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Edinburgh: A City of Literature

15 March 2018 | Phoebe McGowan

Back in 2004, Edinburgh became a pioneering force when it claimed the title as the first Unesco City of Literature. The city has both a rich and diverse literary history and thriving literary culture today. Whether you are new to the city, or looking to explore a different side of it, here are some ways you can enjoy Edinburgh as a City of Literature.

Bookshops and Libraries
Whilst every city has its bookshops and libraries, Edinburgh has a unique variety and range for you to discover. Stroll around Lighthouse - Edinburgh’s Radical Bookshop to explore topics from tattoos to feminism, or rummage through Southside Books, a second hand bookshop where you can find literary treasures without breaking the bank.
 
If you don’t fancy buying, then there are copious libraries to borrow from. The Scottish National Library, spread over two buildings, boasts a wide range of literature in a grandiose setting, whilst the Scottish Poetry Library is a cosy, intimate place to settle down with some verse. Try Ian Rankin or Jackie Kay for some contemporary Scottish literature, or dive into Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, to relive the famous story in the city where it’s set.


Image Credit: Scottish Poetry Library
 
Spotting literary history
Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of Edinburgh is the history that is built into the city’s cobbled buildings and winding streets. If you arrive by train, be sure to come into Waverley - the only train station in the world to be named after a novel (Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott), or visit the gorgeous and Gothic Scott Monument named after the writer, and appreciate the national pride that is fostered through Scottish Literature. If you’re strolling through the Meadows, keep an eye out for the murals dedicated to the wonderful work of writer, poet and essayist Muriel Spark as well.

Spend an hour or two wandering around Old Town and the tall church spires and quaint shops will help you understand why J.K. Rowling wrote something as magical as Harry Potter in Edinburgh. Walk through the Greyfriars Kirkyard and spot some familiar names, from McGonogall to Tom Riddle, written on the gravestones. If it’s raining, look over the graveyard from the warmth of The Elephant Cafe, a popular spot of Rowling’s when she was writing the hit series. If after all that you want to cast your own spells, head to Harry Potter shop Diagon House, where a plethora of merchandise awaits you.


Image Credit: Carlos Carazo via Flickr 

Poetry nights and exhibitions
As a City of Literature, Edinburgh works hard to maintain a programme of literary themed events throughout the city. The Edinburgh International Book Festival in August is obviously the best time to experience these but during any one week there are a whole host of spoken word nights, open mics and book launches for you to attend. The Scottish Poetry Library publishes a list of all these events so check their website for specific details, but a particular highlight is Inky Fingers - an open mic which takes place every month with a featured poet. These poetry nights create a sense of community and are a fantastic way to explore local life within the city.
 
If poetry isn’t your jam, then perhaps try one of the museum exhibitions on famous Scottish authors. Currently, there are some temporary exhibitions on Muriel Spark and Robert Burns, but there is also The Writer’s Museum, which celebrates Burns, Scott, and Stevenson all year round. A great opportunity to enrich your literary knowledge and wow your friends at your next Burns Supper.


Image Credit: Visit Scotland
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