Victoria Street Edinburgh

Victoria Street is a jamboree of colour & quirky shops, admired as the bonniest street in Edinburgh. Soaking in it’s bewitching old world charm is essential to any exploration of the old town with Tripadvisor rating it the 5th best activity in the city.

It’s reputed to be an inspiration for Diagon Alley, with a ribbon of cobbles curving upward, multiple levels hosting an eclectic throng of boutique shops and pointy roofs touching the sky it’s not impossible to see why.

The brick he had touched quivered – it wriggled – in the middle, a small hole appeared – it grew wider and wider – a second later they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway on to a cobbled street which twisted and turned out of sight.
the Philosopher’s Stone
Victoria Street Edinburgh, Diagon House Harry Potter shop @ no. 40

TRUTH  Upon consultation JK Rowling would tell you it’s not nearly so much an inspiration as her imagination, whilst tapping the wonder loom (her head).

So, fer instance, where’s Potage’s cauldron shop? And the books in the Old Town bookshop?! They don’t even bite. Not even nibble.

Rowling is precious about credit & truth. Harry Potter is greatly the result of an epic, obsessive imagination, Edinburgh’s gift was texture. Drink it in.


To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the Philosopher’s Stone in 2017, Diagon House, a stone vaulted Harry Potter shop exploded onto the scene, echoing Professor Snape’s Potions classroom.

Diagon House shared a post on Facebook:

Muggles Welcome, Relatives by Appointment. Please let us point your Nimbus 2000 in the right direction to find our two stores situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town, The Birthplace of Harry Potter.

A few more sorcerous shops stud the street outfitting pupils with the essential kit for a new term at the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world.

I’m Sam a Harry Potter tour guide (& former old town tour guide). I’m fast friends with anyone whose pulse beats faster at the sight of a lightning scar and this is my:

  1. Guide to Victoria Street’s dazzling Harry Potter shops &
  2. The block-busting confectioners which may have just apparated here from Hogsmeade.
  3. The tale of the calamitous creation of Victoria Street.
The best view of Victoria Street is near the Bow well

Museum Context 🏺
formerly Diagon House

Home of interesting curiosities for the curious...

2 stone vaults stacked one upon another connected by a twisting narrow stair, a hungry metal dragon curves along the ceiling and every shelf, nook and corner is stuffed full of a curated selection of the finest instruments of witchcraft and wizardry in Potterdom.

Diagon House a Harry Potter shop on Victoria Street
Our premier Harry Potter shop & purveyor of eye-snatching oddities

After the 20th anniversary celebration summer, the shop rebranded as Museum Context, honouring it’s eclectic Scottish collection. Potter pilgrims the world over continue to converge on the shop for it’s Tardis like transportation.

Developed by Alice and Andrew McRae, a conservation architect, this is the busy, claustrophobic full on immersive Diagon Alley experience. The same scene & bustle Harry would have experienced elbowing sniggering Slytherins aside as he struggles to purchase his new year supplies.

Owner Andrew McRae says “The unique nature of these premises feels as if it was purpose built to offer a Harry Potter collection. This building feels like it’s found its perfect usage – you walk in and it feels like you’re walking into Ollivanders.”

What to do?

Explore the wand selection, take Hogwart’s magical Quill of Acceptance and try to wrestle your your name into the stern Book of Admittance, consider a T-shirt to declare your allegiance to the boy who lived, and scare companions with the monstrous props.

If you don’t have a house scarf yet, they sell officially licensed scarves made here in Scotland. The home of Hogwarts. I’m sure JK Rowling would happily tell you Scottish sheep are the best in the world, how else could our Hebridean Black Dragons grow to 30ft (9.1m) in length?

Naughty boys and girls perhaps?

To calibrate the senses, a polyester Slytherin scarf is £24.95 at the Warner Brother’s studio tour. Museum Context has something for every pocket but what it shines at is eclectic interior decorating.

