A literary tour of the UK: best places for book lovers to visit

Bookmark a trip to these fascinating literary locations

Pack your bags and your books
Pack your bags and your books
(Image credit: PXHere)

The rise in popularity of staycations has “reinforced something books have been teaching us for centuries”, said Olivia Emily on Country & Town House. “You don’t have to travel far to feel like you’re in another world.”

As somewhere that has produced some of the “most celebrated literary figures throughout history”, the UK has long been “one of the top literary destinations in the world”, said Malavika Kumar on Travel.Earth. William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen are just a few of the literary giants who have entertained generations of readers – and they can be celebrated in towns and cities across the country.

From the home of the Brontë sisters to Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station, here’s some of Britain’s most popular locations to bookmark for your next literary trip.

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1. Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, tops must-see locations list

The Brontë sisters lived most of their lives at the Parsonage in Haworth

The Brontë sisters lived most of their lives at the Parsonage in Haworth
(Image credit: Justin Kase zsixz/Alamy Stock Photo)

UK-wide

To mark the launch of the Kindle Storyteller Award in August 2022, Amazon released results of a survey of 2,000 British “book buffs” which revealed the 35 most iconic literary locations in the UK, said The Mirror. Top of the list was the Yorkshire village of Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, while Shakespeare’s Globe in London and Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire, were second and third respectively.

Top 35 literary locations

  1. Haworth – home of the Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne
  2. Shakespeare’s Globe, London
  3. Jane Austen’s Chawton cottage
  4. 221B Baker Street – home of Sherlock Holmes and the Sherlock Holmes museum
  5. The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, regularly visited by JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis
  6. Sherwood Forest
  7. Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
  8. Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon
  9. British Library, London
  10. Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Lake District – home of William Wordsworth
  11. Hilltop House in Near Sawrey, Lake District – home of Beatrix Potter
  12. Whitby – setting for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula
  13. Pooh Sticks Bridge, Buckhurst Park Estate, East Sussex – associated with A.A. Milne
  14. Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon
  15. Chatsworth House, named in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  16. Charles Dickens’ birthplace museum, Portsmouth
  17. The Jane Eyre trail, Peak District
  18. Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey
  19. Greenway, Agatha Christie’s Devon retreat
  20. Roald Dahl’s Gipsy House, Great Missenden
  21. Keats’ House, London
  22. Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, and Max Gate House, Dorset
  23. Sedbergh book town, Lake District
  24. Abbotsford, near Selkirk, Scotland, made famous by Walter Scott
  25. Dylan Thomas boathouse, Laugharne, Wales
  26. John Rylands library, Manchester
  27. 48 Doughty Street, Charles Dickens’ home
  28. John Milton’s cottage, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire
  29. D.H. Lawrence birthplace and Hagg’s Farm, Nottingham
  30. Elizabeth Gaskell’s house, Manchester
  31. Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex – associated with Henry James
  32. Bateman’s, East Sussex, home of Rudyard Kipling
  33. Shelley Lodge, Marlow, home of Mary Shelley
  34. Woolwich, and central London, famously associated with Bernardine Evaristo
  35. Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey, home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

2. UK’s top literary cities

UK’s top literary hotspots by South Western Railway

UK-wide

Looking at the Goodreads lists of novels that are set in the UK, South Western Railway analysed more than 1,000 books to reveal the top ten literary hotspots. It may come as no surprise that London is the most popular setting to be used in books. More than 400 novels in the research used the city as the basis for adventures and escapades. From solving mysteries in Sherlock Holmes to navigating life as a single woman in Bridget Jones’s Diary, the capital is home to many much-loved characters.

Edinburgh is the second most popular backdrop for novels in the UK, with nearly 40 books set here. The Scottish city is home to many of Ian Rankin’s books and plays a key role in the life of his famous character Inspector Rebus. Mystery is the top genre for this city, with other novels such as Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber and One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson located here too.

Brighton and Hove takes the bronze, and just like Edinburgh, it’s mystery and crime that populates this vibrant city. Home to the popular character Superintendent Roy Grace in the series of books by Peter James, the city is also the backdrop for Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and Sara Sheridan’s Brighton Belle.

The top ten literary hotspots in the UK

Swipe to scroll horizontally
RankCityAverage book rating*Top genre*
1London3.9Historical
2Edinburgh3.9Mystery
3Brighton and Hove3.8Mystery
4Oxford3.9Fantasy
5Bath3.7Classic
6Liverpool4.0Historical
7Cambridge3.8Historical
8York4.1Mystery
9Bristol3.8Fiction
10Glasgow3.9Fiction

* Average book rating and top genre for each setting are based on Goodreads data

southwesternrailway.com

3. Edinburgh: a city of storytelling

City of Edinburgh

(Image credit: VisitScotland)

Scotland

In 2004 Edinburgh was designated as the world’s first Unesco City of Literature. The Scottish capital is the birthplace and home to world-famous writers, poets and playwrights such as Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus), Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) and Val McDermid (Kate Brannigan).

But “long before” achieving its Unesco designation, Scotland’s literary greats were “drawing their liquid inspiration in its pubs, cafés, museums, and bookshops”, said Emer Ní Chíobháin on Culture Trip. Major events include the world-renowned Edinburgh International Book Festival and there are many must-visit attractions including the Scottish Poetry Library, Scottish Storytelling Centre, The Writers’ Museum, and the National Library of Scotland, which is home to more than 24 million printed items.

Whether you “love the scent of old books”, or the “crisp never-been-read feel” of a new book, there’s bound to be a book shop in Edinburgh that’s “right up your street”, said Forever Edinburgh. Bookshops for your Edinburgh bucket list include McNaughtan’s Books, Typewronger Books, Elvis Shakespeare, and Topping and Company Booksellers.

Visitors should also explore the city by going on one of the many literary tours. Options include The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour and The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour.

A weekend in Edinburgh

4. Unesco Cities of Literature

The Devon & Exeter Institution library

The Devon & Exeter Institution library
(Image credit: Visit Exeter)

Norwich, Nottingham, Manchester and Exeter

Edinburgh is not the only UK city on Unesco’s literature list. The Scottish capital has been joined by Norwich (designated in 2012), Nottingham (2015), Manchester (2017), and Exeter (2019).

Not just a city of “astounding literary talent”, Norwich is also a “city of firsts”, said the Cities of Literature website. The first book written by a woman in the English language came from the pen of Julian of Norwich in 1395 (Revelations of Divine Love) and in the 16th century the first poem in blank verse was written by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Nottingham is a city “with a story to tell”. It’s long been home to a “strong spirit of rebellions and trailblazers” – from Robin Hood to D.H. Lawrence – and it’s “built on culture”, with two universities, 18 public libraries and a host of bookshops.

Literature and free speech have been “forces for change” throughout Manchester’s history. The UK’s first free public library was opened in Manchester in 1653 and libraries “continue to be a vital part” of the city’s cultural provision and provide hubs of activity for all ages.

Exeter has a “rich literary scene that continues to grow”. It’s home to The Devon & Exeter Institution, an independent library that boasts the earliest known professional woman librarian, and Exeter Library, one of the busiest libraries in Great Britain in terms of visits and issues.

citiesoflit.com

5. The British Library in London

The British Library in St Pancras, London

(Image credit: Sam Lane)

London, England

If you do a quick Google search you will find pages and pages of literary attractions and tours in London. However, if you are going to choose one place to visit then make time to go to The British Library in St Pancras.

The UK’s national library is home to more than 170 million collection items – from the Magna Carta and Jane Austen’s notebooks to lyrics handwritten by the Beatles. Treasures of the British Library is free for visitors and tells the remarkable stories of more than 2,000 years of human experience. There’s also a range of free and paid-for events and exhibitions for visitors to enjoy.

bl.uk

6. Stratford-upon-Avon: the birthplace of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Birthplace and statue in Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s Birthplace and statue in Stratford-upon-Avon
(Image credit: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy Stock Photo)

Warwickshire, England

In what is a “feat of transformation” worthy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the past 20 years or so the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon has “morphed” from a “cunning tourist trap” selling all things Shakespeare into “somewhere you’d actually like to go for a long weekend”, said Sophie Campbell on Condé Nast Traveller. The birthplace of “the Great Man”, there are many “key” William Shakespeare sites to visit here – “not to mention the actual plays, of course”, courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Whether you are “a lover of all things literary”, a “culture vulture”, or just “adore immersing yourself in history”, there is no denying that Stratford-upon-Avon “ticks all the boxes”, said Bolthole Retreats.

The town also hosts a literary festival which has “blossomed” into an “annual shindig” that attracts “big-name authors, poets and illustrators”, said Condé Nast Traveller.

A weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon

7. Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station

Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station in London

(Image credit: Petr Svarc/Alamy Stock Photo)

London, England

One of the most popular literary destinations to visit in the UK is Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station in London, said Malavika Kumar on Travel.Earth. Marking the “secret platform to the Hogwarts Express”, Platform 9¾ is not found between platforms nine and ten, however, but on the western departures concourse. “A luggage trolley, complete with trunk and owl cage sticks out of the wall while fans wait in line for that perfect photo op.”

If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling books and popular film series, then a visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter should also be high on your wish list.

kingscross.co.uk

8. Penzance and The Edge of the World Bookshop

The Edge Of The World Bookshop in Penzance

(Image credit: Mr Standfast/Alamy Stock Photo)

Cornwall, England

The harbourside town of Penzance in Cornwall is rich in literary history, with many famous figures having firm roots there.

Maria Branwell, mother of the famed Brontë sisters, was born in Penzance in 1783 before moving to Yorkshire, while renowned poet Alfred Tennyson used to holiday in Penzance before sailing across to the Scilly Isles with fellow writer Francis Turner Palgrave. Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas was also familiar with the Cornish town, marrying Caitlin Macnamara at the Penzance Registry Office in 1937.

Positioned as a great destination for book lovers and home to an annual literary festival, Penzance continues to attract bibliophiles from Cornwall and beyond. The aptly named Edge of the World Bookshop is Penzance’s leading independent bookshop and is filled with an array of classic, quirky and local Cornish titles in every genre.

edgeoftheworldbookshop.co.uk

9. Gladstone’s Library

A door sign at Gladstone’s Library

(Image credit: GladstonesLibrary.org/Stewart Lawton)

Flintshire, North Wales

Gladstone’s Library is the UK’s only “residential library” and features 26 bedrooms, an on-site restaurant, reading rooms, guest lounge and a collection of more than 150,000 items.

This is a “bibliophile’s dream”, said Daniella Saunders in Country & Town House. And an “ideal spot for those who don’t intend to leave the library once the lights go out”.

All bedrooms have private bathroom facilities, free Wi-Fi access, tea and coffee making facilities, a hairdryer and a radio. However, there are no TVs in the bedrooms – this is to “preserve the ethos of study and reflection”.

gladstoneslibrary.org

10. Jane Austen in Bath

Jane Austin fans dress up for a parade in Bath

Jane Austin fans dress up for a parade in Bath
(Image credit: lynchpics/Alamy Stock Photo)

Somerset, England

Home to English writer Jane Austen between 1801 and 1806, two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were set in Bath, said Meehika Barua in Elle. In fact, this ancient Somerset city is pretty much the “go-to location” for many period films and series, including hit TV drama Bridgerton.

Celebrating Bath’s most famous resident and offering a snapshot of life during Regency times, the Jane Austen Centre is a place “any Jane-ite should visit at least once”, said An Historian About Town. The guides, who are dressed in Regency costume, are “more than just regular employees” – they “truly love what they do”. Every year there’s a Jane Austen Festival held in Bath and in 2023 it will be from 8-17 September. Strictly Jane Austen Tours also offers visitors the chance to walk in the novelist’s footsteps.

A weekend in Bath

11. Hotels with libraries

The Library Suite at the Connaught Hotel in London

The Library Suite at the Connaught Hotel in London

UK-wide

Is there “anything better than escaping with a good book?”, Red Online asks. Maybe one thing… escaping to a hotel that has a library.

One of the best places for “retreat-seeking book lovers” is the Library Suite at the five-star Connaught Hotel in London. Created by architect Michael Blair, the suite is split over two levels and features a master bedroom, second bedroom, sitting room and shelves littered with a huge variety of books. It’s “pure bliss”.

The Standard hotel in London, once home to the Camden Council library, boasts its own Library Lounge and resident librarian, said Country & Town House. “No ordinary hotel library, titles have been organised into an array of alternative and eccentric categories.”

If you like to read a tome with a tipple then head to the Library Bar at Stanbrook Abbey in Worcester. “Comprising cosy mismatched chairs, an old-world piano and of course plenty of books, this inviting library lends itself to the 16th century establishment’s traditional charm.”

12. Literary inspired weekends in England

Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

(Image credit: roalddahl.com)

England-wide

England’s literary landscapes and locations are “as diverse as the writers they stirred”, said the VisitEngland tourism board. “From organised trails to self-guided literary trips, there are chances for inspiration all over the country.”

Enjoy “splendiferous fun” at the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen in Bath, discover Charles Dickens’s Broadstairs in Kent or explore the beautiful home and surroundings that inspired classic Brontë novels in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

visitengland.com

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