J.K. Rowling and the Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh

After visiting the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh one day last May we walked a block up George IV Bridge to have a late afternoon lunch at the Elephant House Cafe. It was probably the best time of day to come to this place which is extremely busy during normal eating hours. People from all over the world flock to the cafe to see where Harry Potter was born and sometimes the queue is around the block and you’re awfully lucky if you can find a table in the back room. We were awfully lucky.


The birthplace of Harry Potter. The Elephant House Cafe is on George IV Bridge about a block away from the National Museum of Scotland.

Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.

You probably know the story by now. A young single parent took her baby in a stroller to the cafe every day. There she would order a cup of coffee and then while her baby slept she would proceed to write another chapter of her story which when it was published in 1998 was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US).

The single parent’s name was Joanne Rowling. Her publishers told her to use initials so that her readers would not know that she was a woman. So she came up with the pen-name J.K. Rowling.

The Elephant House Cafe is on George IV Bridge not far from the Grassmarket.

Inside The Elephant House Cafe.

Rowling conceived the idea of Harry Potter on a train ride from Manchester to London when she was working for Amnesty International. And she wrote the first three chapters of her first Harry Potter book in Portugal where she lived with her first husband before they separated and she moved to Edinburgh.Β  So the Elephant House Cafe was not really the birthplace of Harry Potter. Rowling actually frequented another cafe called Nicholson’s nearby many times, too, but this restaurant went out of business several years ago and a Chinese restaurant is located there now.


Elephants adorn the walls . . .



. . .and fill the bookcases. . .

...and on window sills. This is the color version of the photo I submitted for Monochrome Madness 3-24 (see here).

…and decorate the window sills. This is the color version of the photo I submitted for Monochrome Madness 3-24 (see here). That’s Edinburgh Castle in the background.


Some of the walls have pictures of J.K. Rowling.


More articles on elephants and Rowling.


Still more.

Ever wonder how writers of fiction come up with the names for their characters? Well, apparently Rowling didn’t stay in the Elephant House Cafe all day long. She must have strolled with her baby among the graves in the Greyfriars Kirkyard a block away a few times. The cemetery is full of centuries-old tombstones and if you look closely you will find that some of the names on the headstones match some of the names of Rowling’s characters in the Harry Potter novels!

I didn’t have my camera with me when I went to the cafe’s restroom the day of our lunch. So I could not record the graffiti that covered the walls and fixtures in the restroom. Some people even climbed to the ceiling to leave their marks! The cafe’s staff used to wash and repaint every now and then but the walls would be covered again in less than a day. So they gave up long ago. You’ll just have to come to Edinburgh and see for your self. But beware: some of the remarks are outrageous.

Each of us had a light lunch at the cafe. I had a sandwich and a beer and my wife had a salad and a cup of tea. The food was OK and the service was satisfactory and I really liked the view of Edinburgh Castle from that back window!


About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
This entry was posted in Scotland, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to J.K. Rowling and the Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh

  1. Pieter Navis says:

    and.. what’s your novel going to be about? πŸ™‚
    Perhaps you should take the train to London too πŸ˜‰

    Lovely article, enjoyed reading it.. perhaps one day i’ll pick up her books. The movies i’ve seen so far (the first 4 or 5) were very entertaining!

  2. mvschulze says:

    Off subject comment: Missing your posts and seemingly always overwhelmed by ….well everything it seems, I finally dug into the reasons as to why I have not seen your posts for a while. A while is an understatement as it’s been over a year. Re-instating my choice to “follow” (after realizing it inadvertently was de-selected) I’m glad to see you have been posting on your journeys and observations all along, and …I have a lot to catch up on! So my apologies for not “liking and commenting,” as I embark on some retro reading over the next few months. Marty (M πŸ™‚ )

  3. Thanks, Marty, and welcome back!

  4. disperser says:

    So, I’ve been doing it all wrong! . . . I need to borrow a baby and find a cafe near a cemetery.

    Nice recounting of the visit and nice shots.

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