50 Famous Travel Spots Every Literary Geek Should See
March 9th, 2011 by Staff Writers
Literary syllabi overflow with works of all structures inextricably tied to their settings. More masterful writers wield places like characters in and of themselves, though such a thing was not a requirement for inclusion on this list, using specific points in space and time to comment on universal (or near-universal) archetypes and themes.
Some of these locations were included for their great literary significance, but may be exceptionally volatile and unsafe for citizens and tourists alike. If the desire to visit any of them grows overwhelming to the point of capitulation, put forth the effort to remain as safe and cautious as possible.
- Walden Pond: Famed Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau may not have lived an isolated existence as much as he claimed, but the eponymous pond (now a protected space!) from Walden is still a lovely travel destination all the same.
- Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers: Owner Sylvia Beach entertained and nurtured some of America and Europe’s most famous writers, artists and thinkers. Ernest Hemingway immortalized her and her shop alike in his amazing A Moveable Feast.
- The Secret Annex: Amsterdam has converted The Secret Annex into the Anne Frank Museum, preserving the memory of lives lost and destroyed when Nazis discovered their hiding place.
- Auschwitz-Birkenau: Holocaust literature frequently relates horrific tales of the Auschwitz concentration camp, most notably Night and Maus, and today it stands as a somber reminder of humanity’s capacity for senseless cruelty. Buchenwald also appears in many memoirs as well.
- Helen Keller Birthplace: Literary fans can now visit the childhood home of the social and political activist who famously penned The Story of My Life and inspired The Miracle Worker. Located in Tuscumbia, Alabama, it also houses a museum honoring Helen Keller’s life and work with disability rights and awareness.
- Algonquin Hotel: This lush Midtown Manhattan locale used to host the Algonquin Round Table, consisting of New York’s finest wits. Their meetings resulted in a plethora of fictitious and non-fictitious works alike, most famously the bulk of Dorothy Parker’s oeuvre.
- Holcomb, Kansas, United States: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood placed this little Midwestern Kansas town in the literary world’s consciousness. His chilling depiction of a brutal quadruple murder remains one of the greatest true crime works ever published.
- Australia: Travel literature buffs adore In a Sunburned Country by the venerable Bill Bryson, which paints a beautifully quirky portrait of the continent’s positive and negative attributes.
- Presidential Assassination Sites: Yes, visiting the locations where Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley were all killed is kind of morbid. But Sarah Vowell fans familiar with her Assassination Vacation know that there’s plenty of interesting, bizarre history lessons to learn while hitting them up.
- Stamps, Arkansas, United States: Most of Maya Angelou’s beloved memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings takes place in this small Timberlands town. Paying it a visit offers literary aficionados a chance to see firsthand the climate, layout and — to some extent — culture shaping her life’s experiences.
- Dublin, Ireland: Visit the Irish capital on June 16th for Bloomsday, a festival honoring James Joyce’s modernist magnum opus Ulysses. Readings and walks bring the brick of a novel to life, allowing celebrants to follow in the footsteps of iconic protagonist Leopold Bloom.
- Ignatius J. Reilly Statue: Most of New Orleans, especially the French Quarter, could easily conjure up images from the Pulitzer-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. But the city itself immortalized its famous opening scene, erecting a life-sized bronze statue of anti-hero Ignatius J. Reilly in front of the former D.H. Holmes Department Store.
- Notre Dame de Paris: One does not have to practice Roman Catholicism to appreciate one of France’s most cherished cathedrals. Literati of many faiths and non-faiths flock to this world-famous tourist destination and visualize Quasimodo’s tragic adventures in and around the grounds.
- Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson ran their famous detective agency from 221B Baker Street in London, which now hosts a museum for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective fiction.
- Tolkien Trail: Middle Earth may not be a real world, but its heavily detailed features were supposedly inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s travels around Birmingham (and some claim Lancanshire as well).
