The Book Lover’s Guide to Edinburgh

Jenna Maxwell


With authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, JM Barrie, Sir Walter Scott, Irvine Welsh and JK Rowling to have called the city their home, it's easy to see why Edinburgh was named the world's first city of literature back in 2004. Book lovers can visit the real-life inspirations to some of their favourite novels including Treasure Island, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and Trainspotting among many others. Here's our list of the top literary things to do in Edinburgh.

Harry Potter

JK Rowling famously wrote the adventures of the boy wizard in cafes around Edinburgh. The Elephant House Café, Spoon Café and Balmoral Hotel are all ‘official’ places where parts of the series have been written and have been confirmed by the author herself.

The Elephant House is located on George IV Bridge and is a great spot for coffee, cake and people spotting. Many fans have scribbled their own tributes to the books in the toilet cubicles. Just along the road is Spoon Café, formally known as Nicholson’s, where there have been several sightings of Rowling scribbling furiously in a notebook in the 90s. And The Balmoral is where she locked herself away to complete the very last book.

Aside from the cafes and hotel, fans can also visit Greyfriar’s Kirkyard which has been in use since the 16th century and a place where JK Rowling seemed to get inspiration for some character names such as Riddle and McGonagall. You can also see JK Rowling’s immortalised writer’s hands in the courtyard of Edinburgh City Chambers on the Royal Mile where she won an Edinburgh Award in 2008. 

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called Edinburgh home and his influences can be found in several places in the city.

Although the famous detective’s adventures were set in London, Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh. A statue of Holmes can be found where he was born at Picardy Place, directly opposite the Conan Doyle pub.

The author was baptised at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral which is tucked behind his namesake pub. Another stop off for fans could be the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School. This is where Conan Doyle studied medicine and met lecturer Dr Joseph Bell – who many believe was inspiration for Holmes himself. 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark is a semi-autobiographical novel based on Spark’s own teacher at James Gillespie's School for Girls in Marchmont. The school is still there – although is no longer private and girls only.

The best spot for fans of the book is Cramond Beach. In the book, Cramond is where the home of the fictional Mr Lowther is located and where Miss Brodie takes her chosen set of girls to visit.  

Irvine Welsh's Leith

Any Irvine Welsh fan must take a trip to Leith on a visit to Edinburgh. Where the early 90s depiction of deprived Leith is vastly different from how it is now – it now has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants – there are still areas to explore if you’re a fan of the book.

One place that’s more or less the same is the Port o’ Leith bar which was where Irvine Welsh was known to pen the novel. Many believe that the no-frills pub was the inspiration for the fictional Port Sunshine pub in the novel.

As well as Leith, a run along Princes Street in the city centre will feel like you’ve stepped into Renton’s shoes too. 

Robert Louis Stevenson

Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson can actually see the house where he grew up in the New Town at 17 Heriot Row. As a young boy, Stevenson would look out his window to Queen Street Gardens and it became the inspiration for his famous Treasure Island.

The Royal Mile is home to Brodie’s Close. The famous Edinburgh criminal, Deacon Brodie is thought to be the inspiration behind Jekyll and Hyde. Brodie was a respected cabinet maker by day but became a criminal by night. The close as well as Deacon House Café on the Royal Mile are great for fans. 

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