DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you buy something after clicking our link to the retailer, we make a small commission on the sale. You can read our full disclosure policy here.
There is something magical about opening the first page of a new book, and falling headlong, like Harry Potter into a Pensieve, into a new world the author has created in words. As readers, we draw our blankets a little closer as Lucy finds herself crunching snow underfoot, never having expected to find herself in eternal winter instead of a wardrobe. We hear the ticking of Hook’s crocodile, marking our own remaining time, and can almost taste the liniment in the disastrous vanilla cake that will mortify Anne Shirley for all time.
It is often through the books that we read as children that we are first drawn into these new experiences, but the magic does not end with a transition out of the Junior Fiction section of the library (and let’s be honest, the transition is never permanent – who doesn’t enjoy a return to the old favourites?!). No one could mistake The Kite Runner for a children’s book, but thousands of readers have found themselves imagining kite battles above the roofs of Kabul, and Cathy and Heathcliff’s ill-fated love is as desolate and forlorn as the moors it inhabits.
Not all books are beloved for their sense of place – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, for example, is most striking because of its depiction of the narrator’s inner turmoil – but where the physical setting is key to our passion for the book, we can find ourselves longing to be immersed in that world and to see, with a new, deeper understanding, the locations that inspired our beloved heroes, and their creators. One of Joyce’s other great works – Ulysses – has evoked this desire in its devotees to such an extent that it is brought to life in the streets of Dublin annually, by way of the Bloomsday Festival.
The history of the literary pilgrimage is long, with Greeks and Romans visiting the River Nile in response to reading Herodotus’ Histories, and a key element of the 19th Century rite of passage, the Grand Tour, was to gain a greater understanding of the classical artists, authors, composers and philosophers who had gone before. In and of itself, the Grand Tour produced works of literature worthy of their own pilgrimages. Some of Lord Byron’s greatest poems were composed during his travels around the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written as part of a horror story challenge between Byron, herself, and her husband Percy, from the shores of Lake Geneva.
In more recent times, best sellers such as Harry Potter and Twilight have seen their fans scouring the UK and the US Pacific Northwest, respectively, for traces of their literary loves. With increasingly greater numbers of novels being adapted for film and television, filming locations are also being drawn into the fold, making fantasy worlds like Westeros and Middle Earth accessible to us mere mortals.
There’s something for everyone in the world of literary travel, and to prove this point, here are the stories of five journeys inspired by a love of books. The first one’s mine, but the others have been contributed by bookworm travellers and bloggers. When you get to the end, don’t forget to leave a comment with your own story. Maybe you’ll inspire someone to follow in your footsteps and create the next great literary masterpiece.
Snow, by Orhan Pamuk – Kars, Turkey
There’s not much to see in Kars itself, including, when I visited in summer, any snow. But Pamuk’s novel of politics and Islam had captured my imagination and I wanted to see for myself. I pictured narrow winding streets and canopy-fronted tea houses – a tiny cross between Paris and Jerusalem. What I found was a predominantly Soviet style city with broad, open boulevards and brightly coloured concrete buildings. There were few covered women, and the only thing that reminded me of the terrorist, Blue, was a dog splashed with paint.
Books might give us the chance to create whole worlds in our minds, but travel lets us uncover the realities of them. My trip to Kars showed me that.
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I was recently inspired to travel to Amsterdam because of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Many of you will have read it and heard about how Anne’s family hid in the annex above her father’s office in Amsterdam for 4 years before they were discovered by Nazis. The book resonated with me because of the young storyteller and its raw honesty. Walking through the same rooms they lived and were then captured in, now bare and empty was truly amazing and sad. It was definitely worth the trip and for anyone interested in Anne’s story I would highly recommend travelling to the beautiful city of Amsterdam to see her house.
Sarah Talty, killedmycactus
Before I was introduced to Laos by Dr Siri Paiboun, it was just another place on the map. After reading the book, however, I knew that I needed to go. During our stay, we visited many of the places in the books – from the palaces and temples of Luang Prabang to the temples of the capital Vientiane. In particular, the books’ mention of the CIA’s secret war in Laos took us to COPE, an organisation that assists those who have been injured by the leftover ordinance. If you ever get the chance to visit Laos then I urge you to take it. Not only is it incredibly beautiful but the people are also very friendly and welcoming.
After Dark, by Haruki Murakami – Tokyo, Japan
It was my first night in Tokyo and I was wandering the quiet back streets of Shibuya. After a few wrong turns, I found what I was looking for: the Shibuya branch of Denny’s.
I have always loved how Haruki Murakami whisks me into other worlds, and his novel After Dark is no different. The entire book takes place on the late night streets of Tokyo, but it begins with a main character staying up all night reading a book in this very Denny’s. I ordered my coffee, cracked open my copy of After Dark, and felt like, finally, I was mentally and physically in the same place. Thank you, Tokyo and Murakami, for creating such a magical memory.
Cari Clark, seoulmellow
Inferno, Dan Brown – Florence, Italy
After reading and enjoying Dan Brown’s Inferno, I, and five others, decided to follow in the footsteps of Robert Langdon to Florence. My husband and I had previously also visited Istanbul, for its role in the book.
We had a fantastic long weekend hunting out the various locations, starting with tracking down Dante’s Death Mask, through to the Palazzo Vechio (which is pivotal to the story). We spent a day exploring the Pitti Palace and, as it was lovely and warm for October, we walked around the vast Boboli Gardens, remembering the numerous locations from the book.
A great time was had by all, and now to find our next holiday location!
Don’t let the storytelling end here! Head to the comments section below and let me know about your favourite literary adventure, past or future. I’d love to hear your stories.
Enjoy this post? Share it
Join the Pickwick Project
Want to walk in the steps of your literary heroes? Uncover new classics from foreign places? Get inspiration for your next trip? Find everything you need, right in your inbox every fortnight with The Pickwick Project newsletter.