Edinburgh, the first UNESCO City of Literature, is a place where history, literature, and architectural beauty converge. With its cobbled streets, medieval castles, and stunning landscapes, it’s no wonder this Scottish city has been a muse for countless literary greats throughout the centuries. In this Literary Travel Guide to Edinburgh, we’ll set out through the pages of famous novels and poems set in this captivating city. From walking in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to exploring the haunts that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, get ready to immerse yourself in the rich literary heritage that permeates every corner of Edinburgh. So grab your favorite book and embark on an Edinburgh literary tour perfect for book lovers.
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Famous Writers Associated With Edinburgh
Edinburgh holds a prestigious place in the world of literature. Known for its intellectual and creative atmosphere, this vibrant city has been home to numerous renowned writers, poets, and literary figures throughout history. From Sir Walter Scott to Robert Louis Stevenson and many more, Edinburgh boasts a rich literary legacy that continues to inspire generations. Some famous writers associated with Edinburgh include:
1. Sir Walter Scott: Considered one of Scotland’s most influential writers, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) played a pivotal role in shaping Scottish literature. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scott wrote extensively about Scottish history and culture. His notable works include “Waverley,” “Rob Roy,” and “Ivanhoe.” The picturesque landscapes described in his novels have become synonymous with Scotland itself.
2. Robert Louis Stevenson: Born in Edinburgh in 1850, Robert Louis Stevenson was an esteemed author known for his adventure novels such as “Treasure Island,” “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “Kidnapped.” His unique storytelling ability captivated readers worldwide. The writer spent much of his early life exploring the streets of Old Town – an area that greatly influenced his writing.
3. Arthur Conan Doyle: No discussion about famous literary figures associated with Edinburgh would be complete without mentioning Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). Best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes – arguably one of fiction’s most beloved detectives, Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, which greatly influenced his future writing. His most famous stories include
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4. J.K. Rowling: The world-renowned author behind the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter, is not only celebrated globally but also holds a special place in the heart of Edinburgh. This stunning city served as a muse for Rowling during her early writing days and continues to be deeply connected to her life and work.
5. JM Barrie: JM Barrie is a name that resonates with literary enthusiasts around the world. Known for his iconic creation, Peter Pan, Barrie spent much of his childhood exploring the picturesque landscapes and historic sites of Edinburgh. Although he eventually moved to London, his Scottish roots remained an integral part of his identity and writing.
6. Dame Muriel Spark: Dame Muriel Spark is a celebrated author who had a deep connection with the city of Edinburgh. Born on February 1, 1918, in Edinburgh, Spark went on to become one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Her unique style and darkly humorous narratives have captivated readers for decades. Spark’s association with Edinburgh can be felt in many aspects of her life and work. The city provided her with inspiration and served as a backdrop for some of her most famous novels like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Memento Mori, and The Driver’s Seat.
7. Ian Rankin: Ian Rankin was born in Cardenden, Fife in 1960 but later moved to Edinburgh to study English literature at the University of Edinburgh. It was during these formative years that he fell in love with both crime fiction and his adopted hometown. Renowned for his iconic Inspector Rebus detective series, Rankin’s works have become synonymous with Edinburgh itself.
8. Robert Burns: Robert Burns, also known as Scotland’s National Bard, is a celebrated figure in Scottish literature and culture. Burns penned some of the most iconic verses ever written. His poems and songs are filled with emotions, love for nature, social commentary, and his deep appreciation for the human experience. During his first visit to the Edinburgh in 1786, he received great acclaim for his poetic talent. The elite literary circles welcomed him with open arms. It was here that he published his first collection titled “Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,” which included some of his most famous works such as “To a Mouse” and “Address to a Haggis.”
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Literary Landmarks in Edinburgh
There is no shortage of literary landmarks in Edinburgh. Here are the top 7 that no book lover should miss.
Located on Lady Stair’s Close, just off the Royal Mile, The Writers’ Museum pays homage to three of Scotland’s greatest writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The museum showcases personal belongings, manuscripts, and rare books from these influential figures.
Highlights include: The printing press Scott’s Waverly novels were printed on, a chair used by Burns to correct proofs, and Stevenson’s wardrobe which was made by the infamous Deacon Brodie, whose double life may have inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The Scott Monument
Standing tall in Princes Street Gardens is the Scott Monument dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland’s most celebrated writers. Climbing its narrow spiral staircase rewards visitors with breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
When visiting the monument, head over to Princes Street Gardens, just behind the monument, for a quiet stroll, and then head to Edinburgh Castle to see the iconic landmark.