There is a second Harry Potter Museum Context similarly stuffed to the brim on Cockburn Street. I really love their teddy bear dragons - oh to be 2!
They must have breathed some kind of fire because when I read the price tag my eyes began to water.

Many of the items are exclusive to the shop, the owners want to create something unique and special, I think they have.

Museum Context’s Harry Potter shop on curvy Victoria Street with Ron Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia parked outside
Parking by permit, whomping disallowed

Beware  If you don’t have Hagrid along to guide you, you may feel jostled and harassed. And don’t place your fingers too near the monster books of Monsters. The staff have a bucket by the door full to the brim with student’s digits bitten clean-off 🩸

Enchanted Galaxy ✨

Victoria Street’s embattled Harry Potter shop. It was called ‘The boy wizard’, but Warner Brothers weren’t fans. It rebranded as ‘The Great Wizard’, but Warner Brothers: still not fans.


If you’re reading this beloved Bros, my Potter tours are actually Tolkein tours, FOR REAL, complete with dancing Hobbits in Edinburgh’s Prancing Pony. But please please please give me 5 Fantastic Beasts movies - 😘 Sam


So the owners, the Gold brothers, changed the name to "The Enchanted Galaxy", blending magical fantasy and sky-full-of-stars sci-fi. When the Brothers Warner came knocking they opened the door and said

Uh? ’Arry Rotter? Never ’eard of ’im  🤷

If Museum context, with it’s higgedly piggedly selection of curiosities is the heart of cramped and crammed Diagon Alley, then The Enchanted Galaxy is Walmart, a gleaming concept store.

It’s safe, it’s charming in its own way, if it had floating candles, you’d known they were LED and weren’t going to splosh hot wax on your head or dinner.

A Harry Potter broomstick for sale in the Great Wizard, Victoria Street
"Do not touch | Or attempt to fly" ... This broomstick’s worth more than you & your entire family Weasley

Everything’s laid out neatly and fronted and sparkling. My eyes weren’t fatigued darting around trying to drink it all in, my elbows had their full range, and I never never never, not for a moment, feared a collision with a surly Draco Malfoy. I didn’t say "Sorry" once.

There might be a hungry Acromantula crawling around in the vaults beneath George IV bridge, occasionally, late at night, pushing a drain grate aside and dragging down a hapless tourist taking them to their nest and spinning them in silk. There might be, but they’re definitely fought back out of this well groomed shop.

It’s the shop for, you know, ‘Harry Potter was alright and all that, but I just want the T-shirt not the trauma’.

While Museum Context feels authentic because of the stone vaults and it’s mix of licensed merchandise, with curious curiosities, just like the bric-a-brac Diagon or Knockturn Alley; this shop is laser focused on the Potter merch.

A room that goes on and on like Hermoine’s Hallow’s bag it offers a good range of familiar affordable-ish movie memorabilia, perfect for kids who hunger to keep up with their schoolmates.

In its sister store, Wizarding World AKA Galaxy, 47-49 South Bridge, you can take a take a selfie upon a hard wooden stall in a crazy hat, just ask Professor Mcgonagall to hoist it on your head, while the shop’s Harry Potter music transports you to Hogwarts. That shop also contains a Star Wars and marvel memorabilia. Muggles eh?

No, Tom isn’t literally related to Harry. That would be a bit Starwars.
JK Rowling

I’m reminded of one of my kind reviewers “we got our Geek on and we loved it”, this is how I feel about all our Harry potter shops. They open and I think ‘Ohhh What’s new? What haven’t I seen? What do I miss that they might have?’ I desperately want a Mad Eye. Sooo bad.

Isn’t it magical?

We pass all 3 shops on Rowling’s Edinburgh & Complete Potterhead tours; if you’re after a Harry Potter souvenir, come along and cruise the shops with me.

Find your perfect Harry Potter tour

The Mutt’s Nuts 🍺

Orwellian for The Dog’s bollocks, or in California ‘most excellent’.

