My Favourite Street

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It’s easy to see how Edinburgh became the first UNESCO City of Literature: just walk along one of its streets.

Scotland’s capital is well loved for its breathtaking architecture, but it’s often deceptive. “George IV Bridge looks like it’s lined with three- or four-storey buildings, but they’re actually six or seven storeys high,” says Sarah Morrison of the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust. “The rest of the buildings are below the height of the bridge in the medieval part of Edinburgh.”

Tourists here inevitably flock around the world-famous statue of one of Edinburgh’s most famous residents, Greyfriars Bobby, the dog whose loyalty inspired numerous books and films. “It’s not good luck to rub his nose,” Morrison insists, though that doesn’t stop many from doing so! Across the road is the National Museum of Scotland, where one of the most popular items is the collection of mysterious tiny coffins which feature in Ian Rankin’s novel The Falls.

George IV Bridge itself is dotted with delightful cafés such as The Elephant House, one of two places where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel. A favourite stopping point here remains the ice cream counter at the Vittoria on the Bridge Italian restaurant, but the range of restaurants around the bridge is “brilliant”, according to Morrison. “Villager blends great food with a chilled atmosphere, Ondine specialises in seafood, and around the corner on Castlehill is atmospheric The Witchery. But that’s for when someone else is paying!”

Arguably, Edinburgh is built on books – and where there are books there are libraries and bookshops. “George IV Bridge is home to both the city’s largest public library, Central Library, and the National Library of Scotland,” says Morrison. “They’re ideal places to learn and enjoy the written word. If you’d like a bookish memento of Edinburgh, then you can wander down Victoria Street, just off the bridge. There you’ll find atmospheric antiquarian bookshops such as The Old Town Bookshop and interesting boutiques.

“Victoria Street opens into the Grassmarket, lined with hotels, pubs, and restaurants – a lively place of an evening – and joins back up with Candlemaker Row, where you’ll find niche bookshops Analogue Books, Transreal Fiction, and Deadhead Comics: all must-visits for design lovers and comic geeks.”

Sarah Morrison’s entire professional career has been spent working with the written word in Edinburgh, in publishing and bookselling. In 2013 she became communication executive for Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, which aims to bring books, words, and ideas to the streets of Edinburgh for everyone.

First published by Oryx Inflight magazine, November 2014.