For any lover of British literature, traveling to the settings that inspired your favorite works is a holy experience. Whether it’s the real-life versions of Hogwarts and Middle Earth or the bustling streets of London, immersing yourself in the places that inspired these works will make you appreciate them in a whole new light.
Harry Potter: Edinburgh
As casual fans are introduced to the wizarding worlds of Hollywood and Orlando, diehard fans will enjoy visiting JKR’s favorite haunts. It’s easy to see how Edinburgh’s architecture and landscape – which simultaneously imbue the first UNESCO City of Literature with two-tiered whimsy and a profound sense of history– influenced her world-building. She wrote much of Sorcerer’s Stone in The Elephant House, a cozy café on George IV Bridge with Gryffindor-scarlet-walls and a bathroom that Potterhead pilgrims have covered in the nerdiest graffiti you’ll ever see.
When she sought name inspiration, JKR would journey across the street to the famously haunted Greyfriars Kirkyard. Though it’s just off a bustling city street, the cemetery feels like it hasn’t changed much since the eighteenth century. While searching for the McGonagall and Tom Riddle graves, you’ll catch glimpses of Edinburgh Castle high above the city. With its fluttering Quidditch-y pennants and majestic battlements, you’ll easily mistake it for Hogwarts!
Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia: Oxford
You really can’t beat the UK for literary inspiration. A gorgeous train ride through quintessentially British green rolling hills will take you to Oxford, arguably the literary epicenter of the Anglophone world. In addition to being the home of some iconic Harry Potter filming locations, Oxford provided the picturesque intellectual landscape that brought J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis together. Their literary group, the Inklings, met to discuss their current projects in The Eagle and Child, by far the coolest pub I’ve ever visited. After enjoying a pint, you must pay a visit to Merton College, where Tolkien was a Fellow, and Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis was a Fellow – and where you can watch bonafide fawns frolic in a Narnia-esque meadow. Stroll through St. Mary’s Passage, the corridor that Lewis walked through every day on his way to teach, and you’ll notice a lion-engraved door and lamppost that might seem a little familiar.
Other can’t-miss literary sites in Oxford include Blackwell’s Bookshop; the Botanic Gardens where Tolkien wrote under a Treebeard-esque black pine (sadly removed in 2014); Christ Church College, where Lewis Carroll / Charles Dodgson taught; and the countless gorgeous libraries that have inspired generations of scholars and writers. This city of dreaming spires will make any bibliophile feel right at home.
How can you pick just one author who defined and was defined by London? No mere vacation is enough to experience the full range of libraries, bookshops, theaters, pubs, cemeteries, and museums that encapsulate the London literary experience – which means you have an excuse to go back! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather the tip of the literary iceberg:
Sherlock Holmes Museum (at 221B Baker Street, naturally)
Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station
Westminster Abbey (Poets’ Corner!)
Charles Dickens Museum
Highgate Cemetery (where George Eliot is buried)
George Inn (where both Shakespeare and Dickens stayed)
Bloomsbury – charming neighborhood of garden squares that was home to Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, E.M. Forster, and John Maynard Keynes, among others!
Whether you’re a fan of fantasy, theatre, or nineteenth-century realism, the UK has something for every bibliophile to enjoy. Walk a mile (or a kilometer) in your favorite author’s shoes, and you’ll appreciate their work even more. Happy travels!
Cover Image by Hana Haley