Some of the world’s greatest cities are a haven for book lovers of all types. These 7 cities have fostered some of the greatest writers in the English speaking world and have inspired many for hundreds of years.
Discover these 7 cities across Europe and North America that have played a vital role in the evolution of literary history and are known the world over for the famous writers they have produced. These cities, as you will see, are home to some of the finest libraries, famous writer’s houses and literary museums. If you love books, make sure you visit at least one of these this year!
The UK capital is and was once home to some of the greatest writers in literary history, including John Milton and William Shakespeare. The capital has undoubtedly had the most profound global effect on English and World Literature. It is home to the British Library, one of the world’s largest public libraries in the heart of the city. With over 150 million items in the collection, including historical documents such as the Magna Carta, the manuscripts of Austen, Dickens, Woolf and Carroll and even the Beatles lyrics, you will be spoilt for choice as you explore this maze of literary greatness. Few Capital cities have as many literary landmarks as London does.
In Bloomsbury, home to many great London writers such as Percy and Mary Shelly, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot and many more, you can take part in many of the Blue Plaque walks and discover the homes of these great novelists. Along the River Thames, you will find the Globe, not the original but a place of great literary and historical significance where you can explore the world of Shakespeare, and if you are lucky enough, watch one of his great plays for yourself. If Shakespeare is not your cup of tea, wander the streets of James Bond’s Mayfair or if its mystery you are looking for, Baker Street is home to the world of Sherlock Holmes. In London, every book lover will find a street, a church or a palace they have encountered in the pages of a book.
Many greats have surfaced from the Irish capital. The birthplace of James Joyce and Nobel Prize for Literature winners William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, Dublin was designated a UNESCO city of Literature in 2010. The city’s literary history goes back thousands of years to when benedictine monks would transcribe the pages of the bible into manuscripts, the best surviving example being the Book of Kells, housed and on show in the Old Library of Trinity College.
Book lovers can head to the Dublin Writer’s Museum and delve into Ireland’s literary history head on, exploring the county’s rich literary heritage, beginning with Irish Folk Tales and Poetry. Top literary attractions for book lovers include the James Joyce Centre, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the National Public Library of Ireland.
Arguably, there is no other city in the world that has attracted such vast literary talents, launched long and illustrious careers and produced a wealth of enduring literature that has passed the test of time than the French capital. Many literary greats, famous theorists and philosophers have been enchanted by this city for hundreds of years. The city has drawn writers from all over the world including the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. Iconic philosophers Marcel Proust, Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida also frequented Paris for many years.
The literary atmosphere of Paris is still very much alive, evident in the lively coffee shops, beautiful libraries, the Left Bank and the Latin Quarter. In Paris, every book lover and aspiring novelist can be inspired by this literary paradise. Tourist attractions for book lovers include Opera, the streets and cafes of Monmarte and Notre Dame.
New York City
Several important literary movements began in New York City. From Beat Poetry to the Harlem Renaissance, The New York Intellectuals to the American Bloomsbury, New York City has spawned some of the worlds greatest writers including, Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Washington Irving, Langston Hughes as well as contemporary favourites such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Don Delillo and Barbara Garson.
The Empire City is also home to some of the greatest publishing houses and bookstores in the world, in particular the Strand Book Store, home to 18 miles of books! In addition, New York City is the birthplace of Marvel superheroes and the quintessential American Comic Book. Today the city is home to a thriving alternative comic book scene, including native New Yorkers Art Spiegelman and Ben Katchor.
Tourist attractions for books lovers include wandering through the streets of Greenwich Village and discovering the homes of Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain and Thomas Wolfe. In New York, you can walk and follow in the footsteps of some of North America’s and the world’s literary greats. The New York Public Library, which has featured in dozens of movies, also houses some of the worlds most important manuscripts, books and bibles that every book lover must feast their eyes on, at least once! The Morgan Library is also a major exhibition venue for fine art, literature and music and remains to this day, one of New York City’s finest public libraries.
Edinburgh was designated the first UNESCO city of Literature in 2004 and is world renowned for it’s literary connections. The city has a rich literary history and was the former home of literary greats such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark and Sir Walter Scott. The centre of the city displays the biggest monument dedicated to a writer in the world. The Scott monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, considered by many to be Scotland’s greatest writer. Founded in 1446, the Scottish city has been featured in numerous movies, including Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Must sees for book lovers include the Rosslyn Chapel, and elaborately decorated place of worship that has inspired many writers such as William Wordsworth, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
World famous for it’s architectural wonders, Prague’s literary history is so enriching it will leave you dumfounded. Some of the city’s greatest writers include Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, and the poet Rainer Maria Riike. Although the house Kafka lived in has been demolished, book lovers can wonder the streets of the Jewish quarter and explore where he grew up through a series of guided walking tours or at your own leisure. Alternatively, cross over the Charles Bridge into New Town and immerse yourself in his life story at the Kafka Museum. The museum offers more than just manuscripts , it manipulates the environment to take you inside Kafka’s personality and the minds of his characters.
Rainer Maria Rilke regularly spent time in Café Slavia in the centre of Prague, and wrote a scene that takes place in an eatery which features in Two Stories of Prague. Just opposite the National Theatre, this café was frequented by many of Prague’s writers and intellectuals and can still be visited today. Other tourist attractions for book lovers include The Museum of Communism, which helps visitors understand the difficulties the city’s literary figures encountered during the rule of the Soviet Union.
St. Petersburg is known the world over for its fusion of baroque and eastern architecture. Once described by Fyodor Dostoyevsky as ‘the most abstract and intentional city in the world’, this beautiful Russian city has been the backdrop for several modern and classic literary works. Two thirds of Dostoyevsky’s oeuvre are set in this city so there is plenty for book lovers and fans of his to explore.
Several walking tours will take you to some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions such as the elaborate promenades of the Nevsky Prospekt but will also delve into the lives of the working class residents his novels so often explored. The city has also been responsible for inspiring several other writers, including Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Blok, and Anna Akhmatova.
Travellers and book lovers to this Russian city can visit the prison that inspired Akhmatova’s poetry, the Statue of the Bronze Horseman that came to life in Pushkin’s eponymous poem, and the Hermitage Museum in which a young Vladimir Nabokov, the writer of the once notorious Lolita, wooed his teenage sweetheart.