Literary City Guide | EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream
Fitful and dark,
Unseizable in Leith
And wildered by the Forth,
But irresistibly at last
Cleaving to sombre heights
Of passionate imagining
Till stonily,
From soaring battlements,
Earth eyes Eternity.
— Hugh MacDiarmid


Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Emily has fallen head-over-heels for Scotland. She's the editor of Pride & Possibilities, the online journal for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, and works as a librarian by day. When not writing, reading, and traveling, you can usually find her somewhere green. She tweets at @miss_e_prince(Photos by Emily Prince.)


Relationship to Edinburgh: I’m an expat—I moved to Edinburgh two years ago and never want to leave!

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Emily Brontë.

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: It’s a toss-up between Nigella Lawson and my dad.

Writing soundtrack: Anything instrumental. I can’t concentrate on my own words when I can hear someone else’s.

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea? Tea, always.

Paperback or Hardback? Hardbacks for looking nice on bookshelves and for getting signed. Paperbacks for reading.

Good Reads


Golden Hare. This beautiful independent bookshop has everything you could wish for—lots of choice, a vibrant program of events, and knowledgeable staff. They even offer you a cup of something hot when you arrive for a browse!

Lighthouse Books. Edinburgh’s Radical Bookshop, formerly known as Word Power, which is still the name of its publishing arm. This has all the usual staples of an independent bookshop, with an extra focus on left wing politics and minority voices.

Southside Books. Located centrally on South Bridge, this second hand bookshop is bursting at the seams with ink-and-paper treasures. They don’t have much of a web presence, but don’t let that put you off visiting in person.


National Library of Scotland. You need to be a member to use the gorgeous Reading Room, but this library also boasts a cafe, an exhibition space, and a lovely shop. Its collection of rare and antiquarian materials is mind-boggling.

National Record of the Historic Environment. This Search Room is focused on the history of Scotland, preserving the archaeological, architectural, industrial, and maritime documentation that has shaped the nation. Anyone can visit to consult the collection.

Scottish Poetry Library. Tucked away down Crichton’s Close, this library is free-to-join, open to the public, and a quiet place to retreat. It also functions as an arts organization, with an events program, a poetry-focused bookshop, and outreach activities.


Flint & Pitch. A consistently entertaining series of revues, performances, and showcases involving spoken word, live literature, cabaret, and live music. Every event is different, and features established artists alongside up-and-comers. Not to be missed.

Edinburgh International Book Festival. The world’s largest book festival is held every August, and features over 800 programmed events. The atmosphere in Charlotte Square is friendly and busy, with plenty of places to grab a drink or snack between events, or just to sit and soak up the sunshine.

Storytelling clubs. Scotland has a rich oral culture that aims to preserve and promote the art of storytelling through tellers, poets, writers and singers. The Scottish Storytelling Centre in particular is an enthusiastic host of such events, and a great place to visit.

Interrobang. Along the same vein as Flint & Pitch, this curated evening of poetry, performance, music, and storytelling is always fresh and exciting, with a program that brings a voice to silenced and marginalized minorities.


Book sculptures. A series of exquisite anonymous gifts to the City of Edinburgh. Most of these are on public display in various places around Edinburgh and Scotland. The artist has supposedly delivered her final sculpture, but only time will tell...

Harry Potter hotspots. The Elephant House Cafe, Spoon, Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Balmoral Hotel...there are so many places in Edinburgh connected to the world’s favorite series of books. A place of pilgrimage for every fan!

Good Eats


Mary’s Milk Bar. Actually an old-fashioned ice-cream bar, this gelato cafe has simple, delicious offerings on their drinks menu, including Horlicks and malted milkshakes. Great for a break to rest your legs after sightseeing in the Old Town.

Brewlab. One for the coffee connoisseurs, this is a specialty coffee shop with an enormous range of options to choose from. They also have a training lab for professional baristas and anyone who would like to polish their brewing skills at home.

Word of Mouth. A great little cafe tucked away in Leith. It’s cozy, crammed with little tables, friendly staff and a nice menu. Good for brunch, or a quick takeaway chai latte.