Literary Travel - Following the Footsteps of Famous Authors
Why do some cities seem to produce great works of literature like others make steel or brew beer? You might point to universities, institutional support, or a class of people with enough time to write.
But if you read authors writing about the places which inspire them, describing the way light catches a certain building at a certain time of day, or the way fog wanders through empty stalls before a street market opens, you might be inclined to accept a more romantic explanation.
Whatever the reason, literature seems built into certain places. Here at Conquest Maps, we love both books and travel.
While reading might seem to be a waste of vacation time for people looking for the hippest night scene or checking off wineries from their bucket lists, we believe nothing adds to the enjoyment of a sunny beach, or European café, more than a good book.
If you're like us and want to make time for reading during your time off, consider visiting these literary travel destinations. While you might not write a novel during your visit, they will definitely inspire you to crack open a good book.
You don’t need to be a book lover to enjoy Auld Reekie (Scots for ‘Old Smoky’) as Edinburg is affectionately called. Still, walking up the cobblestone paved streets, with a 200 year old pub around every corner, you won’t be surprised the Scottish capital has been the birthplace for so many great works of literature. The list of famous authors who’ve called Edinburgh home includes Irvine Welsh, Muriel Spark, Robert Burns and J.K. Rowling.
Visit the Elephant House Café, where Rowling famously penned much of the first Harry Potter book, to buy one of the best cuppas in Old Town. Afterward it’s only a few feet to Greyfriars Kirkyard where several of Scotland’s most important poets are buried alongside William McGonnagal, widely considered to be the worst poet of all time.
Edinburgh embraces its status as a destination for literary travel. Every August the city hosts the Edinburgh International Book Festival to revel in books with signings, discussions, and workshops.
The Writer’s Museum, open year round, celebrates the lives and works of three of Scotland’s most famous authors, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. The museum is free to the public and includes books, manuscripts, and personal items owned by the authors, including a plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull.
Amherst and Concord, Massachusetts, USA
While not as well known tourist destinations as the other cities on our list, Amherst and Concord, are perfect for the book-loving sight-seer looking to take the road ‘less traveled' (as longtime Amherst College professor Robert Frost might say).
The two cities are only about an hour and a half’s driving distance apart. A bed and breakfast in either would be the perfect base to explore all the historic colonial buildings, bucolic New England farm country and college town artsiness on offer.
Amherst and Concord both offer plenty of experiences for the literary traveler. The home of Emily Dickinson (Amherst’s hometown hero) has been preserved as a museum including three acres of surrounding natural beauty which inspired many of her most famous poems.
Concord was also home to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott. The city continues to honor its famous authors by preserving the Emerson House, Alcott House and Walden Pond as pilgrimage sites for fervent readers.
Kolkata (Calcutta), India
Kolkata is unofficially known as the literary capital of India.
From the classic greats of Bengali poetry, Rabindranath Tagore (the first non-European winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) and Kazi Nazrul Islam, to beloved contemporary writers like Amitav Ghosh and Sandip Roy, the city has been home to many famous authors. The bustling metropolis has also been the setting for great works including The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.
The city celebrates its bookishness in grand style every winter with the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and the International Kolkata Book Fair. The book fair is the largest non-trade event of its kind with more than 2 million people attending annually. The literary festival is held in historical sites, cafes and bookstores throughout Kolkata and hosts discussions of books, music, art, and film.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Though just as famous for its jazz and Cajun cuisine, the Big Easy is the most literary city in the American south.
Novels as different as John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice found inspiration and a setting there. New Orleans has been home to famous authors including William Faulkner, Walker Percy, and Alice Dunbar Nelson.
The literary traveler who remains undistracted by beignets will enjoy visiting the Hotel Monteleone. The historic hotel in the center of the French Quarter has hosted writers including Truman Capote, Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner. Those author’s (who all had a well established love for alcohol), may have been drawn in by the Hotel’s famous Carousel Bar and Lounge where you can sip a Sazerac and listen to live music. Every March, New Orleans hosts the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival which celebrates the intersection of literature, theater and music.
What great literary travel destinations did we miss? Let us know along with your book recommendations! We are always looking for a new adventure!