As Dubai prepares to host the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, we present a guide to 10 of the best cities in which to venture beyond the pages of the world’s famous wordsmiths
The world’s most inspiring literary cities
As Dubai gets ready to welcome authors from around the world to celebrate the 10th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature from Thursday, we take a look at some of the world’s most inspiring literary cities. From retracing the pages of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind in Barcelona to bedding down in the Cairo hotel where Agatha Christie first fell in love with Egypt, read on for our top 10 literary escapes.
France is the country with the most Nobel Prize for Literature winners and its capital has been home to some of the world’s greatest writers. Settle down with a good book in the tree-lined Place des Vosges in Le Marais, then pop into the Maison de Victor Hugo (www.maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr) next door to learn about the acclaimed poet’s life and works. Have lunch at Café Procope (www.procope.com), the oldest cafe in Paris and the former hangout of Rousseau, Voltaire and Diderot.
Classically Parisian neighbourhood Saint-Germain-des-Prés is known for its literary history, making it a must-visit. Sip on a coffee and people-watch at Café de Flore (cafedeflore.fr) where Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Jacques Prévert often fraternised. Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Paris (www.ritzparis.com) is also a must-see – it’s where the journalist declared Paris liberated at the end of the Second World War in 1944.
Take your appreciation for the written word to the max by staying at Le Pavillion des Lettres (www.pavillondeslettres.com/en). The hotel has 23 rooms and three suites, each named after a letter of the alphabet and a corresponding author, whose work you will find in special edition form on your nightstand.
As the first designated Unesco City of Literature in the world, Edinburgh is a haven for book lovers. Potter-heads will want to stop for lunch at The Elephant House (www.elephanthouse.biz) where J K Rowling penned the first of her novels, while fans of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting can take a tour of Leith to see all the places that the novel’s characters call home.
You’ll be hard-pressed to miss the towering Scott Monument (to Sir Walter Scott) in the heart of Princes Street – it’s the world’s largest tribute to a literary figure. Delve deeper into Edinburgh’s compositions with a trip to the Writers’ Museum (www.royal-mile.com/interest/writers_museum.html) from where you can set off on The Edinburgh Book Lovers Tour (www.edinburghbooktour.com) taking in the Royal Mile, George Square and Greyfriars Kirk; don’t forget to look down – many of the cobbled stones are etched with lines from Scotland’s greatest poets.
Stay at the four-star boutique Nira Caledonia (niracaledonia.com) in leafy Stockbridge – the hotel was formerly home to John Wilson, principal writer of Edinburgh’s influential periodical Blackwood’s Magazine.
A city of two tongues, four literary festivals and an impressive publishing history, Barcelona has been the setting for countless epics including The Shadow of the Wind by Zafón and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Trace the narrative of Zafón’s novel with a walking tour through the city’s historic heart, taking in the Gothic quarter, the fictional location of Sempere and Sons bookshop and the renowned Els Quatre Gats (www.4gats.com) an important location in the story and real-life. Don’t miss the medieval arches of the National Library of Catalonia (www.bnc.cat), home to about three million books.
If you’re visiting in April, enjoy the incredibly romantic Sant Jordi festival where Catalonians exchange flowers and novels, and the streets of Las Ramblas, Paseo de Gracia and Rambla Cataluña overflow with stalls selling tomes and roses. Make like Orwell did when he penned his Catalonia novel and check into the grand Hotel Continental Palacete (www.hotelcontinental.com/hotel-continental-barcelona/en/default.html) for a stay steeped in history.
According to the World Cities Culture Forum, Hong Kong has more bookshops per person than any other country in the world, rightly earning it a slot in our literary travel round-up. Of these, Lok Man Rare Books (lokmanbooks.com) in Central is our pick; the shelves here heave with hundreds of local and international rare finds and first editions. The Peninsula Hotel (hongkong.peninsula.com) is Hong Kong’s grandest dame, having played host to countless literature figures including playwright Noël Coward and science fiction scribe Arthur C Clarke.
And while The Hong Kong Heritage Museum in the New Territories isn’t huge, it’s worth a visit to learn more about Jin Yong, co-founder of one of Hong Kong’s most successful daily newspapers (Ming Pao) and also one of the world’s best-known martial arts novelists.
The birthplace of Nobel prizewinner Naguib Mahfouz, who set his first novel, Fates’ Mockery , in ancient Egypt, why not start your tour of the Egyptian capital at The Egyptian Museum (egyptianmuseum.gov.eg) to discover more about the origins of the written word via hieroglyphics and ancient papyrus. Then follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie – the world’s bestselling English author – by checking into the Cairo Marriott (www.marriott.com), an ornate 19th-century palace where the English writer stayed for three months.
