Edinburgh was designated UNESCO’s first ever City of Literature in 2004. From Darwin to Dumbledore, the city has been an inspiration for some of the world’s most famous writers and characters.
There are far too many sites across the city to explore them all in one day but this walking tour will let you see at least some of the sites linked to our writers, both historical and contemporary.
1. Starting at the University of Edinburgh’s own Central Campus, visit 25 George Square, the former home of Sir Walter Scott. Head up the hill and turn right, where you will find a blue plaque honouring University alumnus Robert Louis Stevenson at number 7.
2. Leave the square at the west side, and turn right on Middle Meadow Walk. Continue on to Forrest Road, at the end of which you will find a statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby. One of the world’s most famous dogs, Bobby returned every evening to his late master’s grave in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, until his own death 14 years later. His legend has been immortalised in several books as well as a Walt Disney film.
3. Continue along George IV Bridge and you will likely find people taking pictures outside Elephant House café. Loved by locals and tourists alike, this is the very famous location where J.K. Rowling wrote the early books in the Harry Potter series.
4. Further up George IV Bridge you will reach the National Library of Scotland which is worth a visit for their free exhibition, which changes regularly, as well as to see some of the works of Edinburgh’s anonymous book sculptor. Edinburgh Central Library is directly opposite too.
5. Continue to the Royal Mile then take a left. Shortly up the hill on your right, you will find the Writer’s Museum. This museum documents the life of three of Scotland’s most famous writers: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. Just outside the museum is Makar’s Close, where words of many Scottish writers are engraved across the flagstones.
6. Head back down the Royal Mile past St Giles’ Cathedral and John Knox House. Almost at the bottom of the hill, in a close (alley) to your right, you will find the Scottish Poetry Library. Free to visit, the library contains works in English, Scots, and Gaelic and often hosts readings and events.
6. Head back to the Royal Mile and move further down the hill. When passing the Scottish Parliament Building (also known as Holyrood), you will notice even more engravings of prose and poetry about Edinburgh, which . Literature is truly part of the city here!
8. At the roundabout, take a left and head up Abbeyhill, then take a left again on to Regent Road. Head back towards the city, where you will see the monument to Robert Burns, if you can take your eyes off the amazing view of Arthur’s Seat, of course. .
Further down the road, you will find the Old Calton Burial Ground, the final resting place of many famous literary figures including David Hume; Sir Walter Scott’s publishers William Blackwood and Archibald Constable; and David Allan, illustrator of Burns’s works. A grave marked ‘Tom Riddle’ is also said to be J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for her famous antagonist.
9. Take a right when leaving the cemetery then the first left, which will take you on to a road – somewhat confusingly called Calton Hill. Follow this road down the hill on to Calton Road then Leith Street. At the next roundabout, you will find a statue of a rather famous literary detective. Although Sherlock Holmes was a known Londoner, Arthur Conan Doyle was based in Edinburgh, and this statue marks his most enduring creation.
10. Head back up the hill of Leith Street, towards the clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel. A room in this hotel is where J.K. Rowling finished her Harry Potter series, just a few minutes’ walk from where she started. From the hotel, you will be able to see one of the most striking features of the Edinburgh skyline: the Scott Monument. This memorial to Sir Walter Scott is the largest monument to a writer in the world, and offers stunning views over his home city.
Want to learn more about our city’s amazing literary past and present? Edinburgh: City of Literature will let you explore the city through the mind of its writers and characters, both on the page and on foot.