Begin your tour at the Scott Monument, the magnificent Gothic structure built in commemoration of Sir Walter Scott in the 1840s. Reaching over 200 ft, it’s the largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world and features statues of both Scott and characters from his works – climb the tower’s 287 steps to enjoy wonderful panoramic views of the city that inspired Waverley and other stories.
Back on the ground, head towards the Royal Mile via Cockburn Street. This charming cobbled street featured prominently in Hallam Foe, the film adaptation of Peter Jinks’ debut novel. Several of the neighbouring closes also boast literary history: the Encyclopaedia Britannica was first printed in Anchor Close in 1768, while Fleshmarket Close lent its name to an instalment of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series.
Wander down to the Scottish Storytelling Centre, a vibrant arts venue with an excellent programme of events. Catch a recital or reading for a taste of Scotland’s literary scene, or simply enjoy a bite to eat in their bright, comfortable café. Just around the corner on Crichton’s Close, the Scottish Poetry Library is a lovely place to read and discover the works of our poets past and present, from Robert Burns to Carol Ann Duffy and beyond.
Look out for the statue of 18th century poet Robert Fergusson outside the Canongate Church before you amble back up the Royal Mile, then visit the Writers’ Museum on Lady Stair’s Close. This excellent free attraction offers a fascinating insight into the lives of three of Scotland’s greatest writers – Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson – with exhibitions, events and a specialised bookshop.
Stop for a drink at Deacon Brodie’s, a traditional pub named after the 18th century councillor who is said to have inspired works such as Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. A few minutes’ walk away on George IV Bridge, the National Library of Scotland includes an excellent visitor centre with fascinating exhibitions and a great shop and café.
Across the road is one of the city’s most popular literary attractions – the Elephant House café, where J. K. Rowling reputedly penned the first Harry Potter novel. Potterheads will find more clues to the young wizard’s creation in the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard, famed for its loyal local mascot, Greyfriars Bobby. Look out for the gravestone of Thomas Riddle, then stop by the charming Victoria Street, rumoured to be the inspiration behind Diagon Alley.
Wander through the Grassmarket and head towards Princes Street, where the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting set its famous opening. On Hanover Street you’ll find Milnes Bar, a traditional pub that once served as the unofficial headquarters for the Scottish literary renaissance – Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean and Norman MacCaig all met here to debate poetry and politics in the 20th century.
Over on Young Street is The Oxford Bar, the real-life haunt of Ian Rankin’s fictional detective Rebus. Finally, if you happen to be visiting in August, don’t miss the Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square – with over two weeks of readings, debates and signings from world-famous authors, this fantastic event is an absolute must for anyone with a love of books.