If your budget is smaller, and noisy neighbourhoods don’t faze you, the Miami Metro Hostel in the Garden City area lets you spend the night in the apartment block that inspired Alaa Al-Aswany’s international bestselling The Yacoubian Building.
James Bond fans can head to Darb al-Ahmar where, in the 10th book of Ian Fleming’s popular series, the spy walked around the 2,000-year-old Mosque of Ibn Tulun.
And since no visit to Egypt is complete without taking in the Great Pyramids, make for Giza to evoke memories from the opening of Christie’s popular mystery, Death on the Nile.
With its winding narrow streets and medieval charm, Estonia’s diminutive capital oozes romantic charm and, with the Baltic countries set to be one of the key focuses at this year’s annual London Book Fair, tiny Tallinn is climbing the literary ladder.
Visit the Anton Hansen Tammsaare Museum where there’s an exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the man who penned Truth and Justice, the opus considered by many to be the grounding classic of Estonian literature. The city’s Unesco-listed Old Town is the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe so enjoy wandering cobbled streets, maze-like alleys and grand squares, then stop in at nearby REaD (www.raamaturead.ee), a cosy bookshop that hosts regular poetry readings. Before you depart, don’t miss the free library at Tallinn International Airport.
Three of Ireland’s four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature were born in Dublin, and the city is simply brimming with literary attractions. Even a quick wander round the streets of Ireland’s capital will have you stumbling upon plaques, monuments and buildings dedicated to masters of the written word. The Dublin Literary Crawl (www.dublinpubcrawl.com) takes you from one historic public house to the next, with professional actors playing the roles of some of the city’s most famous scribes and reading their works.
A visit to Trinity College (www.tcd.ie) gives you the chance to see The Book of Kells, the world’s most famous medieval manuscript. The Dublin Writers Museum, located in an 18th-century mansion on Parnell Square, north of the River Liffey, highlights the authors of Ireland’s capital with an impressive collection spanning everyone from Oscar Wilde and James Joyce to Brendan Behan and W B Yeats.
When it comes to sleeping, grandiose The Shelbourne Hotel (www.marriott.com/hotels) by St Stephen’s Green has long been a favourite with literary greats and was the site of the drafting and signing of Ireland’s Constitution.
Having been put on the literary map by the much-travelled American writer and composer Pawl Bowles, the Moroccan port city of Tangier is a must-visit for book aficionados. Start at the Tangier American Legation Institute (www.legation.org) where there’s an entire wing dedicated to the New York-born expat. Afterwards, pick up some new reading material at the Librairie des Colonnes (www.librairie-des-colonnes.org) and the city’s best bookshop. Lose yourself in the labyrinthine streets of the medina where the Gran Café de Paris – a former literati hangout that also starred in The Bourne Ultimatum – is the ideal place to sip on mint tea and watch people scurry around the Petit Socco.
The modest tomb of Ibn Battuta, purported to be the last resting place of the great 14th-century traveller, is another must-see. Check in at Hotel El Muniria at 1 Rue Magellan, where you’ll be in the company of the ghosts of famed writers of the Beat Generation, such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, who lived here while writing The Naked Lunch.
More than any other Japanese city, Tokyo calls to literary lovers. One of the most successful Japanese authors to date, Haruki Murakami’s work has been translated into dozens of languages across the globe. Mostly set in modern Japan, visit the Shinjuku of After Dark or the Nogata neighbourhood from Kafka on the Shore.
Manga lovers should head to Maruzen Nihonbashi bookshop on the city’s west side where there’s an entire section dedicated to English translations of the graphic-led comics. Curl up with a good book and settle in for the night at Book and Bed – a bookstore-themed hostel where guests can sleep in Japanese-style compartments built into bookshelves that house thousands of page turners (bookandbedtokyo.com).
As the cultural capital of Russia, St Petersburg has a history peppered by the presence of Russia’s greatest poets and writers. Trace the route of Crime and Punishment’s wordsmith, visiting the apartment museum where Dostoevsky spent the last years of his life, and enter The Guardhouse, the only building in the city’s main square to have survived from the author’s time. If Lolita is one of your favourites, the Nabokov Museum (nabokov.museums.spbu.ru/En/) has been created in the house in which the author was born and displays manuscripts, drawings and the writer’s hand-curated butterfly collection. Feast on fine-dining Russian style at The Literary Café, the venue where Aleksandr Pushkin ate his final meal, and, when it comes to sleeping, Rocco Forte’s The Astoria (www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/hotel-astoria/) is one of the best in the city, listing author Mikhail Bulgakov and science fiction patriarch H G Wells among its former guests.