JK Rowling was asked what butterbeer tastes like: “I made it up. I imagine it to taste a little bit like less sickly butterscotch.”

The Nuts have a mini-fridge bursting with bottles of chilled Butterscotch beer beside the cash register. 0% alcohol & Old Town prices but folk on my tours think they’re the Mutt’s nuts.

You wouldn’t normally say that you need anything that is stocked here. A lot of the stuff is very tongue-in-cheek, and is the sort of thing that you’d maybe give as a humorous side-present beside another main present.

The prices may not be amazingly low, but the stuff is of a great quality, and I can’t think of another place with their range of stock. Where else could you get a grow-your-own Jesus?

This is a great place to go for the person who has everything, because they almost certainly won’t have most of the stuff that this place stocks. I always find that as I wander round, I try and justify in my head why I need, for example, a really small cheese grater. If you visit, prepare to come out having bought something, whether you intend to or not!
Review by Mark W

What’s unique about shopping here?
You can get a good mix of things, we’ve got the Christmas shop on the other side so you can get Christmas decorations all year round, so I think you can’t get much more unique than that.

They look specialer than Lidl,
Yes, they’re collectables for people who come on their holidays.

Bagpipe playing Highland cows on Victoria Street Edinburgh
No Christmas tree is complete without a Highland cow playing the bagpipes

There are lots of Scottish themed ones, they’ll really make a Christmas tree pop and conjure memories of someone’s visit to Scotland.

What’s your most popular product?
Well the Harry Potter stuff is selling very well, we sell a whole range of products from books to mugs to anything you can think of... 💭 Flying Cauldron Butterbeer

What do people get most excited about when they’re kind of the shopping for Harry Potter?
Oh definitely the wands that’s why they’re right up front and center there. They’re Warner replicas [ genuine, snatched from the hands of witches and wizards ], ornaments more than toys.

Quidditch balls in Mutts Nuts Victoria Street Edinburgh
A Quidditch ball set; fake Bludgers of course, the originals kept bludgeoning the shop assistant so had to be put down

You’ve got some badges here “I would rather be at Hogwarts” yes I share that sentiment. And Hogwarts prefect badges!
[ Fred and George have even visited and enchanted some of them to say ‘Pinhead’, that got my sister’s birthday sorted. I also bought her tickets to Britain’s longest zip line. A flying Pinhead. ]

Exterior of Mutts Nuts Victoria Street Edinburgh

What’s it like working here? What do you like to do here with friends?

Well it’s meant to be the inspiration for Daigon Alley, so we’re kept busy.

I like to have an ice cream over from the police box over there which opened last year. Sit out on the Conventer’s monument, the old hanging zone you know? A bit morbid for ice cream but probably a better use of the square now. That and then going to one of the many pubs in the Grassmarket around here.

The pedestrianised Grassmarket at the bottom of Victoria Street has tables outside and in the summer it’s a very relaxed continental feel.

Jokes Aha ha ha 🥸

"We have whoopee cushions we have fake jobbies we have chattering teeth, rubber chickens, all the classics."

Do they though? They may... The remaining twin has retired & it’s in flux. It’s become a popup shop, over Halloween it was a costume shop, as of writing it’s a boutique handbag shop. The Groucho Marx fake nose & glasses adorning the shop front & defining the street in fans’ imaginations continues, alas, I fear, just for now.

Exterior joke shop Victoria Street Edinburgh Was it Weasleys?
Riding on passion & Harry’s broom Jokes Aha ha ha became a triumph, Europes’ busiest joke shop.

I interviewed the bubbly staff of the shop that was.

What’s unique about shopping here?
Ohh the friendly service, [ laughter ]
That’s not unique though, that’s honest.

But there’s not many joke shops in Edinburgh you know? It’s a novelty in itself.

