Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature (the very first in the world to receive the accolade in 2004) and in between going to events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last week, I visited a few of the literary attractions and bookshops that the city has to offer.
The National Library of Scotland has its main base in Edinburgh’s Old Town on George IV Bridge and is home to some 24 million printed items including one of the world’s largest collections of maps. As it is a research library, the reading rooms can only be accessed if you are a member but there are temporary exhibitions for visitors including displays of flyers and programmes from the Edinburgh Festival which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The main exhibition running at the moment is ‘Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley’ which documents the Endurance expedition and rescue in 1914-16 and includes diaries, photographs, letters and other items from various archives. Admission is free and it’s well worth a look if you’re passing by.
Just across the road from the National Library is the Elephant House cafe where J.K. Rowling famously wrote some of the early Harry Potter books and has also been frequented by other Edinburgh-based writers including Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith. I didn’t go in and sample the menu (too many Muggles for my liking) but the cafe has been largely maintained as it was two decades ago, with staff having reportedly given up trying to remove the graffiti left by fans in the toilets.
The Writers’ Museum is another free attraction located in the city centre at Lady Stair’s House just off the Lawnmarket and celebrates three of Scotland’s most famous literary figures: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Artefacts on display include portraits, furniture and other personal items owned by the writers as well as the original printing press on which the Waverley novels were produced which is at the very top of the steep spiral staircase. There is a small temporary exhibition downstairs celebrating 30 years of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus books which runs until January 2018 with a display of early editions and manuscripts of the first novel in the series ‘Knots and Crosses’. Also look out for the paving stones inscribed with quotes by famous Scottish authors in Makars’ Court just outside the museum.
Bookshops I visited in the city include the Edinburgh Bookshop (an independent bookshop on Bruntsfield Place which features a giant ladder signed by visiting authors), Golden Hare Books in Stockbridge (where the woman at the till complimented me as “a person of taste”), Books for Amnesty (a second-hand bookshop on Roseneath Street in aid of Amnesty International), Till’s Bookshop (a surprisingly well-organised second-hand bookshop near the edge of the Meadows) and the Festival Bookshop (a temporary shop on the book festival site at Charlotte Square Gardens). I came away with an interesting selection of new, old, fiction and non-fiction books. Fortunately, travelling by train rather than plane meant that I didn’t have to worry about luggage weight restrictions coming home:
I had a brilliant time in Edinburgh and feel as though I have barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer, so I’m sure I will visit again in the future. If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them.