- Las Vegas, Nevada, United States: America’s home for hedonism, located in Nevada, certainly inspires its fair share of literature, but its squirming underbelly serves as a somber reminder of broken aspirations in Hunter S. Thompson’s substance-fueled Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- Hanging Rock: Book lovers harboring a love for hiking should head to the Australian state of Victoria to experience these challenging trails. Try to mentally purge the visceral images from Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock beforehand, though.
- Kinkaku-ji: When Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji burned at the hands of an errant Buddhist monk, celebrated author Yukio Mishima found himself inspired to fictionalize the event. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a literary classic, resulted.
- Silicon Valley, California, United States: Douglas Coupland perfectly captured corporate culture during the rise of home computing in Microserfs. While it also takes place at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington headquarters, the Silicon Valley location offers up a broader cultural significance.
- The Border Between Mexico and the United States: It would be irresponsible to deny that the Mexico-United States border is an incredibly dangerous region, especially now. But literary types visiting for family or work (or because they harbor a death wish) will experience the cultural and gustatory concepts found in Laura Esquivel’s quintessentially magic realist novel Like Water for Chocolate.
- The Aran Islands, Ireland: John Millington Synge wrote a journal about his stints on The Aran Islands titled, appropriately, The Aran Islands. However, they left a more indelible impression on his oeuvre than that, as the celebrated playwright spent his summers there researching the intricacies of Irish folklore. Riders to the Sea was written specifically about the hardships endemic to Aran life.
- Mississippi Delta: Tennessee Williams’ favorite play from his amazing career, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, takes audiences to a wealthy cotton tycoon’s plantation home. A trip to the Mississippi Delta not only helps illustrate the atmosphere of the drama, but much of the Southern Gothic movement as well.
- Globe Theatre: William Shakespeare, widely considered the greatest playwright ever to play with the English language, saw many of his beloved dramas, histories and comedies debut (or at least perform) at the Globe Theatre. The original has been lost to time and Puritans, but a viable replica persists today.
- Abbey Theatre: The National Theatre of Ireland was founded by Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn and nurtured the nation’s rich performing arts heritage. It also served as the site for the infamous “Playboy Riots” in 1907, when citizens revolted against one of J.M. Synge’s allegedly immoral plays.
- Verona, Italy: Two Gentlemen of Verona may not be Shakespeare’s strongest or most popular work, but is commonly accepted as his first. Though one does not need to be a fan of the bard to appreciate this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Greenwich Village: Beyond its reputation as a haven for the unapologetically hip, a down-and-out Greenwich Village comprises the backdrop of Eugene O’Neill’s politically provocative The Iceman Cometh.
- Taganrog: The Cherry Orchard contains many autobiographical elements straight from the life of Anton Chekov. Emotions experienced when his mother sold their Taganrog home in order to pay for it came flooding into the emotionally bittersweet play. Today, the city prides itself on inspiring its native son.
- Itsukushima Shrine: Noh dramas have been performed at this UNESCO-recognized Shinto shrine for around 440 years. Located on Miyajima Island, the stage is unique because it sits right there atop the surrounding sea.
- Kronborg Castle: Located in Helsingor (Elsinore), Denmark’s most famous castle provided Shakespeare with a chilly, regal setting for Hamlet, his absolutely essential tragedy.
- Inverness, Scotland: Fictional depictions of Macbeth and his wife once schemed against the Scottish king here in Inverness. Literature aficionados know the real story(?) started out in the 16th Century collaborative history Holinshed’s Chronicles.
- Longfellow House: Poetry lovers with a particular fondness for Romantics and Americans should visit the museum dedicated to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s life and beloved works.
- Isle of Lesbos, Greece: Lyrical poet Sappho penned some of the literary world’s most famously lush works on her home island, only fragments of which survive today.
- Harlem: Although the Harlem Renaissance inspired political and creative types hailing from all mediums, the most famous of these was poet Langston Hughes. His passionate works perfectly captured the African-American experience before the Civil Rights movement.
