Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is the first designated UNESCO City of Literature in the world. This trailblazing city is one of the most spectacular, with a literary heritage spanning centuries and some of the world’s most exciting contemporary writers. Home to many firsts but always looking to the future, Edinburgh is alive with literary events, unique book shops and cafes, new writing and traditional (and not so traditional) storytelling. Every year, Edinburgh hosts the largest celebration of the written word in the world in August with the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

1. Famous authors

Edinburgh has been the birthplace, home and hangout to some of the world’s biggest and best loved writers. JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, wrote all her books in Edinburgh, starting from humble beginnings in the city’s cafes. Muriel Spark brought Edinburgh’s Morningside manners to fame with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Kate Atkinson, one of the world’s best loved cross-genre writers, calls Edinburgh home. Visit 44 Scotland Street with Alexander McCall Smith, explore Edinburgh’s sordid underbelly with Ian Rankin and Rebus, or wallow in Sir Walter Scott’s glorious back catalogue of books, starting with Waverley. In the mood for a mystery? Tread the streets with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or shiver your timbers, Treasure Island style, with Robert Louis Stevenson.

2. Festivals

Edinburgh hosts the world’s largest book festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Every August, over two and a half weeks, over 800 writers from across the world come together in a heaving program of events for an audience of thousands.

The City of Literature Trust is proud to be part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival every year with Story Shop, the New Writer’s Salon, and Reading the City. Story Shop gives some of Edinburgh’s best new writers a platform to perform their work at the festival before introducing them to the literary industry at the New Writer’s Salon. Reading the City explores how Edinburgh influences its writers and vice versa, with some surprising guest appearances.

Smaller book festivals happen year round, from Portobello’s books beside the sea to the Independent Radical Book Fair, bringing independent voices to the city for free since 1988. And just a day trip away, other major book festivals include Bloody Scotland, the Wigtown Book Festival, and the Dundee Literary Festival. There’s something for everyone within easy reach of Edinburgh’s centre.

3. Publishing

Edinburgh is central to the rich history of publishing in Scotland. The first book printed in Scotland was printed in Edinburgh in 1508 and today, publishers in Edinburgh publish some of the most exciting contemporary writers in the world. Just over a quarter of Scotland’s 110 or so publishers are based in the city including Canongate Books, Edinburgh University Press, Luath, Polygon and Birlinn.

4. Bookshops

The city also supports over 50 unique and wonderful bookshops. Some have animals (alive and stuffed), some have inspired famous characters – BBC TV series, Black Books is said to be based on more than one Edinburgh bookshop – and some just defy description. High street, antiquarian or niche, the city is comfortably stuffed with a range of bookshops to suit every taste.

5. Literary Prizes

Edinburgh is the home of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, Biography and Drama, the only prize in the world to be exclusively judged by scholars and students. Winners are awarded a £10 000 prize. It’s also linked to the James Tait Black Scholarship Fund for literature students. The Edinburgh International Book Festival celebrates new writing with the annual First Book Award, and the Saltire Prizes, supported by Creative Scotland, award five categories of literary excellence.

6. Libraries and Museums

Edinburgh’s libraries are the beating heart of their communities, providing books, literacy support, events, workshops and more. The City of Edinburgh Council also supports literature in the city through museums, in particular the Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the lives and works of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Edinburgh celebrates Scotland’s poetic legacy and continuing creativity with The Scottish Poetry Library (pictured above), the world’s first purpose-built library for poetry in the world.

7. Literary Attractions

Edinburgh is spectacular, and visitors flock to the city to experience its architecture, literary events, statues, monuments, literary cafes and pubs, and to walk the streets in the footsteps of their literary heroes. From Edinburgh Castle to its smallest, darkest close, Edinburgh’s literary history is written in the stones. There’s always live literature happening somewhere for those who love exciting spoken word. The National Library of Scotland runs free year-round exhibitions telling Scotland’s literary story, and you can always find a story and a warm welcome at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

8. Literary Heritage

Edinburgh’s literary heritage begins in ordinary people’s homes with the tradition of storytelling, and in the medieval Scottish Royal Courts with the extraordinary performance poets, the Makars. In 1496, the Scottish Parliament passed the world’s first compulsory education law, paving the way for some of the world’s best educated, brilliant thinkers and the Scottish Enlightenment. In 1726, poet Allan Ramsay established the world’s first circulating library. In 1768 the first copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published, and Edinburgh’s 20th century heralded a rethinking of Scottish literature with the Scottish Renaissance. With centuries’ worth of history behind it, Edinburgh’s heritage shines through in the writing of its contemporary superstars.