What’s your most popular product?
I think the fake jobbies,
No Way! Yeah you’ve got a full range there: cat jobbies, Human jobbies and kind of biscuity dog jobbies

We sell many many masks as well, the fake horse mask, and Donald Trump masks are very popular.
Yeah you’ve got Donald Trump in 3 different colours, that is amazing.
4 actually.
That’s going to be a really scary Halloween.
Yeah there’s going to be a lot of Trumps about.

So what’s the weirdest thing you’re asked for?
Well I’ve had some weird phone calls, I guess the weirdest, well a lot of people ask for Gimp suits.
No way!
And then Phalluses in various forms.
Ah of course, Hen parties visiting the Grassmarket.

Victoria Street Edinburgh inside Joke Aha ha ha

What’s it like working on the street?
It’s great, there’s a lot of atmosphere, especially during Halloween and the festival. It gets very busy during the festival, artists come in for theatre props and magic as well. Everyone comes in, we had a few celebrities during the festival, jugglers...

Which celebrities?
Mostly standup comics, Al Murray has been in, Jack Whitehall

What did he buy?
He tried on this Trump mask, but he never bought it. He didn’t say very much he was like a little lost boy, he just let his agent do all the talking. His agent had to ask if he could use the toilet.

What would particularly interest Harry Potter fans?
The usual wands, a golden snitch, cloaks, scarves, we have ties of the various houses. Voldemort overhead mask.

I think a lot of people like to visit as well because this is what the joke shop was based on in Harry Potter, the Weasley brothers joke shop of course right on Diagon Alley [ Weasley Wizard’s Wheezes ] So we have a lot of fans coming in on their pilgrimages.

Victoria Street Edinburgh inside Joke Aha ha ha

Bains retro sweets 🍬

For many fans their favourite part of Edinburgh’s ‘Diagon Alley’, isn’t actually on Victoria Street at all. A little bit further along from Overlangshaw’s icecream police box, midway up the Southside of the Grassmarket, is Bain’s retro sweets. If you’ve never had one of Dumbledore’s hard-boiled Sherbet Lemons it’s £1.20 for 100 grams. The same place Albus gets his.

Sherbet Lemons are Muggle candy, Dumbledore has strange tastes, but Bain has sweets that grow on trees, which is a bit magic.

I just want to get inside Honeydukes!

"What’s that?" said Hermione.
"It’s the sweetshop," said Ron, a dreamy look coming over his face, "where they’ve got everything....

Pepper Imps - they make you smoke at the mouth- and great fat Chocoballs full of strawberry mousse and clotted cream, and really excellent sugar quills, which you can suck in class and just look like you’re thinking what to write next-"

"But Hogsmeade’s a very interesting place, isn’t it?" Hermione pressed on eagerly.
"In Sites of Historical Society it says the inn was the headquarters for the 1612 goblin rebellion, and the Shrieking Shack’s supposed to be the most severely haunted building in Britain-"

"- and massive sherbert balls that make you levitate a few inches off the ground while you’re sucking them," said Ron, who was plainly not listening to a word Hermione was saying.
the Prisoner of Azkaban
Bains boasts: chocolate bananas, jellied snakes, liquorice wands, Fizzing wizzes, Skippers pipes, sherbert shots, Bazooka chew bars, barrels of sour blueberry toxic waste, radiation balls, Kraktoa foam. Lord, it’s 4 walls of diabetes! And lip lickingly luscious

Mr Bain says he’ll never be rich, but it’s a job and it’s been building and building for 5 years and best of all he says "nobody can sack you". He loves his nutty customers saying his website gets orders from all over the world despite the fact the postage cost often matches the price of the order.

Bain says he does a lot of corporate functions with his sweet cart for banks etc., he says folk are never too old. Well I think close your eyes and suck a Bains’ hard boiled sweet you’re transported to an earlier age.

