognizable since the primary components of the scenes were built on-site. That glen is Glencoe, located along the A82 highway just south of Fort William. Probably the main scene is Hagrid’s hut, which was located just north of the highway before the highway itself bends north toward the village of Glencoe. While the hut is long gone, the stark beauty of the valley remains. There are trails all over here, including the Devil’s Staircase, part of the West Highland Way heading north from Glencoe. The hikes here are a little steeper than those at Glenfinnan and Glen Nevis, but the photo below speaks for itself.
If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Scotland. The Isle of Skye (where much of Stardust was filmed) happens to be my favorite place in the world, and Edinburgh is my favorite city. Come for a day and stay for a month. Just as Harry Potter proves, there’s something magical here!