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Beyond the Page: 10 Fascinating Literary Destinations for Bookworm Globetrotters

PHOTO: jpellgen | Flickr

Close the book and take to the sea or sky: These 10 literary destinations let travelers see the places behind their favorite stories.

Many a traveler started as a reader, with books often being the first introduction to lands far away and cultures unknown. And while armchair travel can certainly be enjoyable, it’s more thrilling to close a book, buy a plane ticket, and actually go visit those intriguing places you’ve read about up close. See what inspired Shakespeare to take up his quill. Raise a cocktail where Truman Capote imbibed. Walk the gardens that Neruda himself tended. A world of stories awaits… Here are 10 literary destinations around the globe to inspire your wanderlust.

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PHOTO: Simon Kane
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Shakespeare’s Globe

WHERE: London, England

While one can’t go back in time and see a Shakespeare play, the next best thing is to head to the reconstructed Globe, in London’s Bankside cultural quarter along the Thames river, to take in a show. Travelers can also tour the theater itself, the neighboring Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and the center’s educational exhibits. Daily tours are available every half hour (except on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) and cover Shakespeare’s life and work, the history of the original theater, and the stories behind the Globe’s reconstruction efforts.

INSIDER TIPCheck the theater schedule before booking: Because the Globe is a working theater, some tours may be postponed around performance times and/or technical work for the stage. 

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PHOTO: raisin detre/Flickr, [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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Bulgakov Museum

WHERE: Moscow, Russia

Fans of Russian author and satirist Mikhail Bulgakov can see the setting of his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, with a visit to Moscow’s Bulgakov Museum. Situated in Bulgakov’s former apartment residence at 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, the compact museum (“The Odd Flat” depicted in the novel) features a mix of Bulgakov’s personal and cultural artifacts, including photographs, letters, and furnishings, plus homages from fans, such as hand-drawn renditions of the novel’s black cat and graffitied quotes along the building’s hallways and stairwells. Additionally, the museum is just two blocks away from the Patriarch’s Ponds park, where the book’s gruesome opening scene occurs. (Watch your step when crossing the trolley tracks!)

INSIDER TIPPlan your visit for Wednesday evenings if you’d like a 90-minute tour focusing on Bulgakov’s life and work (and bring extra money if you don’t speak Russian—English tours are slightly more expensive).

 

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PHOTO: James Shaw, Courtesy of Hotel Monteleone
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Hotel Monteleone

WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana

Featured in seven books (at last count) and host to writers including Anne Rice, Truman Capote, and William Faulkner, the Hotel Monteleone should be a traveling bookworm’s first stop in New Orleans. Designated a National Literary Landmark by the American Library Association, the French Quarter hotel features author-themed suites, literary-themed collections on display throughout common areas, and the famous Carousel Bar (which readers may know from Ernest Hemingway’s The Night Before Battle or Eudora Welty’s The Purple Hat). Be sure to try the Carousel’s Pickwick Papers-inspired “Rev. Stiggin’s Pineapple Daiquiri” cocktail, made with Charles Dickens’ favorite pineapple rum, before retiring to bed (with a good book, of course).

INSIDER TIPDon’t forget your tablet: Guests at the Hotel Monteleone get free access to Press Reader, an app offering access to thousands of newspapers and magazines.

 

 

 

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PHOTO: Andrew Lloyd
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The City of Literature

WHERE: Melbourne, Australia

Nicknamed the City of Literature, Melbourne is heaven on earth for bookworms. Literary travel itineraries should start at the State Library of Victoria (Australia’s oldest): Spend a few hours with a good read in the arrestingly beautiful La Trobe Reading Room, see its rare book collection and history of bookmaking exhibit up close, or attend a lecture with a local writer or historian. Other literary activities around Melbourne include viewing the Cole’s Book Arcade exhibit at Museum Victoria; browsing bookshops of all genres; or attending an event at the Wheeler Centre, dedicated to “books, writing, and ideas.”

INSIDER TIPPoetry lovers, take note: The Collected Works Bookshop on Swanston Street is the only specialist poetry store in all of Australia. (It also sells literary fiction, criticism, and philosophy books.) The indie bookshop regularly hosts poetry readings, book launches, tribute gatherings, and holiday celebrations, too.

 

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PHOTO: Andrew Lloyd
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Pablo Neruda’s Homes

WHERE: Santiago, Valparaiso, Isla Negra, Chile

Pablo Neruda was a talented poet and architectural designer—and travelers to Chile can visit three homes (now museums) he designed himself. In Santiago, tour the restored La Chascona house (note the blackberries at the base of the hill, mentioned in Neruda’s poem of the same name); inside, visitors can see Chilean artwork and Neruda’s own china and cutlery. Venture two hours northwest to Valparaiso to La Sebastiana, the hilltop house Neruda made “first of air” (in the same-titled poem). In addition to the home’s city and bay views, visitors can view preserved maps, political art, and personal curios. Neruda’s largest home in Isla Negra, 90 minutes west of Santiago overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is where he wrote many of his poems, and he’s buried here along with his wife, Matilde.

INSIDER TIPGo early, Tuesday through Sunday: Admission is first-come, first-served, no advance reservations required. All Neruda museums are closed on Mondays.

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PHOTO: MMpai / Shutterstock
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Book Town and Beyond

WHERE: Tokyo, Japan

As the backdrop of Number 9 Dream, 1Q84, The Setting Sun, and countless manga comic books, Tokyo embodies magical realism on the page and in person. Whimsy abounds: Lewis Carroll fans can dine at five Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurants, play at six manga museums, or pass the time (literally) alongside a Masaaki Hiromura-designed book clock. To immerse in Tokyo’s literary culture, spend an afternoon at the Setagaya Literary Museum or browse the many bookstores (including some English-language shops) in the Jimbocho neighborhood, nicknamed “Book Town” for its plethora of bookstores, literary societies, and publishers. One thing is for sure: In Tokyo, there are stories to be found on nearly every corner.

INSIDER TIPPut on comfortable shoes, grab a bubble tea, and head out on the New York Times’ self-guided Haruki Murakami walking tour, which stops at key destinations that are featured in or directly influenced the author’s books.

 

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PHOTO: UnsulliedBokeh / Shutterstock
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Literary Lagos

WHERE: Lagos, Nigeria

A thriving literary culture extends throughout Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. Featured in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, Lagos boasts eclectic bookstores, a vibrant writers’ community, and ongoing events celebrating the written word. Stop at The Jazzhole for books and music, or visit Patabah bookstore, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Drop in at the Terra Kulture center for live performances and seminars, art exhibits, or simply to relax with a new book. And if you’re in town the last Tuesday of the month, attend the ongoing Taruwa arts series for local poetry readings and/or live music.

INSIDER TIPPlanning to explore Lagos’ nightlife in between literary liaisons? First read Teju Cole’s essay “One Night in Lasgidi” in The Paris Review. This personal/travel essay also comes with a curated playlist to give armchair travelers a multi-sensory taste of the city’s club scene. 

 

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PHOTO: Fabianodp / Shutterstock
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Dante’s House Museum

WHERE: Florence, Italy

Tuscany is packed with art, culture, and literature, but let’s focus on the latter: Tucked in the heart of medieval Florence, down the narrow Via Santa Margherita, the Museo Casa di Dante (Dante House Museum) is a three-story tribute to the epic poet Dante Alighieri. Reconstructed on the original site of the Alighieri family houses, the museum’s collections focus on Dante’s masterwork, The Divine Comedy; other exhibits showcase rare books, display period-inspired artwork and fashion, and outline Dante’s life and political exile, as well as the history of Florence itself.

INSIDER TIPTraveling with kids? The Museo Casa di Dante regularly holds educational workshops specifically for K-12 students, with hands-on activities including researching and drawing family crests, searching for astrology and numerology in Dante’s works, and Dante-themed puzzles. Most workshops cost €5 to €7 per person in addition to museum admission.

 

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PHOTO: Hotel Continental Saigon
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Hotel Continental Saigon

WHERE: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

In the 1950s, author Graham Greene used the Hotel Continental Saigon as his home base to write his classic novel, The Quiet American—and also featured the hotel throughout the book itself. Open since 1880 on historic Dong Khoi Street, the hotel has long been a gathering place for writers, poets, journalists, and politicians from all corners of the globe. Today, it’s a great spot to people watch or grab a drink before a performance at the Opera House (conveniently across the street). The on-site Dolce Vita Cafe offers a streetside view to take in all the bustling action of old Saigon; literary travelers may also be drawn to the hotel’s Le Bourgeois restaurant, a regular Greene haunt.

INSIDER TIPTo truly follow in Greene’s footsteps (or imagination, as it were), request a stay in Room 214 at the Hotel Continental, rumored to be where Greene did most of his writing.

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PHOTO: The Board of Trinity College Dublin/Sharon Sutton
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Trinity College

WHERE: Dublin, Ireland

“Was this the inspiration for Hogwarts?” a fellow tourist asked in a hushed voice. While the jury’s out on that, the Long Room at Trinity College Old Library in Dublin is indeed magical: With its vaulted ceiling and more than 200,000 old and rare books stretching heavenward, the Long Room is the type of place readers want to live, much less visit. Add in the Book of Kells exhibit, where travelers can view one of the world’s most famous medieval manuscripts, and it’s almost too many riches to take in during an afternoon.

INSIDER TIPFor additional context about the Book of Kells, learn more about the history of Trinity College itself with a 35-minute guided campus walking tour. Tours cost €13 per adult (discounts are available for seniors, students, and families) and cover both the walking tour and entry to the Old Library/Book of Kells exhibit.