Make a weird memory by posing with one of Bain’s 1 meter lollies for his Facebook. You may as well, he says they don’t sell and are utterly useless, so cheer Bain up

Bains is utterly Scottish, he sells Haggis poo - Haggis poo collectors are apparently called ‘Haggis trackers’ - and Iron Bru creams. Iron Bru is Scotland’s second national drink, the sugar infusion picks us up the morning after a hard night on the Whisky.

Mr Bain’s biggest selling item is Scottish tablet, he has 350 reviews of it from all over the world. Mr and Mrs Bain make 8 trays of Tablet a week, so it’s like it’s just been plucked from the Tablet Tree.

What’s it taste like? Well he usually has little samples on his counter, but it’s like a softer crumblier fudge, it melts in the mouth with a buttery sweet taste.

Swish, clothes to make you pop in a slum.

I did an interview with the well spoken assistant in Swish, he made a good impression. He was passionate about Victoria Street’s identity as the most interesting sweep of boutiques in Edinburgh, and their battles to keeping the gimlet eyes of slave-wage Cafe Nero’s and the like averted.

Window of boutique fashion shop Swish Victoria Street Edinburgh
Justice for Gingers T-shirt upback

What’s it like working on Victoria Street?
Lots of interesting shops and lots of great customers, always a really positive energy and a really unique interesting street to work on.

What’s unique about shopping in Swish?
What’s unique is that we’re an independent business, Independent shops fuels the local economy and it creates an interesting vibrant store.

What’s your most popular product, what do people get really excited about when they come into the shop?
They get quite excited about quite a lot of our stock We have them wide range of stuff that appeals to a lot of different people. Probably some of the Harry Potter inspired stuff does kind of create a great reaction in people, as well as our justice for ginger T. shirts, that’s quite popular too.

Do you have a big influx of redheads then into the shop?
Yep we do, we sell them on tote-bags and mugs too, people can buy one for themselves or for a gift or a joke whatever it’s got a really wide range of appeal.

A Harry Potter canvas bag from Victoria Street's boutique Swish

So there’s this character called Ginny Weasley who has red hair she’s a very feisty, strong character, I think she’d probably go for that T-shirt if she was passing by.

We have a loose Harry Potter collection, [ about 5 distinct designs ] the store has a division between casual wear like the printed T-shirts, and what we call boutique wear, formal shirts, formal trousers, sweaters.

We try and ethically source a lot of our brands, we have a lot of different brands a wide range to suit a wide range of people [ looking for something a bit special ] and we try and include a wide range of prices to suit many people also. We try and give every customer an interesting and positive experience.

👔

They will clothe everyone from the Wizengamot to liberated House Elves and much of everything you can buy has been sourced locally; every purchase prevents chains from gobbling Edinburgh’s ‘Diagon Alley’.

If you’re after a Harry Potter T-shirt or sweater to remember your visit by, then this shop is ground zero. The designs are all dreamed up within Edinburgh and printed by upstanding elves (they take no renumeration) in a subterranean workshop just down the road, beneath the Castle; sublime craftmanship.

🦄 Swish’s unicorn tee

Florean Fortescue’s Ice cream parlour
Florean was abducted and murdered by Deatheaters. So Scotland’s smallest ice cream parlour is now run by the Bergshaw family farm and, of course, they have a snake!

A family enjoying ice cream outside Scotland's smallest icecream parlour, Overlangshaw Farmhouse at the foot of Victoria Street

The Police box sells ice cream from Over Langshaw farm, South, near Tweedbank, in the borders. The bread basket of Scotland. The farm is powered by a wind turbine called Winifred, solar panels plate the farm house roof & the ice cream is made in a machine called “Sylvester”. Everything’s organic & maximum hippy.

Occassionally Lucy Bergshaw tests her bicep power with a stint in the dream Police box, and I’ve been given the full Bergshaw briefing. Their farm is special, all their animals have been given passports and liberty.


Killer hens 🏃‍♀️💨     🐓

Seemingly normal hens, they’re basically bred for factory farms, if you open the door they sit in their cages and squawk ‘get away, I’ve got neighbours to peck’. They’re essentially brutalised House Elves, hopeless.

