A tour of Edinburgh’s literary attractions

by Hannah Bashford

For a special cultural weekend break in Scotland, there is no better place to visit than the historical capital of Edinburgh, steeped in history, tradition and culture.

Thanks to its mix of ancient and modern architecture with medieval remnants juxtaposed with Georgian grandeur and contemporary life, the city has a distinctive atmosphere and is rightfully deserving of its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Home to many a great writer, it is also renowned for its literary history and became the first city in the world to be named a UNESCO City of Literature, making it the perfect location for a leading literary getaway in Scotland.

Literary Tours

Edinburgh is a compact city and a walking tour is a brilliant way to visit the galleries, museums and royal attractions.

If you’re looking for a leading historical weekend in Edinburgh, Literary Walking Tours provide visitors with a unique and personal insight into the cultural past of the city’s famous writers. The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour allows tourists the chance to visit the local pubs, such as the Beehive and Cafe Royal, at the same time as learning about Scottish literature through lively fictional performances from actors. The Makar’s Literary Tour at the Writer’s Museum is another interactive historical experience, consisting of an hour-long trip which brings to life the importance of Scotland’s literary heritage. Literary Bus Tours also take place during the Book Festival, taking visitors to all the main literary sights of the city, including those which inspired JK Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter novels.

Festivals

Part of the Edinburgh Festivals programme in August is the Edinburgh International Book Festival – a fortnight–long celebration of the written word and one of the largest of its kind in the world. This event attracts writers from all over the world to discuss and debate pressing world issues and literary phenomena. For these two weeks, over 200,000 visitors flock to Charlotte Square Gardens, a beautiful setting that brings together writers and book lovers in temporary marquees for an array of inspiring work-shops and readings.

Another well known festival is Burns Night, celebrated on 25 January to commemorate Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, with an evening of traditional food and drink. Many of the atmospheric pubs in Edinburgh offer guests a Burns Supper, complete with traditional music and verse, including the poet’s famous songs and readings of his most renowned works. For those on a luxury gourmet getaway in Edinburgh, the true highlight of the Burns Supper has to be Scotland’s traditional dish of haggis, usually served with neeps and tatties, (mashed swede and potatoes).

Museums

For those interested in the rich literary history of the city, the Writer’s Museum is definitely worth a visit, as it celebrates the lives of three of Scotland’s greatest writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great place to learn more about these famous authors, with the chance to see original portraits of the writers, along with their personal objects and actual printing presses used to publish their famed novels.

For a fun family day out, why not try the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile which offers parents and children alike the chance to immerse themselves in the power of Scottish story-telling, providing visitors with an alternative form of entertainment for a leading cultural break in Edinburgh.

Historical attractions

Edinburgh Castle, perched on its own volcanic rock at the top of the Royal Mile, is one of Scotland’s most iconic visitor attractions along with the Scott Monument. Located in Princes Street Gardens, this gothic monument was built to commemorate the famous Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott. At a height of 200ft visitors can enjoy stunning panoramic views of the city, if they’re prepared to scale the 287 steps to the top!

Along with St Mary’s Cathedral, which is the largest religious building in Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel is another historical attraction admired by visitors to Scotland and in particular literary scholars. This beautiful, Gothic-designed chapel is especially popular with Dan Brown fans, having featured predominately in his novel The Da Vinci Code. The chapel has also inspired the works of many other writers, including Sir Walter Scott, and has featured in the musings of the renowned poet William Wordsworth.

Theatres

Edinburgh also boasts a number of fantastic theatres in which to enjoy an array of plays and shows. One of the best known is King’s Theatre, which sees a large number of productions from the West End, the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company throughout the year. For those looking for a special cultural holiday in Edinburgh, why not book a ticket and enjoy a spectacular show amidst the beautiful surroundings of the historical King’s Theatre.

Parks

Thanks to the success of David Nicholls’ novel One Day, certain locations in the city have taken on a certain iconic fame and have become must-visit locations for tourists - in particular, Arthur’s Seat. Situated in the tranquil park of Holyrood Palace, this extinct volcano is the highest point in Edinburgh and, akin to the novel, offers the best views of the city.

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