For centuries, Edinburgh has been an inspiration to many great writers, from Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, to modern crime authors such as Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith. It was therefore no surprise when Edinburgh was named the first ever ‘City of Literature’ by UNESCO in 2004 – a title which recognises both the city’s historical roots and its continued effort to promote Scotland’s vibrant literary scene.
Through an abundance of tours, festivals and events, Edinburgh continues to champion Scottish literature, most notably with the Edinburgh International Book Festival – an annual celebration held in the beautiful and historic Charlotte Square Gardens. As the largest and most dynamic of its kind, the festival hosts a number of events throughout the month of August, in which audiences can meet some of their favourite novelists.
With Edinburgh’s rich literary heritage visible across the city, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of their fictional heroes and walk the same streets that their favourite characters and authors once knew. Here are ten Edinburgh literary landmarks that we think every book lover should check out.
Read also: Experiencing Art in Edinburgh
At over 200 feet tall, the Scott Monument is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and the largest monument ever built to commemorate a writer. Designed by George Meikle Kemp in 1840 to honour Edinburgh-born playwright, novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, it features 64 statues of characters from his famous works. Climb the 287 steps to the top for the most breath-taking, panoramic views across the city.
Address: Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ
Discover the foundations of Scottish literature at The Writers’ Museum. Tucked away in the historic Lady Stairs’ House just off the Royal Mile, this free museum celebrates the lives of Scotland’s three literary giants – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. With portraits, personal objects, manuscripts and first editions on display, The Writers’ Museum is an enjoyable visit even for non-bookworms.
Address: Lady Stairs’ House, Edinburgh EH1 2PA
Taking its name from the Scots word for ‘author’ – Makar’s Court is an evolving literary monument dedicated to the famous quotes of Scotland’s most talented wordsmiths. Located next door to The Writers’ Museum, this hidden courtyard features beautifully engraved flagstones dating back to the 14th century. The most recent inscription honours the late Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, who died in 2006.
Address: Lady Stairs’ Close, Edinburgh EH1 2PA
This historic townhouse situated in Edinburgh’s New Town was once the childhood home of acclaimed Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, famous for works such as Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Retaining its original architectural features, the building is currently run by owners John and Felicitas Macfie, as a venue for hosting receptions, dinners and conferences.
Address: Heriot Row, Edinburgh EH3 6HP
Despite its setting in the fictional land of Westeros, Game of Thrones writer George R R Martin is said to have drawn inspiration for his grisly tales from the pages of Scottish history books. In the novels, a particularly gruesome event known as the Red Wedding is said to have been inspired by the real-life slaughtering of Clan Black Douglas at a feast held at Edinburgh Castle in 1440.
Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Elephant House Café
Branded as the “Birthplace of Harry Potter”, this once quiet cafe is now a must-see for any Harry Potter enthusiast. Made famous as the place where author JK Rowling wrote The Philosopher’s Stone – die-hard fans travel from across the globe to soak up some of the writer’s creative energy. We recommend visiting out-with the festival season, to avoid large crowds and lengthy waits.
Address: George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Scottish Storytelling Centre
Located within a modern building adjoined to the historical John Knox House on the Royal Mile – the Scottish Storytelling Centre is a vibrant arts venue dedicated to the fine art of telling stories. With a seasonal programme of live storytelling and free exhibitions, visitors can discover traditional Scottish tales and listen to excerpts from Edinburgh’s most famous storyteller, Robert Louis Stevenson.
Address: High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR
Hidden behind the Elephant House Café is another place of interest for the avid Potter fan visiting Edinburgh. The grave of Thomas Riddell can be found within the historic Greyfriars Kirkyard, with many fans citing it as author JK Rowling’s inspiration for the character of Tom Riddle (aka Lord Voldemort). From here you can also view George Heriots School, which is often believed to have inspired the fictional Hogwarts.
Address: Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ
On the corner of York Place sits a public house celebrating the life and works of Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Stationed opposite the esteemed crime writer’s original residence on Picardy Place, the pub is adorned with portraits and paraphernalia inspired by his famous works. Visitors can also pay homage to Doyle at a commemorative statue of Sherlock Holmes, located across the street.
Address: York Place, Edinburgh EH1 3JD
From one great detective to another – The Oxford Bar, hidden on one of Edinburgh’s cobbled lanes, is famous for being the chosen drinking den of author Ian Rankin and his most notable creation, Inspector Rebus. Despite the bar’s central location and potential for celeb spotting, its low-key atmosphere makes it a great place to enjoy a quiet drink.
Address: Young Street, Edinburgh EH2 4JB
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