But ice cream needs egg yoke to keep it stuck together, or it will just slop off the cone, instant slimed hand.

So the farm has a special breed of Braveheart chicken, who every morning paint half their face blue and charge out of the shed doors crying “Freedom!”. Columbian Black Tails who stay out till nightfall, 11pm in summer, marauding the fields, seeking stray English. Menace.

Lucy Bergshaw owner of Overlangshaw Farmhouse ice cream outside her Police box on Edinburgh's Grassmarket

Lucy also told me her cousin has left her pet snake on the farm. You cannot believe how excited I got, “is it called Nagini?”, “No”, said Lucy, “it’s called No no”. Presumably it’s ravenous.

I interviewed Lucy’s wonderful assistant about life scooping, lunch & Overlangshaw’s flavours.

What’s unique about shopping here?
What’s unique, well the flavors are all very unique. We’ve got Whisky flavour, salted caramel flavour, we’ve got some wacky flavours, they’re very good.

They’re quite individual, we’re the only people who sell them because they’re made in our own farm, so you can’t get them anywhere else apart from here.
[ And a handful of fancy fancy restaurants. ]

Which one do you most often have with lunch?
Salted caramel, I feel that’s kinda perfect any weather as well, you can have it when it’s raining and you forget where you are.

Our most popular one is the Whisky one, Whisky ripple, it’s rippled with Raspberry.

What’s it like working here?
When it’s sunny like today it’s so nice working here. Before I worked in shops, and every day was the same, here every week we get different flavours.

is their sensational take on chocolate. It’s rammed full of fruit and vegetables: cherries, coconut, marshmallow, Honeycomb. [ The finger of lava rock that is the Royal Mile is, in places, a honeycomb of passages and basements carved into the rock. ] It’s like 4 of your 3 a day, so you won’t need to eat vegetables for a week. I don’t know how that works, but it’s kinda magic. Greyfriars Bobby hung around the grave of his beloved master but for dinner off he would toddle to John Traill’s coffee house. John was well to do and cynics will tell you he was merely a shrewd entrepreneur, he knew that cultivating the legend of Bobby, keeping him fed and alive was good for business.

Whatever John’s motives, when the one o’clock gun went off at the Castle, off would go Bobby tail wagging, doubtlessly enduring petting and occassionally wolfing down a chunk of carrot cake as he bewitched Traill’s patrons.

Bobby didn’t have a license though and John was harrassed by the Blue Meanies (Police) on a mission to purge the city of stray dogs. John eventually capitulated saying “Well look, he’s not my dug”.

🪓

At which point the Lord Provost William Chambers, head of the council, intervened & saved Bobby from the chop block.

John Traill wearing a Victorian suit sits at home on Keir Street beside his wife who cradles Greyfriars Bobby
John let Bobby spend the final years of his life at his family home on Keir Street

Every January we gather on the first Sunday on or after the fourteenth in Greyfriars Kirk and the present Lord Provost sermonises the life of Bobby 💞 on the anniversary of his passing. We then of course eat Greyfriars Bobby ice cream! Or at least we do 6 months later.

January?
Wir nae thae daft.

It’s a creamy carroty explosion, you’ve never tasted the like & you can ask for a wee sample.

By far the most popular flavour is

Whisky is our biggest export and our national drink, the ice cream is the most Scottish thing within a 1 mile radius, it’s more Scottish than The Castle, that’s just made of rock. It’s so Scottish the government has mandated it be served with a Saltire cross.

I’m not mad on whisky but I really like this ice cream, all the alcohol is boiled out during pasteurization just leaving a cool-warm, smoky flavour. If you’re going for a few flavours, it’s Scotland, it’s sacrilegious not to make Whisky the summit. Scotland, always on top, splat.


