Edinburgh’s Christmas, Mansfield Traquair and on the Harry Potter Trail in Scotland’s Capital

Last weekend we enjoyed our annual pre-Christmas trip to Edinburgh to enjoy the festive markets, fairgrounds and everything else that Scotland’s capital has to offer in winter. It’s one of our favourite times of year to visit (but then, anytime’s a good time to visit really – if you need any inspiration for a weekend escape in our favourite Scottish city you can find oodles of information here). This time, as well as visiting the festive carnival and exploring the magical displays in Princes Street Gardens, we enjoyed a couple of new experiences including a private tour of the Mansfield Traquair Centre, a former Catholic Apostolic Church known locally as ‘Edinburgh’s answer to the Sistine Chapel’. If you ever get the chance to visit, please do so – it’s utterly unique. We spent an hour and a half learning about the murals painted by Phoebe Traquair over the course of 8 years in the 1890’s to decorate the building. You can find out more about the building, its history, open days and private tours on the Mansfield Traquair Trust website. Nowadays, you can even get married there. Imagine that!

Photo of fairground scene at Edinburgh's Christmas markets
Christmas markets and fair in Princes Street Gardens
Christmas light display in Edinburgh
Christmas, Edinburgh-style
The Dome at Christmas
The Dome does Christmas so well!
Interior of Mansfield Traquair Centre, Edinburgh
The stunning Mansfield Traquair
Roof of the Mansfield Traquair Centre, Edinburgh
Don’t forget to look up!

But the highlight of this year’s trip – at least according to a certain pair of 9 and 11 year olds – had to be our discovery of the ‘Potter Trail’ – an award-winning walking tour inspired by all things Harry Potter. I think I first heard about the trail on Morgana’s blog some time ago now, and as soon as I read about it, I knew it was something my two Harry Potter fans would thoroughly enjoy. Without giving too much away (I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone), it’s a fantastic tour around Edinburgh’s old town taking in some of the sights and scenes that inspired J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal wizarding series. It includes a trip round Greyfriars Kirkyard, a visit to Voldemort’s grave (apparently one of the most visited graves in Europe), some insights into where J.K. Rowling got her character names from, and even a look at the school which might have been the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry itself! The tour also includes a magic spell that drew gasps from our assembled audience (honestly!), and points out the two Edinburgh cafés where J.K. Rowling famously spent time writing parts of the books. You might even be lucky enough – like my youngest – to find yourself getting sorted into a wizarding house (incidentally, it was Hufflepuff 😉 ). If not, you can still have fun finding out about the real-life Diagon Alley and waving your little wand (kindly handed out at the start of the tour) hopefully around.

Photo of Voldemort's Grave, Greyfriar's Kirkyard, Edinburgh
‘Voldemort’s Grave’, Greyfriars Kirkyard
The Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh
The Elephant House Café, where J.K Rowling wrote parts of the books
Picture of boy getting sorted into a wizarding house on the Potter Trail
Getting sorted into a wizarding house (that thing on his head is the sorting hat, by the way! 😉 )

The trail took around 75 minutes and although it’s advertised as being free, I think there is a reasonable expectation that visitors will make a donation when the tour finishes. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t to be honest – with the wonderfully theatrical Charlie as our guide the tour was a mixture of performance, wizardry and trivia that left us all delighted and enthralled. After the tour, we made a detour to see J.K. Rowling’s writerly handprints immortalised (in Caithness stone no less!) just off the Royal Mile in the quadrangle of Edinburgh’s City Chambers. And on the way back to Princes Street, we  gazed up at the majestic front of the Balmoral Hotel (next to Waverley Station) housing the J.K. Rowling Suite, where the author finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (and signed a marble bust of Greek God Hermes to commemorate the date. )

J.K Rowling Handprints in Edinburgh
Even the rain couldn’t dampen our excitement at seeing these handprints (did I mention the Caithness Stone connection? 😉 )
Trying out J.K. Rowling's Handprints for size, Edinburgh
Trying them out for size

It all left us wondering if one day we could afford to spend our next winter getaway in Edinburgh in the Rowling Suite (at a cost of approximately £1500 a night, the answer was most definitely not yes). Instead we headed off for (a slightly more realistic) coffee and cake in a nearby eatery and mulled over everything we’d discovered. From humble cafes to lofty views of Calton Hill from No 1 Princes Street, J.K. Rowling’s story is almost as inspiring as the wizarding world she created. And in the magical setting of Edinburgh’s winter wonderland, it was a perfect reminder that even us mere muggles can set our sights as soaring as the sky.