Edinburgh is the first city I’m writing about for the UNESCO Cities of Literature for Kids series on my blog because it was the first city to be part of this list back in 2004.
However, I would’ve liked to have put Edinburgh first anyway. It’s a special city to me. My husband and I honeymooned in Scotland back in the day. We stayed at the Balmoral Hotel while there (which, when you read on, you’ll see why that makes this Harry Potter fan so happy).
We promised to return to Scotland every 5-10 years. We’ve been back once. That time we spent our whole holiday in Edinburgh enjoying not just the sites of the beautiful city, but the excitement surrounding Hogmanay, the three-day New Year’s celebration that is, in my opinion, better than any other New Year’s celebration in the world.
Before I start getting into Edinburgh’s children’s lit side, I want to say this. This is a child-friendly destination. My son turned one just prior to our last visit there and we had so much fun. So put it on your list, and if it’s already on your list, awesome!
Edinburgh Children’s book authors (and the sites you may be interested in because of them)
J. K. Rowling was not born in Edinburgh, but the hero she’s responsible for from one of the most popular chidren’s book series of all time came to life in the city. Harry Potter is, easily, the most iconic children’s book character in recent years.
Two points of interest for any Potter fan in Edinburgh:
- The Elephant House Cafe: This was where Rowling wrote the first book. So, grab a cup of coffee and see if it can inspire you.
- The Balmoral Hotel: After the Elephant House writings, multiple rejections, an acceptance, many books and many movies later… Rowling holed herself up in a room at the Balmoral hotel to write the last book in the series.
Alternatively, you can do a self-guided tour of Potter’s Edinburgh. Littles, Life, and Laughter did one with her kids and has great insight and photos in her post, Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh.
Also in between those points of the first book and the last book is the city itself. You can find many lists of Edinburgh sites that were the inspiration for the series.
If you’re love of Harry Potter and UNESCO Cities of Literature extends past Edinburgh – Melbourne, Australia is the place for you. They’re next on the UNESCO C.O.L. destination. So check out Melbourne’s Harry Potter sites.
Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith is well known for his famous series, No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (and many other books), however, he’s also known in the children’s book industry as well. Specifically, the kid’s travel books industry.
Yes, we’ve featured him here on this site before in one of our first blog posts. (Read our review of The Great Cake Mystery.) He wrote a series of early chapter books sharing some of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’s main character’s first mystery solving cases as a child in Botswana.
J. M. Barrie
J. M. Barrie was born and educated in Scotland before moving to London and writing the children’s classic Peter Pan.
Barrie fans visiting Scotland can travel two hours north of Edinburgh to visit his birthplace and museum. Or stop by his Alma Mater, the University of Edinburgh.
Robert Louis Stevenson
R.L. Stevenson was born in Edinburgh and lived there until he was 29 years old. He wrote many books which are now considered classics, but I want to reference two: Treasure Island (perhaps his most famous) and Kidnapped (which takes place in Edinburgh).
Fans will want to take a look at this itinerary to follow in his Edinburgh footsteps or visit the Stevenson Collection at the Writer’s Museum.
Other notable children’s book authors associated with Edinburgh
Another Edinburgh author responsible for a children’s classic, Grahame is most known for the Wind in the Willows. He left Edinburgh at a young age and his childhood life in Cookham, UK may have been the inspiration for this book.
Edinburgh’s children’s book events
As part of the UNESCO City of Literature Designation, cities must also have book events. Here are some of the events families may enjoy:
Edinburgh International Book Festival
This annual event is held in August. They claim to have something for all ages and interests, so check them out if you’ll be in Edinburgh for the book festival and will be traveling with a little one.
You can check out the Edinburgh events on their UNESCO page. They’re always changing and updating. An example of an event they had that was so specific and amazing occurred in March 2018. For two weeks they honored Italian-Scottish children with an exhibition at the Scottish Storytelling Center. This exhibit featured local children of Italian descent who wrote poetry, made art, and performed topics around the changing seasons. Pretty cool.
Edinburgh’s bookshops for children
Unless you wander into Waterstones, you likely won’t find a bookstore in Edinburgh similar to your favorite Barnes & Noble at home. Edinburgh has a lot of bookshops. They suit a variety of needs, wants, and interests. These can include anything from shops geared towards independent books, books paired with records, or shops themed on Alice and Wonderland. (But, don’t avoid Waterstones, it’s still fun.) Here’s a link to the Edinburgh bookshops I mentioned above and more. The Old Children’s Bookshelf might actually be closed for good now, though.
Instead of highlighting bookstores, I’m going to suggest an app. This app by the UNESCO City of Literature Edinburgh folks makes finding your favorite type of quirky shop easier. Find details here.
Tips for Visiting Edinburgh for families (based on things mentioned in this post)
Whether Edinburgh’s book culture has you excited for a trip to Edinburgh or not, here are some tips for your family trip to Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Hotel for Families
- The Balmoral Hotel: Traveling with kids, especially little kids, requires a convenient location. And that is why I love the Balmoral. I don’t think there’s a better spot in Edinburgh. It’s right next to Waverly Station and the clock makes it easily recognizable when wandering the town. It’s convenient to the shops on Princes Street, Princes Street Gardens, the Royal Mile, and all of the cities best attractions. They also provide a ton of services for families with kids up to 16 years old. This includes kid’s check-in, activity packages, special kid-friendly turndown service, all the accessories to make it a kid-friendly room, and more. Parents will also appreciate the babysitting options and amazing spa.
Edinburgh Hogmanay for Families
Click on the above image for a children’s book about Hogmanay.
Hogmanay is a bucket list item, so get that off your kid’s list early and take them! The three-day celebration is filled with fun activities for the family. Spend some time looking at the schedule to find something to suit your family. The year we went my son was one year old. We opted to do the torchlight procession. The organization and route may change frequently, but for the year that we went, we thought it was the perfect event. We put the one-year-old in the stroller. There were many families with kids of all ages walking around. The crowd moved slow enough that we fit right in.
We spent the rest of our week enjoying Edinburgh’s typical sites, enjoying the Christmas market, and taking a quick day trip to St. Andrews.