Over Langshaw ice cream is also available in the Dog house, a friendly dog themed pub, where they sell a properly alcoholic & biscuity Butterbeer. Fosters with a gloop of secret sauce.


Visiting? Choose your Avatar so we know how to greet you.


Multi-nationals, based outwith Scotland, such as Sandemans have run tours which breach Scotland's First Minister's guidance, thereby spreading disease. 160,000 UK citizens, no small number, have died. Members of people's families gone forever.

Local companies have endured having their guides on their tours, taking notes, to help build their own versions. They call this 'sieving' or 'filtering', their partners believe they 'do it properly' and are... sieving for gold?

This reduces local tour operators & Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 because their guides get little, much of the profits are sucked abroad. It also harms honest - originated the work - competition, because the multi-nationals lean on a cartel they've built with hotels & hostels. These partners, some 'pocketed' for a fee, spotlight multi-national's 'sieved' tours, building their review dominance.

There's little motivation to do original work if you expect the work won't pay. We're being sieved to the bottom. There's little need for tourism if its gift is congestion & hardship.

Please do not visit & norm 'sieving'.

If you go on a multi-national's tour you are helping pollute Scotland's culture & empower brands who kill 🤢

Work should pay 💪
Reject the fatcat cartel 😾↔😼↔😾 Prefer local tour providers who would love to host you, or maybe just go to Manchester instead.

Go well
Sam

Mr Wood’s fossils 🦖

Minerals & meteorites & fossils.

The Ministry make periodic visits to Mr Woods to ensure we continue to conceal our Fantastic Beasts from Muggle eyes & minds. Arguably the Ministry’s greatest triumph is that when the Muggles do find evidence of their Beastly co-habitants they discount it - puny Dunderheads 🤣

You can enjoy their wide-eyed, blinkered-minded puzzlement here. It’s a Muggle Zoo 😂

Woods is opposite the end of Victoria Street at 5 Cowgatehead. Google map 📍

Why splurge on Victoria? 💸

If there’s something you’ve always fancied from the wizarding world, or you know someone who’ll cherish your impulse, (or extravagance), Edinburgh is the most meaningful and memorable place to splash the ₲alleons.

And if you spend here it allows us to buy pitchforks to fend off the Acromantula colony. I swear it’s growing. Where’s Newt when you need him?

I’ve written a tour of Harry Potter locations tracking Rowling’s progress, for fellow fans. We visit the heart of Edinburgh’s Wizarding commerce, Victoria Street, & much more...

LUX life magazine award for the Potter tour: Edinburgh's most magical pop culture tour

The bloody birth of Victoria Street

In the 1800s the middle class had taken flight to the broad-avenued rolling plain of the New Town leaving Edinburgh’s cramped old town, straddling the vertigous ridge of the Royal Mile, a slum bursting with crime, poverty & addiction.

At its peak each room in a tenement housed from 6 to 15 people, who slept in shifts. There would be one toilet between 250. Auld Edinburgh was a petri-dish of disease.

Royal Mile tenement collapse 1861

And then one collapsed. An immense 7 storey tenement shaking like an earthquake & then thundering down into rubble, crushing 35 slumbering people, half its residents.

Frantic beards stroked

The council, housed in City Chambers on the Royal Mile, had known for sometime the Old Town was rotting & hadn’t been sleeping but change had been too slow.

The council comissioned Architect Thomas Hamilton to create Edinburgh’s Old town bridges, George IV bridge & 19 arch South bridge

To span the valleys either side of the old town, connecting & reinvigorating the slum on the rock.

With George IV bridge complete the council decided to overhaul the Westbow, a steep Z shaped street.

One of the main thoroughfares to the Royal Mile, carriages frequently needed a bit of extra encouragement from shop boys to make the climb.

Timber framed tenements overhang the West Bow

Medieval West Bow 🤯



Mad timber framed buildings overhung the street, as landlords built upward they extended the new floors over the road, so the tenements grew to resemble upside down ziggurats.

