Exploring the world’s most literary cities

Artist Pablo Picasso claimed that “inspiration exists, but is has to find you working.” This is particularly true when it comes to writing. It is not simply enough to stay at home staring at an empty page (or more likely computer screen), budding novelists need to get and take in the world in all its glories.

Since the age of Gutenberg’s printing press cities have provided inspiration for great writers. These teeming pools of humanity showcase the best, and indeed worst, of our species and have helped inspire the works of everyone from Pablo Neruda to Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

We don’t claim to be great writers, but we do know about travel and in this week’s blog showcase five of the most important, and, yes, inspiring, cities.

Paris, France

An obvious choice perhaps, but it is impossible to deny Paris’ position as one of the world’s literary capitals. Visitors are invited to pucker up and leave a lipstick print on Wilde’s tomb in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, the Irish writer’s grave being a magnet for devout, and some would say zealous, mourners. They can then follow in the footsteps of Hemingway and take a table at Les Deux Magots, a café he frequented, or explore the Latin Quarter. Museums devoted to French titans Balzac and Hugo can also be added to the proverbial ‘must see’ list.

No trip to Paris would be complete without a trip to the book market in Georges Brassens Park near Porte de Vanas in the 15th Arrondissement. It is held every weekend without exception and has tombs on almost every topic imaginable.

Edinburgh, Scotland

‘The Athens of the north’ is an atmospheric city that blends the old with the new and tradition with modernity. Its unique atmosphere has allegedly inspired upwards of 500 novels and a passionate, vibrant literary scene remains. Tellingly even one of the cities football clubs – Heart of Midlothian – claim to be named after a Sir Walter Scott novel. While it would be tempting to mull on the works of ‘The Bard’ – 18th century poet Rabbie Burns – the city has been at the forefront of modern British literature, not least thanks to Ian Rankin and Irvin Welsh: writers who inspire a number of walking tours and pub crawls.

The city’s Writers Museum, located in a 17th century building accessed by a narrow passageway’ is a must see, with exhibits on literary greats like Burns, Scott and Stevenson.

Washington D.C., USA

There’s more to the American capital than the West Wing, indeed the Library of Congress, founded in 1800, is still the world’s largest. A guided tour round this grandiose structure illuminates its literary significance and the opulent Main Reading Room, resplendent with stained glass, marble and murals, is sure to stir any bookish soul.

The political thrillers of Vidal and Forsyth are supplemented by a strong poetic heritage. Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and many others have found inspiration in the city, something reflected in the Poetry Foundation’s excellent walking tour. DC is also home to wonderful bookshops like Politics and Prose and Kramerbooks, whose eclectic stock and informed staff will surely make your visit a memorable one.

St. Petersburg, Russia

The former Russian capital is known for its vibrant baroque and neoclassical architecture, which speaks of imperial glory and grandeur. However, beneath the surface there is a dark side, one reflected in the city’s literary tradition. Fyodor Dostoyevsky spent his final years here, penning such epics as The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. Visitors may undertake a walking tour inspired by the latter, which includes such sites as the murderous Raskolnikov’s home and the unlucky pawnbroker’s storefront. Even in what is now a thoroughly modern city a certain atmosphere hangs in the air…

Santiago, Chile

The crown jewel in Santiago’s literary crown is the blue-and-yellow home of the “people’s poet” Pablo Neruda in the Bellavista neighbourhood. Here he, inspired by secret meetings with his mistress and muse, penned some of his best loved verse, and it remains a shrine for visitors from across the globe. Neruda is not Santiago’s only literary icon: Gabriela Mistral has been immortalised in a stunning mural in Cerro Santa Lucia Park and is features on the 5,000 peso note.

The vibrancy of this life-affirming city comes out in the bustling book markets on Lastarria Street and in the Mercado Central where keen eyed shoppers are sure to uncover a bargain!

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