Scottish 16th century graveyard where real Harry Potter characters are buried
Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh might be steeped in history but look a little further and you could spot inspiration that built the wizarding world of Harry Potter
When visiting a city for a mini break, pencilling in a trip to a local graveyard might not typically be at the top of your to do list.
But, when the graveyard in question is Edinburgh’s world famous Greyfriars Kirkyard, making an exception is encouraged.
Nestled in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the church, Greyfriars Kirk, was founded in 1620 as the first church to be built in post-reformation Scotland.
Burials in the graveyard surrounding the church have been taking place since the 16th century, resulting in it being the final resting place of a number of notable Edinburgh residents.
Amongst the heavily decorated tombstones and mausoleums belonging to lords, scholars and architects, lie resting places of those whose names will most certainly ring bells.
It is in this famed graveyard that you will find Tom Riddell, William McGonagall and a certain Robert Potter.
Rumour has it that the names emblazoned on various headstones in the graveyard inspired J.K. Rowling to create characters of similar names in the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
It is also believed that Hogwarts was based on the neighbouring George Heriot’s School, and another iconic Edinburgh location, Victoria Street, gave her the idea for Diagon Alley.
Rowling wrote much of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone book sitting in The Elephant House café, which has sweeping views across Greyfriars Kirkyard.
She has previously acknowledged her connection to Edinburgh stating: “Edinburgh is very much home for me and is the place where Harry evolved over seven books and many, many hours of writing in its cafés.”
Thomas Riddell was a general who died on 24 November 1806 at the age of 72. It is commonly speculated that Thomas’ name could have inspired the character of Lord Voldemort and his real name of Tom Marvolo Riddle.
The site is so popular with Harry Potter fans flocking it have its own location marker on Google Maps. In July 2020, the City of Edinburgh Council even warned of ‘significant erosion’ around Riddell’s grave.
William McGonagall was unfortunately known as one of the worst poets in Scotland, one of his most famous works being that of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ which is based on a horrific rail crash in Dundee, his hometown.
McGonagall also worked as a weaver, struggling to make much money from his poetry. He was buried in an unmarked grave, although an inscribed slab was later installed in 1999. It is thought that his name inspired that of Professor Minerva McGonagall.
Greyfriars Kirkyard also features a grave belonging to Mrs Elizabeth Moodie, a name which may have inspired the fictional character Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody.
Look carefully and you’ll also spot the names of Scrymgeour (which could have influenced the character of Rufus Scrimgeour), Cruikshanks (a slightly different spelling to Hermione Granger’s cat, Crookshanks) a family of Potters and a family with the name Black.
In addition, the entire Kirkyard is rumoured to have been the inspiration behind the fictional resting place of Harry Potter’s parents, Lily and James, in Godric’s Hollow.
If you’d like to explore the Greyfriars Kirkyard for yourself, it is open 24 hours a day, and with many unofficial city-based Harry Potter tours, you’ll be sure to spot the resting places of those who likely served as inspiration for J.K. Rowling.
However, if you have no current plans to visit the city of Edinburgh, you can do so with a virtual tour via the Greyfriars website.