Once you have the travel bug, you don’t need to find a reason to leave. You just go whenever you can; when the funds are sufficient or when you can get time off of work. It’s in your DNA and you never need to justifying booking that plane ticket. But as insane as it sounds, traveling can become mundane, especially the longer you do it.
This is why it’s nice to have a common theme to your travel; to have some sort of bucket list that you can use as a guide. Some people might make it there goal to visit as many dark tourism locations as they can, to surf the greatest waves in the world, or to visit every continent. It adds a layer of excitement whenever you arrive somewhere new. You have something to seek out, a task to complete.
I have a few of these myself. Me, being the pretentious foodie that I am, make an effort to visit some of the most famous restaurants and cafes in the world. I visited Hotel Sacher in Vienna, where the Sacher Torte, arguable the most famous cake in the world, was invented. I’ve also focused a lot of my efforts on literary tourism.
As you can imagine, literary tourism is when you specifically seek out locations that have a literary significance. They can be libraries, bookstores, the birthplaces of your favorite author, or a museum about them. Some of my favorite destinations thus far have been Trinity Library in Dublin, where I saw the Book of Kells, and the Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh, where J.K. Rowling wrote the second and third Harry Potter books.
The list of literary tourism destinations is extensive, but to give you an idea of what it looks like, I’ve picked out what I deem to be the best literary tourism destinations of all time.
Destinations: London, England
London is a city jammed-packed with culture and has been the home of some of the most famous writers of all-time. Here’s what to look out for next time you’re there:
- The Globe Theatre – One of the most famous playhouses still standing, where William Shakespeare debuted dozens of his plays.
- The George Inn – A 400-year-old pub, not far from the Globe Theatre, and was frequently visited by Charles Dickens and Shakespeare.
- The Sherlock Homes Museum – Where else would you go to learn about an honor one of the greatest sleuths that the world has ever known?
- St. Pancras and King’s Cross Station – Both prominent train stations in the Harry Potter books.
Destinations: Edinburgh, Scotland
If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, this is where you need to go for the ultimate fan freakout.
- Elephant House Cafe – As I mentioned before, this is the cafe in which J.K. Rowling wrote the second and third HP books. Her brother-in-law owned the place and gave her unlimited tea while she worked.
- Greyfriars Kirkyard – This is where J.K. Rowling got the name Tom Riddle, and thus the inspiration for Lord Voldemort. It was also the inspiration for the Little Hangleton Graveyard, where Voldemort’s family lay buried.
- George Heriot’s School – The inspiration for Hogwarts.
- Victoria Street – The inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice
- A floating bookstore with stacks of slightly water-damaged books to the ceiling. I visited it when I was studying Italian in Venice in August of 2018 and I spent at least an hour in this teeny tiny store. I’ve heard that, with Venice slowly succumbing to the rising sea levels, the Libreria Acqua Alta will not be around in the next twenty years or so.
Shakespeare and Co., Paris
Founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, this bookstore has been transformed thrice, one time due to Beach’s refusal to sell books to the Nazis in WW2. Tons of famous writers hung out here and Beach published the works of many more.
Another source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling but also a historically significant bookstore that is stunning to behold.
Bran Castle, Romania
Deep into Transylvania, you’ll find Bran Castle, otherwise known as Dracula’s Castle. For a mix of magic, myth, and history, this is the place to go.
The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
Here is the official library that serves the United States Congress and the single most important in the U.S. It’s the largest and one of the most prestigious libraries in the world and no literary travel bucket list could ever be complete without it.
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Although you need to be granted special access to enter, Beinecke holds many incredible literary treasures. The world’s most mysterious book, the Voynich Manuscript, is held here. It is also home to The Gutenberg Bible and Birds of America by John James Audubon.
Book and Bed, Tokyo
This is where things get funky. Book and Bed in Tokyo, Japan, is a bibliophile hostel. Here, not only does it feel like you’re having a sleepover in a glorified Barnes n Nobel, but you can even sleep in a bookshelf. Either way, you’ll be surrounded by thousands and thousands of books. Just imagine the smell…. 🙂
The Kafka Museum, Prague
Who’s down to see some original drawings, letters, and diaries from the existential and metaphysical mind of Franz Kafka. Head’s up, it’s specifically dedicated to his book Metamorphosis, so it’s kind of intense.
Zhongshuge Bookstore in Hangzhou, China
This futuristic bookstore looks more like it belongs on a spaceship or mega-scientist’s private island than on a busy street in China. Black mirror floors make it feel as though you’re in a tunnel, being circled by tens of thousands of books. At Zhongshuge, you can, quite literally, reflect on all your readings.
Ernest Hemingway’s House in the Florida Keys
Even Ernest Hemingway couldn’t escape Florida’s tropical charm. This adorable yellow house gives you a glimpse into what his life looked like and, if you’re a fan of his work, it’s a guilt-free excuse to visit paradise.
San Francisco’s Independent Bookstores
San Francisco has been blessed with dozens of wonderful independent bookstores that are adored by the masses and were, at any given point in the past few decades, the homes of famous artists like Jack Kerouac. My all-time favorite bookstore in SF is City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. If I could only shop at one bookstore for the rest of my life, it would be this one.
There’s thousands of other prime literary tourism destinations to visit. Charles Dicken’s boyhood home in Missouri, The American Writer’s Museum in Chicago, and the real-life hobbit hole in Hinuera, New Zealand, are high-up there as well.
You don’t need a reason to travel. But literary travel is a damn good one.