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City of Literature

Photos and text by Renata Carlos Daou

Edinburgh is a city full of literary references.

So it’s no wonder the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, named the Scotland capital its first “City of Literature” in 2004.

Harry Potter fans know the city’s three main contributions to the novel – Victoria Street, the Edinburgh Castle and The Elephant House.

Victoria Street, located within Edinburgh’s Old Town, inspired JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley is the wizarding alley, where the wizards go to shop and dine – a colorful and vivid place, very similar to the actual Victoria Street.

 Edinburgh Castle is suspected to be the inspiration for Hogwarts, the wizarding school. Located on the top of a hill with its tall walls, the castle seems to be straight out of a fairytale, or, in this case, a fantasy book.

 The Elephant House, a coffee shop that is suspected to be the place JK Rowling first started writing Harry Potter, overlooks Edinburgh Castle and was also frequented by authors Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith. A fire forced the closing of the coffee shop last August.

Edinburgh also has many bookstores. The Lighthouse bookstore, known as Edinburgh’s radical bookshop, is owned by a queer woman who promotes non-mainstream and political writers.

As a “City of Literature,” Edinburgh was recognized for the quality, quantity, and diversity of its publishing, how many events and festivals related to literature it hosts, and the number of libraries and bookstores that dot its neighborhoods.

The National Library of Scotland is one of the largest libraries in the United Kingdom and contains more than 24 million items. Paired with the Writer’s Museum, which is temporarily closed because of the pandemic, these two public spaces are the perfect combination for those who love reading and writing.

The museum celebrates Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The three are Scottish writers; Burns is a famous poet and is known as the national poet of Scotland. Scott has written many novels and poems, and Stevenson is known for novels such as “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

There’s also the Conan Doyle, a pub named after author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the famous Sherlock Holmes. He was born in Edinburgh and his character, Sherlock Holmes, is considered the most enduring character of a detective novel. Sherlock Holmes was inspired by one of the author’s professors at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

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