You need only to step outside into the streets of old town Edinburgh to feel like you have been transported through time. History oozes from the very stones of the castle at the end of the Royal Mile and floats on the damp air of every close. Stepping from the shadows of one close to be bathed in the light at the other end, greeted by the imagined echoes of those who walked the cobblestones before you, hundreds of years ago, it is easy to imagine the literary greats who once frequented the pubs and cafes of. Edinburgh. Some were born in this beautiful city and left a mark on its heartbeat. Others heard the call of this big “small” town and gained inspiration to write the works that have impacted a generation or more after them.
Perhaps you hear the voices of Scott, Burns and Stevenson calling out to you, or maybe the stories you have read with settings in Edinburgh feel so tangible that you yearn to touch the roads and breathe the sweet air for yourself. Maybe, you are suffering through a bout of writer’s block and you have come in search of loosening its grip on your creativity.
Regardless of why you go to Edinburgh, you will find yourself in UNESCO’s first city of literature, full of character, history and inspiration. So what will you see?
- Writer’s Museum – Tucked into a courtyard at the end of a Lady Stair’s Close, you will find the Writer’s Museum. Walking the halls and rooms of what was once Lady Stair’s house you can see pieces from the lives of three of the foremost Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Greyfriar’s Kirkyard – Gravesite of William McGonagall, a famously poor poet. Also, if you walk around this historic cemetery you will see graves with names such as Thomas Riddell and Sirius Black. With The Elephant House nearby, it is easy to see that JK Rowling gathered some inspiration for the names of her characters from the markers here. Also interred here are writer John Bayne and publisher Alexander Donaldson
- Palace of Holyroodhouse – For Outlander readers, this is a significant location to visit. Not only is it included in the book and the TV series, but it holds great historical value as well. Still one of Her Majesty The Queen’s residences, there can be some scheduling conflicts with visiting the actual buildings, so be sure to check their website for open hours and special events.
- Edinburgh Castle – It is believed by many locals that Edinburgh Castle was inspiration for Hogwarts. I don’t know about that, but it has some great historical significance and many writers walked the streets in its shadow and gained inspiration from the history that it holds. A beautiful monument to a time gone by, it is impossible to not get lost in the creative confines of your mind and weave new tales. St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest part of the castle, dating back to the 12th century.
- The Elephant House – Potterheads gather here! One of the places where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series. A cozy cafe overlooking part of Greyfriars Kirkyard, it is often very busy and a line stretches out into the street even in the biting November chill. Be prepared to wait a little while, but we assure you the ambiance and refreshments you can purchase will be well worth it.
- Beehive Inn – Found in Grassmarket, just below the Royal Mile and the castle, this 16th-century coaching inn has a door from the condemned cell of the local jail and was a regular place to find Robert Burns.
- Sir Walter Scott Monument – Construction began in 1840 on this monument to the great writer and is among the largest monuments to a writer in existence. The last tour is at 4:30 pm, so be sure to get over there early enough to see all there is to offer in the museum as well. The monument all lit up at night with the old skyline behind is a sight to behold.
- National Library of Scotland – Do not miss this amazing library! With changing exhibitions and priceless manuscripts, this is the bibliophile’s dream come true. Shakespeare’s first folio (c.1623) as well as an original Guttenberg Bible and some original works and manuscripts from Charles Darwin, Lord Byron and countless others can be seen here. Walk among the greats, take in the incredible literary influences that changed the culture of writing, helped to make our world what it is and be inspired.
- Take a stroll through the litany of antique, independent and kitschy bookstores that Edinburgh has to offer. Check out the famous Armchair Books for a walk that winds and traces its way around columns of books stacked on shelves. Don’t miss the Edinburgh Book Shop, McNaughtan’s Bookshop & Gallery, Typewronger Books, Lighthouse, and Golden Hare Books. Breathe in the scent of paper, listen for the voices of the past, add to your literary collection and let the comforting sound of hushed voices echo off of the bursting shelves of the writers you love, and the characters you have come to know like the sound of your own heartbeat.
Scotland has given the world some of the greatest writers we have seen. Those who wrote about the land, painting a scenery so vivid and inviting, inspired the generations that have come after them. Some are inspired to write, others to visit a land that has become so ingrained in their soul that it feels like a home away from home. Edinburgh will lure you in with her cultural and literary history, but it will be the people who make you never want to leave.
“Keep a suitcase packed, your heart open and wonder often, for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee