Books can take you to unimaginable places, but here are the top real-life destinations you can take your love for books to.
The road of the traveling book lover is fraught with hardship: while the carefree traveler traipses from one destination to the next with a light carry-on and a spring in their step, the travels of the fretful book connoisseur are typically weighed down by questions such as “How many books can I fit into my carry on?” and “Should I pack more underwear, or more books?”.
While we can’t offer answers to these real-life dilemmas, we can share with you eleven destinations where you certainly won’t be judged for having packed more books than clothes in your suitcase.
Size up the Competition at the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West
Ernest Hemingway was a celebrated author, renowned for his tendency to … ehm, often find himself seeing double. Now you can step into his shoes, if you will, and head down to Key West in July for the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. The four-day event is riddled with fun Hemingway inspired activities such as the “Annual Running of the Bulls”—in which the bulls are replaced by the lookalike competitors stampeding down the streets of Key West. Make sure not to miss out on the grand finale: a 7 category “Arm Wrestling Championship” that would make the brawny original Hemingway proud.
Visit the Oldest Library in the World in Fez
The al-Qarawiyyin library opened its doors in 859 A.D. and they have stayed that way ever since. Founded by a female benefactor, Fatima al-Fihri, who aimed to create a lasting center for learning in Fez—and succeeded. It now houses some of the oldest manuscripts in the world, including a 9th-century copy of the Qur’an. Besides basking in the seriously ancient old-book smell permeating its halls, visitors will appreciate the breathtaking views of the age-old city of Fez from the rooftop terrace.
Watch Some Shakespeare Live at the Globe Theatre in London
Enjoy the works of the bard as they were meant to: through live theater. Although the current Globe Theatre is not as old as it may appear—it was built in 1997—it was modeled on designs of the original theatre that was demolished in 1644 by the infamous Puritans (of colonizing the United States-fame). Just 750 feet away from the original site and right on the banks of the River Thames, the Globe Theater offers regular productions of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, theatre tours, and a riveting exhibition on the bard’s life and work.
Spend a Night at Book and Bed in Tokyo
If you ever dreamed of sleeping in a bookshelf, then this charming 30-bed hostel in Tokyo will make your dreams come true. Each simple bed is nestled among cubbies overflowing with books. The sleeping areas are snug but guests come here for the full-on bookworm experience. Bookshelves are well-stocked with tomes in English and Japanese, all exclusively for the enjoyment of their patrons. Got caught up in a page-turner? Then you’ll have to book another night in Book and Bed to get to the end of it!
Turn a New Page at Trinity College in Dublin
The Book of Kells is regarded as the finest medieval manuscript in existence, and with good reason: it has surprisingly been able to withstand the test of time with barely a scratch. Dating from the 7th-century, the colors in this hand-crafted and intricately illuminated tome are still as vivid as the day the monks etched them on to decorate its main contents, the Four Gospels. Today the 340-folio book is housed within the university’s impressive Old Library—which has served as a set for many a movie—that merits a visit of its own while in Dublin. Every day, library staff open the temperature-regulated encasing to turn a new page. Appreciating the illuminated manuscript in its entirety would take you about half a year! (Or you can just buy a copy in the gift shop.)
Celebrate Burns Night in Scotland
Every January 25, Scots gather to celebrate the life of poet Robert Burns, who died in 1796. The first Burns Night was held by his own friends in 1801 who, five years after his death, decided to pay tribute to his life’s work. Being one of the rare poets to pen his work in proper Scots dialect, the tradition quickly caught on and Robert Burns soon became a national symbol for all of Scotland. The festivities usually take place in the evening (hence Burns Night) and involve a Burns supper: copious amounts of whisky (surprise!), haggis as the centerpiece of the banquet, melancholic bagpipes, and (of course) the reading of his verses.
Take to Bath for the Jane Austen Festival
Arguably an event of epic proportions, the Jane Austen Festival gathers hundreds of the writer’s most fervent enthusiasts in the city of Bath every year for Regency era themed fun. Touted as a “ten-day celebration of all things Austen,” it includes lectures, parades, performances, readings, visits, history lessons, dancing, music, a masked ball and more—all tied up with the aptly named “Darcy’s Ball,” the event of the season for any self-respecting Jane Austen fan, during which attendees get to delve into a reenactment of what could have happened after the end of Austen’s most famous work, Pride and Prejudice.
Die and Go to Book Heaven at the Livraria Lello in Porto
Dubbed by many as “the most beautiful bookshop in the world,” this gem opened in Porto in 1906. Although neo-Gothic is usually an architectural style reserved for ornate cathedrals, this bookshop makes for an excellent example of this sumptuous turn-of-the-century movement, which also comes with a heavy serving of both art nouveau and art deco. Livraria Lello’s crowning jewel is its crimson staircase, leading customers up into book heaven. To control the crowds, the owners have instituted a 5 euro cover charge (which can be purchased via their website) to visit the bookshop, which is taken off the price of any book you may decide to buy during your visit.
INSIDER TIP: Livraria Lello is also said to have inspired the look of Hogwarts in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Rouge up Oscar Wilde's Tomb in Paris
“A kiss may ruin a human life,” Oscar Wilde once said. Little did he know that those words might also ruin his tomb in Père-Lachaise Cemetery. It was the phrase that launched a thousand kisses: a decades-old tradition of covering the Irish writer’s tomb with lipstick prints to honor his genius, which ended up causing serious damage to his mausoleum. Fans looking to perpetuate this tradition might find it a bit more challenging now that the city of Paris has decided his final resting place might be in need of protection from the hordes of admirers longing to put their rouged-up lips near his tomb and have built a kiss-proof see-through barrier encircling it. Nevertheless, lipstick-wearing Wilde aficionados might still indulge in this rite of passage responsibly, by leaving their mark in his honor on the protective glass.
Track Down Your Reading List for the Year at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara
From Allende to Ruiz Zafón, this is where aficionados of Spanish-language literature will have an occasion to bask in one of the world’s leading publishing industries to their heart’s content. This yearly 9-day event in Guadalajara, Mexico is a must-go destination for authors, their readers—and of course, their translators. Aside from browsing through the millions of books on offer, visitors to the International Book Fair can attend readings, exhibits, meet-and-greets with the most prominent authors, panels, debates, and the yearly awards ceremony that celebrates both established and up-and-coming talent in the domain of Spanish-language literature.
Channel Your Literary Heroes at Shakespeare & Company in Paris
This quaint bookshop along the banks of the Seine opened in 1951, and hardly anything from its original wooden interior has changed since. Its previous iteration, which opened in 1922 but closed down during the German occupation of Paris, was heralded as the hang-out for then-unknown années folles (Crazy Years) writers such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. The bookshop still embodies that rebellious disaffected spirit and remains the bastion of English-language literature amidst its French-speaking surroundings. The magic of this shop is not necessarily in its break taking view of Notre-Dame from across the quay, but rather in its steadfast tradition of opening its doors to itinerant artists who need a place to stay while in Paris—to date some 30,000 of them. The shop fondly refers to them as Tumbleweeds, and there are only three things asked of them during their stay: read a book a day, help at the shop for a few hours a day, and produce a one-page autobiography. The latter now form part of Shakespeare & Company’s ever-growing archive of stories from travelers who have found hospitality within its walls.