What makes Edinburgh such a literary city? Here’s a quick snapshot of its many aspects all of which has made it the first UNESCO City of Literature. Edinburgh is a culturally rich and diverse literary landscape, rooted in the past, present and future, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site (with its Old and New Towns) and the world’s leading festival city. Edinburgh City of Literature work to celebrate and nurtures this status, enhancing our global network, working alongside our colleagues in the Cities of Literature network.
Edinburgh has been the birthplace, home and hangout to some of the world’s biggest and best loved writers including Muriel Spark, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Vahni Capildeo, Alexander McCall Smith, Sir Ian Rankin, Sir Walter Scott, Kirstin Innes, Michael Pedersen, Arthur Conan Doyle, T. L. Huchu and Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s award-winning author, Maggie O’Farrell’s home, has been the inspiration behind much of acclaimed writer, Jenni Fagan’s work as well as Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, and home to Julia Donaldson and such characters as The Gruffalo. An ever-changing landscape in the literary world, you can find out more about authors in Edinburgh by delving into the Live Literature Directory and applying an Edinburgh City filter. If you are a writer based in Edinburgh and want to connect with a writing group in the city click here and scroll down.
Edinburgh hosts a distinctive international showcase celebrating the written word, literature and ideas with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Smaller book festivals have since established, from Porty Book Festival beside the sea to the Cymera Festival for science fiction, fantasy and horror writing. Storytelling and poetry keep the city’s Autumn programme lively with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and Push the Boat Out, which has taken its name from an Edwin Morgan poem. With a growing list of festivals and literary events in the capital you can find more information on literature festivals in the city via this link.
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, 404 Ink, Edinburgh University Press, Luath, Floris, Polygon and Birlinn, with Edinburgh University Press and Canongate recently celebrating both long-established anniversaries. Edinburgh is the capital and gateway to a vibrant publishing nation, which you can find out more about through organisation, Publishing Scotland
The city supports over 50 unique and wonderful bookshops. Some have animals (alive and stuffed), some have inspired famous characters and some just defy description. High street, antiquarian or niche, the city is comfortably stuffed with a range of bookshops to suit every taste.
With Typewronger Books, Argonaut Books, Toppings and the Portobello Bookshop all relatively new to the city, it would appear that our bookshop choice in the city is always evolving. We’ve compiled a recommended list of indie bookshops in the city here.
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, as well as the Saltire Prizes, which award literary excellence. Recently we have seen other prizes emerge in the city such as the Nan Shepherd Prize, which is a biennial non-fiction literary prize for underrepresented voices in nature writing. Scottish Book Trust also have a prizes and awards page that include information about their awards, which includes the New Writers.
Established in 1580, The University of Edinburgh is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world, as well as being one of Scotland’s ancient universities.
Numerous creative writing and literature courses run in the city to this day, and there are now four Universities located across the city: University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt, Napier University, and Queen Margaret University.
Scotland is a nation with a rich literary heritage and this is reflected by the number of organisations in the literature sector, many of which are based here in Edinburgh. Several of these organisations actively run a wide range of reader and writer programmes all year round but the work that they do is varied, catering for different audiences in the city. From Scottish Book Trust, who are renowned for their Bookbug scheme for families, Streetreads who offer reading services for homeless readers, Craigmillar Literacy Trust who aim to engage all in the Craigmillar community through literacy to the Edinburgh Literary Salon, who encourage writers and creatives with their network, through advocacy and best practice sharing. For a wide-ranging and continuously developing list of charities and organisations on the literature scene, across Scotland, Literature Alliance Scotland have their meet the members section of their website.
Edinburgh’s 28 libraries are the beating heart of their communities, providing books, literacy support, events, workshops and more. Edinburgh celebrates Scotland’s poetic legacy and continuing creativity with The Scottish Poetry Library, the world’s first purpose-built library for poetry in the world.
Edinburgh is also home to the National Library of Scotland, the nations largest library and one of the major research libraries in Europe, Tales Of One City, blog from Edinburgh Libraries, and The Library of Mistakes, which is like no other free library - it's a hub of research, intellectual curiosity and conviviality set in the city's historic New Town.
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 the Scott Monument and the Writer’s Museum, to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, there’s a whole host of places to explore on Edinburgh’s cultural tours. And for the Harry Potter fans out there you might want to head to the Balmoral Hotel, Elephant House (cafe) or back to Greyfriar's Kirkyard, and you can find out more over on Visit Scotland's itinerary. For a full list of Scotland's 13 UNESCO sites, which will include Edinburgh as City of Literature, you can visit the site here. The award-winning trail helps to plan with any book lover's visit to the city.
Literature is an important part of the city’s past and present, and it features prominently in almost every corner of city life. It's therefore no surprise to us that Edinburgh attracts literature lovers that want to see more than Scott Monument and Greyfriar's Bobby. From spellbinding architectural marvels to the drinking holes that Robert Louis Stevenson found himself in, Edinburgh’s literary places and attractions have something to appeal to visitors of all kinds. Why don't you enjoy your time in the city with a tour?
To whet your literary craving appetite there is more information on the tours available here.