This historic cemetery is full of history and secrets including a habit of body snatching, active poltergeists, and home to some very dark residents. In fact, it inspired Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
It also inspired J.K. Rowling while writing her Harry Potter series. Many gravestones bear familiar names like Thomas Riddell (Tom Riddle) and William McGonagall (Professor McGonagall). Fans often leave notes and flowers at the grave of “Tom Riddle.”
When in the graveyard, be sure to check out the Black Mausoleum, The Caged Liars, and the Creepy Wee Bookshop located inside the graveyard. If you’re looking for something extra spooky, head out on a ghost tour of the graveyard. It made our list of the best places to visit for Halloween for a reason.
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Situated near Greyfriars Kirkyard, this café gained fame as one of J.K Rowling’s writing spots when she lived in Edinburgh. It was here that she penned parts of the early Harry Potter books overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Check out the table in the back where Rowling supposedly sat looking out the window at the gravestones of Greyfriar Kirkyard and across to Edinburgh Castle. While there, try a sausage roll and a latte or cup of tea. Or, go real Scottish and try the haggis. Then head to the bathroom to add your own graffiti.
Other Harry Potter must-sees are Victoria Street where it’s rumoured J.K. Rowling was inspired to create Diagon Alley and the Balmoral Hotel where she lived for six months while finishing the Deathly Hallows.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Childhood Home
Stevenson’s childhood home at 17 Heriot Row (where he moved at age 6) has retained much of its original architectural appearance and is used as a venue for receptions, dinners, and conferences.
On the corner of York Place, close to many of the city’s attractions, the pub is named after the famed Sherlock Holmes creator. The traditional pub is just down the street from Conany Doyle’s birthplace on Picardy Place. Inside the Victorian-style pub is an array of portraits and artifacts inspired by the Sherlock Holmes books. The menu has a wide range of traditionally Scottish pub food and drinks, focusing on cask ales and Scotch whiskies.
For a tour of Edinburgh’s pubs with a literary twist, check out the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour.
The National Library of Scotland
Found near the Royal Mile, the National Library is the largest library in Scotland and one of Europe’s most significant research libraries. Within its massive walls, there are 24 million printed items, two million maps, along with copies of the Gutenberg Bible, a First Folio of Shakespeare, and the archive of Muriel Spark.
Literary Festivals in Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s festivals attract book lovers, authors, publishers, and enthusiasts from all over the world. With a plethora of events and activities celebrating literature in various forms, Edinburgh’s literary festivals have become highly anticipated annual events.
1. The Edinburgh International Book Festival: The Edinburgh Book Festival is one of the largest and most prestigious literary festivals in the world. Taking place every August in Charlotte Square Gardens, this festival brings together renowned authors, poets, illustrators, and thinkers to engage with their audiences through talks, discussions, readings, workshops, and book signings. Visitors can immerse themselves in a diverse range of topics such as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, politics or current affairs.
2. The Storytelling Festival: Held annually in October/November by the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, The Storytelling Festival celebrates oral storytelling traditions from around the world. This festival showcases captivating performances by professional storytellers who weave enchanting tales from different cultures and backgrounds. Audiences are transported into magical realms through spoken word performances that ignite imaginations.
3. The Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair: This fair provides an alternative platform where independent publishers showcase books that challenge mainstream narratives across various genres like political writing or radical fiction/non-fiction works that delve into social justice issues or marginalized voices often ignored by larger publishing houses.
4. The Saltire Society Literary Awards: Hosted annually at different venues across Edinburgh during November/December., these awards celebrate excellence in Scottish literature across various categories such as Fiction Book of the Year Award or Poetry Book of the Year Award. The event features readings, discussions, and book signings by nominated authors or winners.
5. The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival: This festival, held in May/June each year, focuses on children’s literature and performing arts. It brings together authors, illustrators, storytellers, puppeteers, theater groups, and musicians to provide an immersive experience for young readers through interactive workshops, storytelling sessions or performances.
Best Walking Tours in Edinburgh for Book Lovers
These literary Edinburgh walking tours are the perfect way to hit all of the bookish locations under the expertise of guides. Learn insider facts from locals that you might miss on a tour of your own.
In this 2 hour walking tour, experience the magic of the world’s most famous wizard. It’s perfect for all ages, including kids. You will explore the winding streets of Edinburgh to find the inspiration behind the settings and characters in the books, as well as filming locations for the movies. Plus, you’ll see top Edinburgh attractions like Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street, and the Royal Mile.
