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Top Literary Tourist Stops in English-Speaking Countries for Avid Book Fans

Posted on June 23, 2021 at 6:00 am

BY MELISSA RHOADES

Summer 2021 may not be an ideal time to travel internationally, but it’s a great time to start dreaming and planning! In fact, Conde Nast Traveler (available digitally from Flipster) recommends planning international travel at least one year in advance.

TRAVELING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

The status of international travel is currently in flux. In March 2021, news site Axios reported that U.S. travel industry stakeholders urged the Biden Administration to open the United States to international travelers. In April, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory recommending that U.S. residents avoid traveling to 80% of other countries around the world. And in May, the European Union (EU) opened to fully-vaccinated international travelers.

If one thing is certain, it’s that parameters will continue to change.

For Americans heading abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends delaying international travel until you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. See the CDC’s guidelines on international travel during COVID-19 for more recommendations.

To find details about entry requirements and restrictions for specific destinations, the CDC recommends checking with your destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, and/or the US Department of State’s Covid-19 Country Specific Information.

Before leaving, be sure to research requirements for re-entering the United States, including the possibility that you will need to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from the virus. For details, see the U.S. State Department’s webpage on International Travel.

INTERNATIONAL LITERARY TOURISM

Sorting out international COVID-19 travel restrictions is a necessary part of planning these days.

Luckily, the fun part of planning is learning how many amazing literary cities and book destinations exist!

There are far too many fabulous literary destinations to list in a single blog post, so this post focuses on countries in the English-speaking world (and is still a partial list at best). In a future post, I will share book destinations in Asia, Africa, Continental Europe, and the non-English-speaking Americas.

You can find recommendations on 2021 literary destinations in the Pacific Northwest and United States in my previous blog post.

UNITED KINGDOM

Library of Birmingham (February 2017), image taken by Alex Liivet
Library of Birmingham, England (February 2017). Image taken by Alex Liivet.

The United Kingdom (UK) is filled with literary tourism, and its capital, London, is one of the greatest literary cities in the world. If you’re headed to London, bibliophile sights include (but aren’t limited to) the Charles Dickens Museum, the Sherlock Holmes museum, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, John Keats’ house, Highgate Cemetery where George Eliot (nom de plume of Mary Ann Evans) is buried, Jane Austen’s house (a short drive from London in Hampshire), Kings Cross Station (for Harry Potter fans), and Paddington Station (for Paddington Bear fans).

London is also home to the British Library, containing the second largest collection of books in the world (after the U.S. Library of Congress). The British Library also offers multiple exhibitions and events. Their exhibit “Treasures of the British Library” lets you view original manuscripts, centuries-old printed books, and author memorabilia. Glimpse highlights of the exhibit by watching this five-minute video.

Of course, the UK contains much more than London, and literary tourism exists across the country. Some options include the Brontë sisters’ home in Yorkshire (now the Brontë Parsonage Museum); Newstead Abbey (home of bad-boy Romantic poet Lord Byron) in Nottinghamshire; Agatha Christie’s vacation home in Devon; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s cottage in Somerset; Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House in East Sussex; Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester; Beatrix Potter attractions in the Lake District; Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse in Laugharne, Wales; Robert Burns’ Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Scotland; and The Writers Museum and Sir Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh, Scotland.

To see what English libraries looked like in the 15th through 17th centuries, you can visit the Old Trinity Hall Library and Queen’s College Old Library at Cambridge University as well as the Bodleian Libraries and Merton College’s Old Library at Oxford University. The latter is the world’s oldest continuously functioning university library.

If you need a break from all that history, you can visit the very up-to-date Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and the recently renovated Library of Birmingham, England, both featuring award-winning contemporary architecture.

For those who’d like to spend the night surrounded by books, Gladstone’s Residential Library in Hawarden, Wales, is a must stop. The library was founded by British statesman William Gladstone in 1889. The first overnight guests were welcomed in 1906. Today, the library’s reading rooms offer desks, chairs, Wi-Fi, and quiet for anyone wanting to study, read, draw, or contemplate. Overnight guests can take books from the library to their rooms for the night. In the morning, breakfast is served as part of the package.

IRELAND & NORTHERN IRELAND

Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland (July 2016). Image taken by antomoro.
Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland (July 2016). Image taken by antomoro (Antoine Moreau).

Just across the Irish Sea, the island of Ireland offers literary destinations both in the Republic of Ireland (its own country) and Northern Ireland (politically part of the UK).

Near the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, the Seamus Heaney Home Place is dedicated to that Nobel Laureate’s life and work. In Belfast, enjoy the C.S. Lewis Trail. And in Armagh, don’t miss the Armagh Robinson Library, established in 1771. This library’s collection includes rare books, ancient coins, medieval manuscripts, and Jonathan Swift’s own copy of Gulliver’s Travels—complete with notes written in Swift’s handwriting. Exhibits are regularly on public view.

Heading to the Border Region just south of the divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, you can spend time in Nobel Laureate W.B. Yeats’ County Sligo, where the poet was inspired by sparse and dramatic landscapes. In fact, Yeats’ body was moved to the Drumcliffe Cemetery in County Sligo after his death.

Farther south, Ireland’s capital city, Dublin, was the childhood home of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett. Literary tours and pub crawls of the city abound. If you’d rather strike out on your own, be sure to visit the Dublin Writer’s Museum (highlighting 300 years of literary Dublin), the James Joyce Center (focusing on Joyce’s biography and influence), and the James Joyce Tower (where the opening scenes of Joyce’s novel Ulysses take place).

Dublin’s libraries are also must-stop attractions. The Old Library of Trinity College houses the circa 800 A.D. illuminated manuscript Book of Kells and is also famous for its centuries-old barrel-vaulted Long Room. The National Library of Ireland contains artifacts from some of Ireland’s most revered writers in a beautiful 1890s building. And Marsh’s Library is said to still look the way it did when it opened in 1707. Enjoy browsing rare books on original oak shelves, discover the hidden garden, and see online and in-person exhibits.

AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND

Location of the Shire, from the Lord of the Rings series in Matamata, New Zealand (May 2016). Image taken by Andres Iga.
Location of the Shire, from the Lord of the Rings series in Matamata, New Zealand (May 2016). Image taken by Andres Iga.

Australia and New Zealand may be better known for high-adrenaline sports than reading, but bibliophiles will still find great book destinations Down Under.

For contemporary architecture, it’s hard to beat the recently built City of Perth Library with its sleek circular design.

In Melbourne, the Athenaeum Library started out as part of the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institution in 1839—the oldest cultural institution in the city. The institution’s still-operating theater hosted Mark Twain on his 1895 world lecture tour. The State Library of Victoria also resides in Melbourne. Founded in 1854, its architectural features include the impressive 1913 La Trobe Reading Room and the recently renovated Ian Potter Queen’s Hall.

The oldest library in Australia is the State Library of New South Wales (NSW) in Sydney. Established in 1826, it began as a small subscription library for local colonials. Today, it has grown to become a world-class research and heritage-listed establishment. Its many rare books include the logbooks of William Bligh, commander of the HMS Bounty at the time of its infamous mutiny. The Mitchell Library Reading Room houses an unrivalled collection of Australiana.

The National Library of New Zealand (Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa) in Wellington guards New Zealand’s Taonga (Māori word for tangible and intangible treasures). Inside its 1970s brutalist architecture resides several special collections including Maori collections, paintings, music archives, rare manuscripts, and one of the world’s finest collections of 17th century books by English poet John Milton.

When you’re ready for a break from all that majesty, head to Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand for a visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set, built for Peter Jackson’s 2001–3 films inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. Several tours of the extraordinary movie set are available, including a “Second Breakfast” tour.

CANADA

Calgary Central Library, Alberta, Canada (May 2019). Image taken by Bernard Spragg.
Calgary Central Library, Alberta, Canada (May 2019). Image taken by Bernard Spragg.

Our neighbor to the north is also packed with bookish splendors and the Vancouver Central Library was mentioned in my post about Pacific Northwest and U.S. book destinations.

On Prince Edward Island, in Canada’s eastern Maritime Provinces, the Anne of Green Gables Museum resides in the Campbell farmhouse where author Lucy Maud Montgomery spent much of her childhood. Nearby in Nova Scotia, you can visit Pulitzer Prize winning poet Elizabeth Bishop’s Great Village where she spent part of her childhood. Meanwhile, the Halifax Central Library will transport you out of the old and into the new with a spacious 21st Century design.

French is the official language of the Province of Quebec, so technically it isn’t part of the English-speaking world (most residents are bilingual, speaking French and English). However, the Morrin Centre in the heart of Quebec City’s Old City is worth a mention. Housed in a renovated 19th century gaol (jail) that once incarcerated novelist Philippe Aubert de Gaspé for debt, the Centre now houses an English-language library with books dating back to the 16th century. Visitors to Quebec can also visit Montréal’s sleek and massive Grande Bibliothèque. It’s the most visited public library in both North America and throughout the French-speaking world.

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto in Ontario contains Canada’s largest collection of rare books and manuscripts. It also houses the papers of several Canadian literary figures including Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen. Ontario is also home to Canada’s Library of Parliament, housed in beautiful Victorian Gothic architecture.

Lovers of contemporary architecture won’t want to miss the Calgary Central Library in Calgary, Alberta, or the Surrey City Centre Library in Surrey, British Columbia.

GENERAL TRAVEL HELPMATES

It’s never too early to start planning your literary tourism. Print travel guides can be found on the nonfiction shelves at our libraries (look in the shelves numbered 914–919), along with DVD travelogues. For lighter packing, choose from digital travel guides available on OverDrive (including the Libby app) and hoopla.

The Pronunciator language-learning tool in our Digital Library can help you prepare language skills.

If you’re traveling with children, get them excited by exploring Culture Grams and children’s books about travel in our catalog.

Happy travel planning! And bon voyage!

Melissa Rhoades

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