Photograph by Tomas Munita, The New York Times/Redux
From the September 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine
It’s practically mandatory that visitors to Edinburgh travel by the book. The atmospheric city—which has inspired more than 500 novels—passionately keeps its written tradition alive, from the verse of 18th-century bard Robert Burns (who even merits an iPhone app) to the works of modern-day writers like Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith. On tap are two different pub crawls, a walking tour, and excursions specific to Rankin’s Inspector Rebus and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.
If you’re short on time, head straight to the Writers’ Museum located in a 17th-century building reached by a narrow stone passageway. Exhibits are devoted to a powerhouse literary trio: Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. For more adventures in Edinburgh and beyond, VisitScotland.com offers “A Traveller’s Guide to Literary Scotland.”
In the Irish capital, the written word is as celebrated as a pint of Guinness. Join the revelry on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl as spirited actor-guides serve up entertaining facts in taverns where James Joyce and other scribes sought sustenance and found inspiration. Follow famed Joycean character Leopold Bloom through the city with VisitDublin.com’s “In the Steps of Ulysses” self-guided tour (audio or print).
The Dublin Writers Museum celebrates the spectrum of the country’s literary heritage, beginning with its roots in Irish poetry and Celtic storytelling. The Abbey Theatre, founded by poet W.B. Yeats in 1903, is still going strong with productions by classic and contemporary playwrights. Don’t leave town without being dazzled by the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages housed in the Old Library at Trinity College.
Listing London’s literary-related sites and pastimes could fill a book even lengthier than Harry Potter’s seven wizardly adventures combined. For starters, get out and about on one of London Walks’ lively jaunts. More than a hundred are offered every week, among them Shakespeare’s and Dickens’ London and the Literary London Pub Walk. Be sure to get an up-close look at the Bard’s First Folio at the British Library, unusual in that its literary gems are on display and not tucked away in a vault.
For Sherlock Holmes fans, VisitLondon.com has an itinerary for following in the sleuth’s footsteps. If your style is more suave James Bond, stop by Dukes Bar, where the martinis inspired Ian Fleming to make it 007’s signature drink. Before strolling the city’s streets, download the Get London Reading app, or check out the interactive map version, featuring more than 400 books associated with specific locales around town.
Pucker up and leave a lipstick print on Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Père-Lachaise Cemetery. The Irish playwright, whose grave is a magnet for zealous mourners, was one of many expatriate writers who sought inspiration and joie de vivre in the City of Light. Would-be Hemingways can polish up their own masterpieces at a sidewalk table at Les Deux Magots, a St. Germain café he frequented, or explore the literary side of the Latin Quarter, his onetime home, with Paris Walks.
French writers, though, have pride of place here with house-museums devoted to Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac. Bibliophiles will feel right at home at the hotel Le Pavillon des Lettres, where each of the 26 rooms is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet and represents a famous writer.
St. Petersburg, Russia
This vibrant baroque- and neoclassical-style city in western Russia has a dark side to its literary history. Trace the route of Crime and Punishment’s murderous Raskolnikov from his abode to the unlucky pawnbroker’s storefront with Peter’s Walking Tours (by private booking; there’s a forum for finding fellow travelers to split the cost). Visit the residence of the epic’s author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, where he spent his final years and penned The Brothers Karamazov.
The Aleksandr Pushkin Memorial Apartment Museum marks the spot where the 37-year-old author died in the study and plunged the country into mourning. Like an unfortunate character in his most famous work, Eugene Onegin, Pushkin was fatally wounded during a duel. At the nearby Literary Café, he dined for the last time before meeting his tragic end.
Inventor Albert Nobel put Stockholm on the international literary map a century ago with the Nobel Prizes, which laud the achievements of writers along with those of scientists and peace activists. Head to City Hall, site of the annual December awards banquet and an iconic landmark in its own right. In the on-site restaurant Stadshuskällaren, savor the cuisine served at the most recent Nobel dinner.
For a not-so-highbrow thrill, take the Stockholm City Museum’s guided Millennium Tour to see places depicted in Stieg Larsson’s bestselling crime novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. Before tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander turned up, spirited children’s book character Pippi Longstocking was Sweden’s most famous fictional lass. A statue in Tegnérlunden park honors her creator, Astrid Lindgren.
If it weren’t for a color-coded map, customers might get lost among the stacks at Powell’s City of Books. Spanning an entire city block, it’s the largest new-and-used bookstore in the world and stocks more than a million volumes.
Nearby Heathman Hotel’s “Books by Your Bedside” package includes a personal tour of the lodging place’s 4,000-volume library, made up entirely of signed books by author guests (other package perks are a hardcover tome, a travel reading light, overnight lending privileges, and a donation to a children’s literacy organization).
For more literary immersion, see what’s scheduled at the renowned Portland Arts and Lectures series (September through May). A Portland tradition, it’s one of the biggest lecture events in the country and draws heavyweight headliners like Annie Proulx and Sebastian Junger.
Start uncovering the capital city’s bookish side at the Library of Congress, founded in 1800 and still the world’s largest library. A free guided tour of this grandiose edifice illuminates its literary and architectural significance and offers a look at the opulent Main Reading Room with its stained glass, marble, and murals.
A gratis audio walking tour by the Poetry Foundation visits sites associated with Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and other bards who found inspiration in the city. At indie bookstore Politics and Prose, sit in on a book group discussion or attend one of the regularly held author events. Kramerbooks and the adjoining Afterwords Café and Grill are open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Pick up some bedtime reading such as The Camel Club or another one of David Baldacci’s D.C.-set thrillers.
Founded as a frontier outpost in 1835, Melbourne flourished during a gold rush and has since blossomed into Australia’s cultural capital. Check out the State Library of Victoria, constructed in the mid-1800s and declared by its founding president to be free to everyone over age 14 “if only his hands are clean.” View exhibits in three different galleries, attend a talk at the Wheeler Centre in the south wing, and marvel at the domed, octagon-shaped La Trobe Reading Room adorned with quotes by famous writers.
Explore “Melbourne by the Book” on a walking excursion with Hidden Secrets and browse at the sizeable weekly book market on Saturdays in Fed Square. When you need a respite, Narrelle M. Harris, author of the Melbourne Literary app, recommends the Drunken Poet, where portraits of Oscar Wilde and other scribes line the walls.
Revered “people’s poet” Pablo Neruda, best known for his romantic verse, secretly rendezvoused with his mistress and muse at his home, called La Chascona. The bright blue-and-yellow domicile is located in the hilltop Bellavista neighborhood, which can be explored with La Bicicleta Verde tours. Chile honors another Nobel Prize–winning bard, Gabriela Mistral, with an elaborate mural in Cerro Santa Lucia park—and with her visage on the 5,000 peso note.
The exorbitant cost of new books in Chile has resulted in a robust market for secondhand publications. Peruse the offerings at the weekend market on Lastarria Street near the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, or visit the numerous merchants in the small shopping center near the intersection of Providencia Avenue and Miguel Claro Street. Java-seeking bibliophiles should head to one of several branches of the library Café Literario, including an outpost in Balmaceda Park that has 30,000 books.
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