1. Wander in the Writers’ Museum
As the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh has a Writers’ Museum showcasing musty manuscripts by Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott. It’s also home to Stevenson’s silver tortoiseshell ring, Burns’ writing desk, and the printing press that produced Scott’s Waverley novels.
A newer addition is a book sculpture carved from Ian Rankin’s Hide and Seek, showing a moon and clouds overlooking a silver street. Its creator has been anonymously gifting these sculptures to cultural organizations “in support of Libraries, Books, Words, [and] Ideas.” Outside, quotes by James Boswell, Robert Fergusson, and Muriel Spark are inscribed on the cobbled stones of Makars’ Court. To the north, The Mound overlooks the Scott Monument and Waverly Station, their names befitting this literary city.
Where: 3 Lady Stair’s Close 477 Lawnmarket
2. Go plaque-hunting in old town
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Leave Makars’ Court and head for the Royal Mile, where you can find the Heart of Midlothian mosaic, made famous by the novel of the same name. It marks the site of the demolished Old Tolbooth, a former administration centre and execution site, and locals like to spit on it for good luck.
In the Grassmarket, a sign outside White Hart Inn pays tribute to former patrons Robert Burns and William and Dorothy Wordsworth.
At the Writer’s Corner where Nicolson St. and Drummond St. intersect, plaques commemorate the work of J.K. Rowling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hugh MacDiarmid, and others.
A few steps away, Surgeons Hall displays a book bound by Burke’s skin; after he and Hare committed horrific murders in 1828 and sold the corpses to Edinburgh Medical School for dissection, he himself was publically hanged and dissected.
3. Browse books at Looking Glass Books
Looking Glass Books is across the street from the University of Edinburgh’s George Square campus, where Arthur Conan Doyle once lived. You can savor a cup of white hot chocolate, peruse classics like Peter Pan and The Prime of Jean Brodie, and eavesdrop on university students discussing readings from their Edinburgh in Fiction seminar.
Where: 36 Simpson Loan
4. Search for wizards and magic
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J.K. Rowling famously worked on the first Harry Potter novel in the backroom of The Elephant House, which offers a window view of the towering Edinburgh Castle.
Now, hundreds of want-to-be wizards flock to this café, crowded with tiny elephant figurines and black-and-white newspaper clippings about Rowling. “Thank you for Harry Potter” messages cover the bathroom stalls, where you can also leave your own graffiti.
A block away in Greyfriars Kirkyard, a weathered plaque marks the grave of the real-life Thomas Riddell. The nearby George Heriot’s School has four houses, just like the wizarding school.
And take a walk past Balmoral Hotel, where Rowling penned the series’ final words; the suite she stayed at has been renamed after her, displays her signed marble bust of Hermes, and costs around £1,000/night.
Where: 21 George IV Bridge
5. Savor drinks in literary pubs
The Wash Bar hosts a Literary Salon on the last Tuesday of each month, where you can sip wine and mingle with local literati, Master of Publishing students, Dundee Literary Festival organizers, and Giller Prize judges.
Once frequented by Scottish Renaissance writers, The Oxford Bar is a favourite haunt of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus and the over-30s crowd. For a hipper Gothic pub with skulls, books, and potion bottles, head to Jekyll & Hyde for the deadly Seven Sins cocktail.