Books to read while studying abroad in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a rich literary history with its oldest book, Liber Vitae (Book of Life) of the Collegiate Church of St. Giles, sometimes on display in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Published in the 15th century, it’s impressive to see.
But just over the road from the NLS, another magical moment in literature unfolded. In the writer-friendly Elephant House Café, one J. K. Rowling brought Harry Potter and his Hogwarts friends to life. On the street between Edinburgh Waverley railway station and the hub of student life at University of Edinburgh, you can clearly see where she found her inspiration.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
J. K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh for several years, and a short wander around will make you think of the wizarding world very quickly. Edinburgh Castle has notes of Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley leaps out from Victoria Streets colorful shops.
Read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Rowling found names for several of her darker characters on the old gravestones.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
By Robert Louis Stevenson, one of Edinburgh’s famous literary sons, this classic dark novella explores the dual nature of humanity and the consequences of repressing one's darker impulses. You can read about him in the free Writers Museum in Lady Stair’s House. The character of Dr. Jekyll has, through the decades, been compared to Dr. Frankenstein – both medical men morbidly fixed on pushing the boundaries of science and the supernatural.
For an environment that echoes the two stories, you could head to the Frankenstein & Bier Keller to read and have a monster-inspired cocktail.
A modern classic, written in by Irvine Welsh in 1993, Trainspotting is a gritty and powerful novel of short stories set in Edinburgh's underworld. It explores addiction, poverty, and the challenges of coming of age. Welsh writes in his native language of Edinburgh Scots, giving you a fast-track course in language and pronunciation if you’re brave enough to pick it up.
Rather than enter the Trainspotting world, go for a restaurant near the Waverley Railway Station to dip into your copy of the book. Restaurant Scran, a Scots word for cheap, tasty, filling grub, overlooks the trains as they come in.
The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps by John Buchan is a fast-paced adventure novel set in Edinburgh and the Scottish Lowlands. Written in 1915, it follows the exploits of Richard Hannay as he tries to unravel a mystery that threatens the security of the British Empire. But he does it by weaving a remarkable completeness of the world he describes, as Graham Greene put it.
A thrilling drama, The 39 Steps also gives you a look at Edinburgh as it was at the turn of the last century. You can step back in time by reading its 90 short pages in the classic Bennets, with old-time interiors and a great range of whiskey.
Sunshine on Scotland Street
In his 2012 novel, part of the 44 Scotland Street series, British author Alexander McCall Smith explores the themes of community and friendship by following the lives of the residents of the titular street in Edinburgh's New Town. Built between 1767 and 1850, New Town is only a few years newer than Edinburgh’s Old Town, to the north of Waverley railway station.
With impressive town planning and architecture, it’s the artistic center of an already very creative city. Walk along the beautiful cobbled Scotland Street to King George V Park and read on a bench in the sunshine or, if the Scottish weather is misbehaving,
Take your copy of the book round to The Cumberland Bar, a classic wood-paneled bar that serves a hearty Sunday roast.