Claustrophobic penthouses
A ziggurat tenement leans over the top of West Bow, a well in the foreground

At lower levels washing lines extended across the divide but at some of the top floors the distance between the rooms on either side of the street was so little that it is said neighbours could enjoy ‘the pleasure of tea drinking, without the trouble of leaving their respective abodes’.

Slums away

The council instructed Hamilton that the buildings along the new street should be ‘Old Flemish’ in style, & draw inspiration from the details of majestic George Heriot’s school on the ridge opposite, meaning Edinburgh’s Diagon echoes our Hogwarts.

One of the best views of George Heriots can be discovered from the end of Victoria Terrace. Rising majestic on the far ridge with the oldest buildings on West Bow leading your eye.

Volcanic Edinburgh, Arthurs Seat being the mother volcano, while Edinburgh Castle sits on a vent

Volcanic Edinburgh



The Royal Mile is a long tail of lava spewed out of Castle rock (foreground hump), with the soft rock of the Grassmarket carved out by passing glaciers.

Shooting for the stars
Tenements line the South face of the Royal Mile’s Lawnmarket

The rebuilt tenements on the North side soared up from the Grassmarket to the top of the lava finger to accommodate entrances on the Royal Mile’s Lawnmarket.

Cliff tumble

Between these sheer tenements & the new street, Hamilton put in a series of arches supporting a walkway, Victoria Terrace above, creating a pleasing staggered effect. The new street was named ‘Bow Street’.

In 1837 it was renamed Victoria Street in honour of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

Queen Victoria with Prince Albert & children

Victorian Edinburgh



We also honoured Victoria with a statue atop our Royal Academy Gallery, one of only 2 statues to women in Edinburgh, we have 6 statues of dogs, 2 of bears. But Victoria punches above her weight.

👊
Queen Victoria by John Steell atop the Royal Academy

She weighs 90 tons & was taken up in parts, the gallery portico had to be reinforced to support her. I looked it up & 90 tons, for the rest of the world, is 1.9 million Bertie Botts - steady on your majesty.

Yuck
The Cannongate floods around Holyrood Palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile

But when Victoria visited Edinburgh in 1842 she was unimpressed. ‘Foul burns’, streams rich with piss & poo ran down the tail of the Royal Mile, pooling at Holyrood palace. Their stench was so vile Queen Victoria refused to stay there.

Calculated yuck

Victoria Street was no better, Riddle’s Court backing onto Victoria Terrace, installed an underfloor waste reservoir, for controlled release of waste on occasions when they wouldn’t flood the street’s houses.

The pigs that once roamed Edinburgh’s streets would have stampeded for such a feast. Perhaps even swam.

Tasty

The pigs are no longer, but their spirit echoes in Oink on Victoria Street, famed for its hog roast sandwiches.

A skinned pig in Oink Victoria Street shop window
NO LITTLE PIGGY! Don’t go to this market
THE END

Find your perfect Harry Potter tour

Harry Potter sights nearby

How to have the most fun at the Elephant House café; it’s 2 minutes skip.

Divine Rowling’s future with a palm reading of JK Rowling’s Edinburgh Award. 3 minutes walk.

Tom Riddle’s grave in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and other character’s namesakes are 5 minutes walk through the lower, wrought iron gate of the Kirk. Or, if shut, scoot up atmospheric Candlemakers Row.

Mount your broom!


cyclist on a Harry Potter cycle tour a cyclist cycles on a Harry Potter cycle tour around Edinburgh

NEW: ½ day cycle tours of Edinburgh exploring Harry Potter’s development & JK’s progress, for fellow fans.

Don your invisibility cloak, break JK’s Fidelius charm & discover where Rowling has truthfully lived, written & caffeinated for the last 30 years on a refreshing adventure around greater Edinburgh.

Credits


Scotsman’s history of Victoria Street.
Adrian Brannan mosaic Victoria Street
Lesley Ann Derks bonny painting of Victoria Street

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