Harry Potter Is 20! These Are the European Places That Inspired the Phenomenon

Harry Potter Is 20! These Are the European Places That Inspired the Phenomenon

Find your dose of literary inspiration where J.K. Rowling found hers.

By Karen Gardiner

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone turns the big 2-0 this year — if you can believe that. Renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the U.S. market — apparently due to American aversion to the word "philosopher" — the book was first published on June 26, 1997. 

Almost as magical as the stories themselves is author J.K. Rowling's transformation from broke single mother to multi-millionaire. If you are looking for a little of that kind of magic, or simply a dose of literary inspiration, follow her footsteps to the places where Harry Potter came to life.

Porto, Portugal

Like many young British people, J.K. Rowling spent some time teaching English as a foreign language. She settled in Porto, where she would spend her days writing and evenings teaching. She is said to have worked on her blossoming story about a boy wizard in the art nouveau Café Majestic — not least by the cafe who uses the connection in their promotional materials. Porto's famed bookshop Livraria Lello, with its neo-gothic façade and large curving staircase, is said to have been an inspiration for some of the books' fanciful architectural details. She would have likely admired them while nursing a cup of coffee in the small upstairs cafe.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Cementerio Greyfriars, Edimburgo. Escocia.

A post shared by Toni Rodrigo Medel (@toni_rodrigo) on

The bulk of the book was written in Edinburgh, and Rowling is not the only writer to have found her muse here: The city was declared the world's first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004 and was the birthplace of such authors as Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island), Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), and Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).

When Rowling was a broke single mother living in the Scottish capital, she spent long hours writing what would become Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Spoon café (then called Nicholson's Café) on the southside and at the Elephant House on George IV Bridge. Peek into Greyfriar's Kirkyard, the 16th-century graveyard behind the Elephant House, and you'll find another source of inspiration: the gravestone of Thomas Riddell, an obvious inspiration for the birth name of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

From Greyfriar's Kirkyard you get a good view of George Heriot's School, whose four different houses — Lauriston, Greyfriars, Raeburn, and Castle — provided inspiration for Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. A few minutes' walk takes you to curving, brightly painted Victoria Street, where you might imagine yourself on Diagon Alley.

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