- City Lights Bookstore: Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti co-founded the bookstore that would come to serve as a home for the beat movement. Though specializing in progressive and world literature, City Lights garnered its fame from the controversial publishing of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems.
- Emily Dickinson Museum: Shy little Emily Dickinson never left her house often or achieved much acclaim in her lifetime, but posthumously ranks among the most frequently celebrated American poets.
- Carryong, Victoria, Australia: Banjo Paterson may or may not have had the Upper Murray in mind when he wrote the patriotic “The Man From Snowy River,” but residents of nearby Carryong have reason to believe he did. Relentlessly advertising as such certainly attracted a right fair amount of tourists, anyways.
- Nihonbashi: During the Edo Period, Matsuo Basho gained recognition as one of the world’s most masterful haiku composers. His fame swelled thanks to considerable involvement in Nihonbashi (located in Edo, now Tokyo) literary and intellectual cliques.
- Acadia: Longfellow found the plight of Acadians in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island both tragic and inspiring, writing the epic “Evangeline” to memorialize their expulsion.
- Machu Picchu: Celebrated Chilean poet, author and activist Pablo Neruda composed a 15-Canto epic dedicated to Machu Picchu following a trip to Peru. Titled Canto General, it’s long enough to fill an entire book!
- Tintern Abbey: The ruins of this medieval Welsh Cistersian monastery served as a romantic backdrop for one of William Wordworth’s most beautiful, romantic poems — titled, of course, “Tintern Abbey.”
- Indian Jungles: Roughly 20% of India is covered by dense tropical forests, and fans of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book willing to brave tigers and cobras might very well find them an exhilarating destination.
- Calaveras County, California, United States: The celebrated jumping frog from Mark Twain’s short story of the same name lives in a box and doesn’t exactly put on much of a show. Its publication in The Saturday Press helped launch the beloved American writer’s illustrious career.
- Venice, Italy: Before he was immortalized in Shakespeare’s haunting tragedy, Othello began life as a short story character. Cinthio’s “Un Capitano Moro” (translated as “A Moorish Captain”) was published in 1565 and concerned the horrific life of a particular Venetian Army member.
- Savannah, Georgia, United States: Flannery O’Connor and her brittle short stories formed one of the cornerstones of Southern Gothic literature. Without Savannah, she never would have been able to create the sweltering, dramatic atmospheres characterizing her oeuvre.
- Calcutta, India: Interpreter of Maladies earned Jhumpa Lahiri a Pulitzer Prize for its juxtaposition of Indians and Indian-Americans. Some of the most poignant stories, most especially “A Real Durwan,” explore some of the marginalized populations of Calcutta (Kolkata). Particularly within the female demographic.
- Tarrytown, New York, United States: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” wrings terror from the twisted Tarrytown woods. Try not to imagine Washington Irving’s ghastly Headless Horseman while exploring them!
- Vietnam: Most of Tim O’Brien’s short story collection The Things They Carried take place in and around Vietnamese jungles. Because they concern themselves with the Vietnam War, the narratives reflect historical events and attitudes as well as specific geography.
- Temple of Karnak: Ramses II inspired Boleslaw Prus to pen the wildly popular “A Legend of Old Egypt,” his first attempt historical fiction. Written in 1888, it used the majestic Nile setting to comment on then-contemporary events happening in Germany.
- Canterbury Cathedral: All the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s unfinished medieval masterpiece hope to worship at the majestic Gothic cathedral at Canterbury. Consecrated in 1070, the current Church of England house of worship has borne witness to some of the country’s most volatile historical moments.
- Iran: Iran’s not exactly a stable or safe travel destination, but many electing to visit for whatever reason will hopefully appreciate its literary significance. Although “1001 Nights” (known as “1001 Arabian Nights” in English) pulls from Egyptian, Indian, Arabic and Mesopotamian culture as well as Persian, the frames all take place in what is now known as Iran. Scheherazade prevents her potential husband, Sultan Shahryar, from executing her by weaving dramatic stories keeping him in such suspense he needs her alive until they finally end.