4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

Scott Monument

4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

Did you know that Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature? World-famous writers, poets, and playwrights have called Edinburgh home including Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes), Sir Walter Scott, and J.K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter). The world’s largest book festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, is also held here annually in August for two weeks. You can read more here. With over 50 bookstores, you will be spoiled for choice for book buying. On this route, you will be visiting some of these bookstores that are all within decent walking distance. Other bookstores, also worth a visit but further away, are included at the end of this article.

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Route overview of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature-Edinburgh Walk

Route overview 

Our first stop is Scott Monument. Sir Walter Scott was a judge, advocate, and legal administrator by day, and a historian, novelist, playwright, and poet by night. It’s easy to see why the Scott Monument is the second largest monument in honour of a writer standing at over 61m tall and completed in 1844. Scott has influenced both European and American literature with his best-known works including Ivanhoe, Waverley, and his poem “Lady of the Lake”. The monument is covered in 64 figures to represent some characters from his novels as well as sculptures of 16 heads of Scottish poets. You will notice how the stone is blackened, this is a result of smoke and the pollution of the early 1900s, it was decided not to clean the monument as it risks damaging the stone. However, some restoration was done hence the contrast of the “new” and “old” stone. If you feel brave enough, you can climb up the 287 steps (it’s a bit of a tight squeeze towards the top), and see magnificent views of the city.

Scott Monument

Scott Monument

Turning your back to the Monument, turn right along Princes Street then right onto North Bridge. When you reach High Street, turn left.

Part 1 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk from Scott Monument down Northbridge then Canongate

Part 1 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

High Street becomes Canongate. Look out to your right for Crichton’s Close where you will see the Scottish Poetry Library.

Part 2 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk down Canongate to the Scottish Poetry Library

Part 2 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk 

The Scottish Poetry Library, established by a poet for poets, serves as a resource centre for written works, to encourage the spoken word, and inspire a new generation of writers and poets. Several free events are hosted here and of course a large collection of poetry, in multiple formats, from Scottish and International poets. There is also an online collection of some of these works.

Scottish Poetry Library

Scottish Poetry Library. Credit: Summoned by Fells

Head back the way you came and turn left back onto Canongate.

Part 3 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk down Canongate

Part 3 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk down Canongate

Just after St Giles’ Cathedral, turn left onto George IV Bridge to reach the National Library of Scotland. Edinburgh Central Library is directly across the street.

Part 4 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk past St Giles' Cathedral to the National Library of Scotland

Part 4 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

The Edinburgh Central Library has frequent free events including arts and crafts, films, exhibition tours, and concerts. With collections dating as far back as the 1400s, and being able to trace your family tree (if you have Scottish heritage) it is worth getting a temporary membership (which you can apply for online here). With your membership, you can also access online resources such as ebooks and audiobooks.

Edinburgh Central Library

Edinburgh Central Library. Credit: Wikipedia

National Library of Scotland.

Head back the way you came on George IV Bridge. At the intersection, cross the road and turn left then right down Lady Stair’s Close to reach the Writer’s Museum and Makar’s Court.

Part 5 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk past St Giles' Cathedral to the Writer's Museum

Part 5 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

The Writer’s Museum celebrates the three most famous Scottish writers Robert Burns (poet of “Auld Lang Syne”), Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). The museum houses some personal items from each of these writers including Burn’s writing desk, one of Scott’s printing presses, as well as a plaster cast of Burn’s skull, one of only three in the world. The museum is free to enter and even if you are unfamiliar with these writers, it is still worth a visit to peek into their lives and times in Edinburgh. If you look at the flagstone surrounding the museum, Makar’s Court, including the stairs in the closes, there are several quotes from writers as early as the 14th Century to today with new stones added regularly.

Writer's Museum and Makar's Court

Writer’s Museum and Makar’s Court. Credit: Mike McBey

Go back up Lady Stair’s Close then turn right up Lawnmarket Street. When you reach Tolbooth Kirk at a roundabout-like intersection walk to the left of Tolbooth Kirk down Johnston Terrace. Part 6 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk down Lawnmarket StreetPart 6 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

Just after the curve at the end of the road, turn right onto Castle Terrace. Follow the curve again at the end of the road and turn right onto Lothian Road then right onto Princes Street where you will see Waterstones on your left.

Part 7 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk down Johnston Terrace, Castle Terrace, and Lothian Road to Waterstones

Part 7 of the 4km UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh Walk

This Waterstones on Princes Street has a beautiful layout spread across four floors and separated into sections. What makes this Waterstones so special, is its cafe on the second floor with a magnificent unobstructed view of Edinburgh Castle. This is every bookworm’s fantasy: with a good book, surrounded by books, an inspiring view in the heart of the literary city, and a good cup of a hot drink and maybe a small pastry snack.

Children's section of Waterstones.

Children’s section of Waterstones. Credit: Laptop Friendly

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Not on this route but worth a stop:

Till’s Bookshop is one of Edinburgh’s oldest surviving second-hand bookshops. Set in the view of The Meadows, this wee bookshop is cosy with a window reading nook and fireplace and picturesque with its floor-to (almost) ceiling bookshelves along the walls. Till’s also has some special edition books including the rare and antique.

Till's Bookshop

Till’s Bookshop. Credit: Hidden Scotland

Rare Birds Bookshop sells books exclusively written by women with the main goal of encouraging reading for fun. In line with this, they have a few fun literary events throughout the year. The bookshop is also very cute, colourful, neat and tidy.

Rare Birds Bookshop

Rare Birds Bookshop. Credit: @sarah_reads_and_makes

Ginger and Pickles Children’s Bookshop was designed and curated with little ones in mind. As small as the bookshop is, it brings to life the big imaginations of children with its colours and decorations on the walls and ceilings.

Ginger and Pickles Children's Bookshop

Ginger and Pickles Children’s Bookshop. Credit: Ginger and Pickles Children’s Bookshop

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If you enjoyed this route, see our 4.5km Inspiring Art Museums Walk.

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