Read Also: Must-See Harry Potter Locations in Scotland
The Book Lovers’ tour Edinburgh is a guided walking tour that visits the sites and haunts of Burns, Scott, Stevenson, and Conan Doyle as well as J.K. Rowling, JM Barrie and more.
This award-winning walking tour has been operating since 1996, showing guests the wynds, courtyards, and pubs of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town. The pub tour features two professional actors instead of tour guides reading from scripts. You’ll see well-known figures like Burns, Scott, and Stevenson, as well as many lesser-known writers while you hop to Edinburgh’s most unique pubs.
This 2 hour walking tour starts in the world’s most famous graveyard-Greyfriars Kirkyard to view the gravestones that inspired some familiar names from the Harry Potter books. You can take pictures at Potterrow, eat at Spoon, learn about antiquities at the National Museum of Scotland, and The Elephant House cafe.
Read Also: Bookish Itinerary for Edinburgh with suggestions for a self-guided literary tour
Best Bookshops in Edinburgh
No bookish trip to Edinburgh would be complete without browsing some of Edinburgh’s bookstores.
In the heart of Edinburgh, Typewronger Books is a haven for bookworms seeking something out of the ordinary. Typewronger Books prides itself on its collection of rare and eclectic books. From vintage classics to contemporary gems, there’s something for every literary taste. As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by shelves filled with lovingly curated titles that invite exploration and discovery. One standout feature of Typewronger Books is its typewriter collection. The store not only sells books but also houses an impressive array of vintage typewriters, each with its own unique story to tell.
Situated on Blenheim Place near Holyrood Park, Topping & Company Booksellers is renowned for its unparalleled selection of books across various genres. This multi-level store features an impressive collection spanning everything from contemporary fiction to history, art, travel writing, and more. Visitors can also enjoy author events throughout the year – a fantastic opportunity to meet acclaimed writers up close.
Golden Hare Books is a hidden gem on St Stephen Street in the heart of Edinburgh. This independent bookstore offers an enchanting and cozy atmosphere for book lovers to immerse themselves in a world of literature. What sets Golden Hare Books apart is their dedication to supporting local authors and publishers. The store actively champions independent voices and hosts regular author events, book launches, and literary discussions.
Welcome to the Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh, a haven for book lovers and seekers of knowledge. Nestled in the heart of Scotland’s capital city, this independent bookstore is more than just a place to buy books – it is a vibrant community hub that celebrates literature, ideas, and social activism. With its extensive collection of books spanning various genres and subjects, this bookstore caters to all tastes and interests.
Nestled on Bruntsfield Place, The Edinburgh Bookshop is an independent gem that offers a warm and inviting atmosphere for all book enthusiasts. This cozy bookstore specializes in Scottish literature and showcases a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles from both established and emerging Scottish writers. Their knowledgeable staff contributes to a personalized experience by providing recommendations tailored to individual tastes.
A true paradise for second-hand book lovers awaits at Armchair Books on West Port Street. This quaint store holds shelves upon shelves filled with pre-loved treasures waiting to be discovered by avid readers or collectors. With its cozy interior and shelves upon shelves of books, Armchair Books invites patrons to immerse themselves in the world of literature. The store is renowned for housing an extensive collection spanning various genres, including classic literature, contemporary fiction, travel guides, poetry, history, and much more.
A few miles east of Edinburgh’s city center stands The Portobello Bookshop. This independent bookstore has become a beloved literary haven for locals and visitors alike. With its cozy atmosphere, carefully curated selection, and warm customer service, it offers an unforgettable experience for book lovers seeking solace or inspiration. Browse books among the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sight of shelves brimming with books waiting to be explored. Its inviting interior design combines modern touches with elements reminiscent of traditional bookstores, creating a space that feels both comfortable and contemporary.
Best Cafes in Edinburgh
When you want to take a break from all the literary sights or historical monuments, stop at one of these amazing coffee shops or cafes in the city. Grab a book and enjoy the ambiance in these great locations.
Known for their meticulous brewing techniques and specialty coffee beans, The Brew Lab offers a unique coffee experience in Edinburgh.
With its cozy atmosphere and excellent espresso-based drinks, Wellington Coffee is a must-visit spot for coffee lovers in the city.
Renowned for their ethically sourced beans and expertly roasted coffee, Artisan Roast has multiple locations across Edinburgh.
This popular café serves up deliciously strong brews and has a relaxed vibe that makes it perfect for catching up with friends or enjoying some alone time.
Located in the heart of the city, this independent coffee shop prides itself on its high-quality single-origin coffees and friendly staff. The location has changed, but the coffee remains the same.
