A Literary Tour of Edinburgh

Photo of Emer Ní Chíobháin
4 January 2017

Long before Edinburgh was designated as the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004, Scotland’s literary greats were drawing their liquid inspiration in its pubs, cafés, museums, and bookshops. From wizards and detectives, to champagne, ale and locally roasted coffee, we explore the literary hotspots that Edinburgh has to offer its bookworms.

Gliterary Lunches

Good food, good books and good company

Love to lunch? Why not catch one of Gliterary Lunches‘ sparkling events in Edinburgh’s glamorous George Hotel, next time they’re in town? Hugely successful Gliterary Lunches have hosted over 50 sell-out events in several cities across the UK, featuring some of Britain’s best contemporary writers. With a delightful combination of entertainment and enlightenment, the events include a sparkling reception, a gourmet three-course lunch and the opportunity to hear two award-winning authors talk about their books and inspirations. Go on your own and meet some like-minded types, or book a whole table for 10 with some work friends!

Price: Fine dining

Watch out for: The divine canapés

The George Hotel, 19-21 George St, Edinburgh, UK Glittery Lunches: +44 7525 791454

The Oxford Bar

Small, quaint haunt for locals and Rankin fans

A crammed little pub on one of the New Town’s service streets, The Oxford Bar has been made famous as the favourite watering hole of Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh cop, Inspector Rebus. Known to haunt the watering hole himself, you’ll see a photo of Rankin and his mates proudly displayed in the front bar. However, several writers and artists are also said to have been patrons of the Oxford Bar, including Sydney Goodsir Smith, Willie Ross and Colin Dexter. This cosy and quaint bar has a few tricks up its sleeve with great IPAs and real local ales on tap as well as a small but select range of single malt whiskies on offer. Top it off with a log fire on a cold day and you’re all set.

Price:Budget – Mid-range

Opening Hours: Mon to Thurs: 11-00 / Fri-Sat: 11-01 / Sun: 12-23

Watch out for: the great choice of beers.

The Oxford Bar, 8 Young Street, Edinburgh +44 131 539 7119

The Scottish Storytelling Centre

A unique venue steeped in Scottish culture

The Scottish Storytelling Centre is a vibrant arts venue with a seasonal programme of live storytelling, theatre, music, exhibitions, workshops, family events, and festivals. If you have little ones with you on your literary holiday in Edinburgh, this place is a must-visit. In the Storytelling Court you’ll find an interactive story wall which children (and adults!) can while away the time exploring. Tucked around the corner you can also listen to excerpts from Edinburgh’s most famous storyteller, Robert Louis Stevenson. The centre even displays free exhibits year round and also boasts of a café with tasty treats, delicious home baking and great coffee too.


Opening Hours: Mon to Sat: 10-18 / Sun: 12-18 (Jul-Aug)

Watch out for: The Scottish International Storytelling Festival held there each October.

43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, UK +44 131 556 9579

The Elephant House

Cafe, Restaurant, Coffee Shop, British, $$$
Gourmet tea & coffee house and restaurant

Opened in 1995, The Elephant House has established itself as one of the best tea and coffee houses in Edinburgh. It was made famous as the place of inspiration to writer J.K. Rowling, who sat writing much of her early novels in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Here, they have a bulletin board filled with newspaper articles on her inspiration to write and you really get a sense of the book being written here with the excellent views. The Elephant House of course boasts some of the best coffee in town using only locally roasted coffee that is stored unsealed for no longer than one day, ensuring unparalleled freshness. Experience the magic yourself and savour a cup of tea or coffee before venturing out to explore historic Edinburgh.

Price:Budget – mid-range

Opening Hours: Mon to Thurs: 08-22 / Fri-Sat: 08-23 / Sun 09-22

Watch out for: The graveyard out the back where, it’s rumoured, J.K. Rowling got some names from!

The Writers' Museum

Great Britain, Scotland, Edinburgh, The Writers' Museum, Robert Louis Stevenson Room, Exhibit of Robert Louis Stevenson Memorabilia
The Writers’ Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in Scottish literature | © Steve Vidler / Alamy Stock Photo
Literary relics on display on 1622 house

The Writers’ Museum celebrates the lives of three great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Manuscripts and personal effects of these literary greats are exhibited in the beautiful 17th-century Lady Stair’s House at the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. Visitors can see portraits, rare books and personal objects including Burns’ writing desk, the printing press on which Scott’s Waverley Novels were first produced, and Scott’s own dining table and rocking horse. There is also a plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull, one of only three ever made. Even if you’re not a bookworm, it’s well worth a visit.
Opening Hours: Mon to Sat: 10-17 / Fri-Sat: 08-23 / Sun 12-17

Watch out for: Makars’ Court just next door.

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