Authors and poets have lived and worked here for centuries, leaving books, artefacts and stories behind them. Here are a few of the best places to visit if you want to learn more about Edinburgh’s bookish past and present.
The Elephant House
This is the ultimate destination for Potterheads. Fans of the Boy Wizard make pilgrimages from all over the world to visit this charming café, because it is one of the places where J. K. Rowling came to write her novels.
Not surprisingly, the Elephant House is covered in elephants, in the form of ornaments, paintings, photographs and even furniture. The coffee is roasted locally to ensure its freshness, and there is a different speciality coffee every week.
However, the highlight of any visit to the café is a trip to the toilets. The ladies bathrooms are completely covered in Harry Potter graffiti, which celebrates all the best quotations, characters and humour from the books. For example, on one of the toilets, there is a piece of graffiti which says: “Ministry of Magic This Way”.
The Writers’ Museum
This museum has a fascinating collection of objects, all relating to three of Scotland’s most famous authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott and Robert Burns.
Walter Scott’s Waverley novels gave Edinburgh’s main train station its name, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s books have had a huge influence on the modern horror genre. And although the poet Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire, he made a big impact on Edinburgh society during his visit in 1787. Prepare to be intrigued by rare copies of their works and artefacts from their daily lives.
Literary Tours and Pub Crawls
Because there are so many literary places to visit, a tour or a pub crawl can be an ideal solution. The “Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour” squeezes 500 years of Edinburgh authors into a single outing, giving you an insight into Edinburgh’s unique culture of writing.
The “Literary Pub Crawl” is very well suited to those who like to like to soak in a bit of atmosphere while sipping a pint of local ale. Arthur Conan Doyle, J. M. Barrie, Sir Walter Scott and many others have taken advantage of Edinburgh’s abundance of pubs over the centuries, so a tour will give you a chance to follow in their footsteps.
Fans of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting can also take a tour run by Leith Walks, which explores the Leith locations that the novel and film’s characters call home.
If you are an avid antiquarian, or just a casual purchaser, consider visiting Armchair Books. It is an Aladdin’s Cave which will delight readers of all ages. The winding corridors lined with shelf upon shelf of books can keep customers occupied for hours. From science fiction to non-fiction, from fantasy to romance, you can find a whole host of literary treasures among the deliciously musty tomes.
This is the largest monument to a writer in the world. As you can tell, Edinburgh takes books very seriously. Sir Walter Scott was one of the most popular authors of the late 18th century, and his romantic view of Scotland helped to revolutionise Scottish tourism. The monument is 61.11 metres tall, and looks rather like a Gothic rocket ship. You can reach a series of viewing platforms by climbing the winding staircase inside. After 287 steps, the highest viewing point gives a spectacular view of the city.
Scottish Poetry Library
This library is a hidden treasure, just off the Canongate. There are over 40,000 books and papers here, including the complete archive of famous Scottish poet Edwin Morgan. There is always something going on, whether it is a literary discussion, a family-friendly reading or a workshop. There is also a fabulous shop, full of books and gifts that would keep an aspiring poet very happy.
William McGonagall’s Grave
Widely considered Scotland’s worst poet, William McGonagall was a notorious man whose works were hilariously poor. A particularly brief example of his poetry is entitles “The Coo”: “On yonder hill there stands a coo; If it’s a no there, it’s awa’ noo.” In Greyfriars Kirkyard, tourists pay tribute to McGonagall by visiting his grave. If you look at the other graves nearby, you may notice inspirations for some familiar names in the Harry Potter novels, such as “Thomas Riddell”.
The Oxford Bar
Fans of the Inspector Rebus novels may be keen to discover the detective’s favourite Edinburgh haunts. Ian Rankin’s novels have gained massive popularity, and were turned into an STV series in 2000. Rankin identifies Rebus’s top boozer as The Oxford Bar on Young Street. Perhaps you might enjoy discussing a fictional case with your colleagues (or your family) while sampling a Scottish beer.
National Library of Scotland
One of the UK’s five legal deposit libraries, the National Library of Scotland is a truly massive operation. There are over seven million books stored here, including priceless manuscripts and letters by Austen, Byron and Darwin. There are also frequent literary events held at the library, and both temporary and permanent exhibitions to investigate.