Located near the Grassmarket area, Lowdown Coffee is known for their innovative brewing methods and tasty pastries to accompany your cup of joe.
Best Bookish Hotels in Edinburgh
To top off your bookish holiday, you must stay at a bookish hotel. Here’s a list of some of the best ones in Edinburgh.
The Library Suite is an opulent suite at The Witchery by the Castle, a luxurious hotel that features only 9 suites, all decorated in a different style. The Library suite features a book-filled bathroom with a secret hidden door, a heavily draped bed, fireplace, views of the Royal Mile, and Victorian sofas. Included in your stay are complimentary “nibbles and treats,” a continental breakfast delivered by hamper to your suite, or an à la carte breakfast in the Original Dining Room. This is truly a one of a kind experience for those looking for an extravagant literary holiday.
The Balmoral in Edinburgh is a 5-star luxury hotel where, according to the book Deep Work, J.K. Rowling finished the last of the Harry Potter books to get away from the distraction of normal life at home with a family. If you want the same experience, or just want to see where the Deathly Hallows was written (suite 552), the Balmoral is the place to go.
The Place hotel has a number of gorgeous literary suites inspired by some of the city’s great writers. There are four themed suites: Love and Romance (honoring Edinburgh poets and romance writers), Thrill and Intrique (honoring crime writers like Ranking and Conan Doyle), Enchantment(honoring JM Barrie, JK Rowling, and Ian Banks), and a Robert Louis Stevenson suite. Each suite has its own library filled with books correlating to the room’s theme. If any pique your interest you can even purchase one.
If viewing the Stevenson house from outside wasn’t enough, you can book a stay through their Bed & Breakfast. There are two rooms available to stay in: the master bedroom on the first floor and a twin room on the second floor. Don’t miss the chance to stay in the home of one of the greatest writers in the world.
Many of these hotels are on the expensive side. And while I think they’re worth it for an especially bookish trip, I understand more budget options are necessary. For that, I recommend the ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile- Hunter Square, Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh City Centre, or Kick Ass Greyfriars hostel if you’re traveling solo and looking to find friends.
Edinburgh’s rich literary history and vibrant contemporary literary scene make it a perfect destination for book lovers. From exploring the iconic landmarks associated with famous authors like Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson to immersing oneself in the thriving festivals and bookstores that dot the city, Edinburgh offers a unique experience for those seeking to delve into the world of literature. This literary travel guide has highlighted some of the must-visit locations and events that showcase Edinburgh’s literary heritage, ensuring an unforgettable journey through its pages. So grab your favorite book, pack your bags, and embark on a thrilling adventure in this enchanting city where literature comes alive at every turn.
Mackenzie Jervis is a writer and founder of the bookish travel blog A Wandering Scribbler. With a passion for travel, she has visited 65 countries and had the opportunity to live on 3 continents and in 6 U.S. States. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has written about her travels for a variety of publications. When not writing, she is probably at the gym, exploring wherever she happens to be, or reading the next book on her list.
Are you ready for The U.K.?
- Book Your Flights– To find the cheapest flights, flexibility is a must. Some great options are Google Flights for the calendars to find the cheapest options, Skiplagged, and Skyscanner. For more options, see our resources page. Heathrow and Gatwick (London) are the main entry points for long-haul flights but Manchester and Birmingham are options for those coming from Europe. Belfast in Northern Ireland is also an option.
- Find Transportation- If you’re driving, look into Rentalcars.com before arriving to find the best rates. Rail and bus services are frequent and easy. A BritRail pass can help save you money. For convenience, choose a train, for low-price choose buses.
- Book Your Accommodation– Look at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or Expedia for hotels in the U.K. You can also look at AirBnB or VRBO as we’ve had great luck finding inexpensive, large, and clean homes to rent.
- Book Tours and Experiences- Check Viator or Klook for some of the best tours and attractions for a great price for experiences like the Tower of London, Stonehenge, Edinburgh Castle, or Warner Bros Studio Tour.
- Stay Connected– If your phone’s data plan is going to be expensive, order an eSIM card before you go, or just head to an airport kiosk upon arrival or a store like Tesco or Boots.
- Buy Travel Insurance- I always recommend World Nomads for insurance. It’s better to protect yourself in case of mishaps. Learn more about World Nomads in this FAQ post.
- Pack Your Bags– Check out my packing lists, or my favorite travel gear to help you remember all of the essentials.
- Learn About the U.K.- Learn about the U.K. with guidebooks like Lonely Planet, or, novels and books about the country, or, shameless plug, search around my site for more info.
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