Edinburgh has been a muse to many of Britain’s greatest writers. With beautiful vistas, historic buildings and a rich, engrained culture, it’s easy to see why. From celebrated poet Robert Burns to ‘Harry Potter’ author JK Rowling, the city has provided writers with the inspiration needed to produce great works of literature for many decades. If you’re a book lover, follow this literary guide to Edinburgh and explore the places that have influenced, or appeared in, many famous novels and poems.
JK Rowling is one of the most famous novelists of our time. Creator of the immensely successful ‘Harry Potter’ series, Rowling has a strong connection with Edinburgh, where she lived for many years. At the start of her career, Rowling wrote in cafés such as Nicolson's Café and The Elephant House – a coffeehouse overlooking Edinburgh Castle that’s also been used as a writing hub by Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin. It was here that she penned her first novel, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, which would go on to make her one of the most celebrated writers of the century.
When success hit, Rowling moved her writing hub to The Balmoral, where she wrote the seventh and final book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. Fans can stay in the very same suite as Rowling, which has been renamed the JK Rowling suite. Recognisable from the outside by its brass owl doorknocker, the suite contains her writing desk and a marble bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, mischievously signed by Rowling herself.
Edinburgh inspired writers long before JK Rowling dreamt up her wizarding world. Celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns – who’s remembered every year during national holiday, Burns Night – spent time in the city in the 1780s, when he created a new edition of poem series ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’. The capital inspired him to pen several works such as ‘Address to Edinburgh’, which reads like a love letter to the city. Literary enthusiasts can visit The Writers’ Museum to discover manuscripts, published works and personal objects belonging to the poet, such as his writing desk, which have been lovingly preserved.
Another Scottish writer who achieved global fame is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Born in Edinburgh’s Picardy Place in 1859, fans of the author can visit his birthplace, marked by a life-sized bronze statue. Enthusiasts can also visit The Conan Doyle, a traditional pub located a stone’s throw from Doyle’s former home, which is full of paraphernalia celebrating Doyle and his famous character. As well as being his home, Edinburgh provided Doyle with a constant stream of inspiration: for example, his protagonist, Holmes, was inspired by Dr Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the city’s medical school.
Ian Rankin, creator of the best-selling ‘Inspector Rebus’ series, is another Scottish crime author who found inspiration in Edinburgh. The ‘Tartan Noir’ author based many of his stories in and around the city, which is referenced throughout his novels. Fans of the series can enjoy a Rebus-themed tour of the city, which takes a journey through Edinburgh’s secret sites and explores many of the places captured in the pages of Rankin’s novels.
From Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘44 Scotland Street’ to Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’, many authors feature Edinburgh prominently in their works. One of the most intriguing books set in the city is ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. As well as exploring the duality of human nature though its two protagonists, Stevenson used his influential novel to analyse Scotland and the country’s place within a wider Britain, while drawing parallels between Edinburgh’s wealthy and impoverished divide. Literary enthusiasts can discover places mentioned within the novel on a walking tour of medieval Edinburgh, or discover the life of the author at The Writers’ Museum.
If you’re planning a tour inspired by our literary guide to Edinburgh, stay at the historic Balmoral and take advantage of a number of seasonal packages.