A Literary Tour of Edinburgh

Edinburgh offers the visitor so many different but equally appealing aspects to explore, that it’s often hard to know where to begin.  One of the city’s great sources of pride is its literary heritage, and that can also be a useful focus for anyone wanting to find out more about the history and geography of the Scottish capital.  Many of Scotland’s most famous writers have left their mark in one way or another on the city, and following in their footsteps introduces you to some fascinating aspects of their life and times.

Start with Sir Walter Scott, author of the Waverley novels including “Ivanhoe” and “Rob Roy” in the early 19th Century.  You can get a bird’s eye view of Edinburgh and get a breathtaking view of the city and the surrounding countryside by climbing to the top of the monument that commemorates him.  The Scott Monument is the largest monument to a writer in the world, and be warned – to gain the reward of a spectacular view involves climbing 287 steps!

Most people can quote lines from the Scottish poet Robbie Burns’ poetry, and will certainly have sung Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve.  A visit to his statue, by David Watson Stevenson, will take you to Bernard Street in Leith, the historic port area of Edinburgh resting on the shores of the Firth of Forth.  It’s a lively and very attractive quarter of the city, boasting some outstanding restaurants, bistros and pubs.

Add RL Stevenson (author of “Treasure Island”) to the names of Scott and Burns, and the Writers Museum will prove a delight, covering as it does all three famous Scottish writers.  The museum houses many original manuscripts and notebooks, as well as Scott’s rocking horse and Stevenson’s riding boots!  It can be found in Lawnmarket, one of the streets that go to make up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Old Town, and after a browse through the exhibits many visitors will enjoy a stroll down the paved street, where almost every building carries a reminder of Edinburgh’s fascinating and turbulent history.

From the past to the present, and from the Old Town to the New, with its elegant Georgian buildings.  Any fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels, especially the 44 Scotland Street series, will delight in identifying the various landmarks that appear in his books, from the Italian delicatessen Valvona & Crolla to Usher Hall, the city’s landmark concert venue.   And if you want to experience a guided tour from the novelist himself, you can do so through the video of a walking tour made for the Edinburgh Book Festival.

For a more lighthearted look at literary Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, led by actors playing the fictional characters of Clart and McBrain, introduce the visitor to the infamous taverns and “howfs” of old Edinburgh.   Not to speak of some fine whisky and ales.  Hearing the lines from Burns’ love poem “Ae Fond Kiss” declaimed by a man in full 19th century costume in the historic courtyard of an Edinburgh tavern is an experience not to be missed!

A very different experience awaits fans of Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code”.  Venture just outside Edinburgh and you will discover Rosslyn Chapel, the 15th Century Midlothian chapel that appears in the book.  The astonishing wealth and delicacy of the stone carving that covers every foot of the interior would make the chapel a must on any visitor’s list, even without the Dan Brown connection.

And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Edinburgh, consider the Holiday Inn Edinburgh hotel, ideally situated between Edinburgh Airport and Edinburgh’s city centre.

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