For centuries, writers have used literature to transport people to places far and wide — their words a vehicle into the larger world. While cities like Paris and New York have inspired and played host to countless writers, there are many less-trodden landscapes where you can retrace the lives and work of famous poets, playwrights, and novelists.
Here are nine places with rich literary legacies — at least a few of which you probably haven’t seen — to inspire a few stories of your own.
To celebrate Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, his hometown Cardiff, Wales has hosted a celebration of all-things Dahl through 2016. At the Wales Millennium Centre, the interactive Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl exhibition (through January 14) explores the inspiration behind his characters and features original manuscripts. The National Museum Cardiff is also featuring an exhibition of drawings by Quentin Blake, the illustrator for Dahl’s books.
The late writer is permanently memorialized at The Roald Dahl Plass, a public plaza on Cardiff Bay used for outdoor performances. The Norwegian Church, where Dahl and his siblings were christened, now hosts performances and exhibits in the Dahl Gallery; and Dahl attended the Cathedral School, which inspired many of his characters. Die-hard fans can book a night at the Ty Mynydd House and Lodge, the Dahl family’s summer home (from about US $86 per night), which he described in his book Boy as, “A mighty house with turrets on its roof and with majestic lawns and terraces all around it.”
Poetry fanatics should make the 50-minute drive to Swansea to visit the former home of Dylan Thomas. Follow the West Wales trail, making stops at the Boat House, where Thomas wrote “Under Milk Wood,” and at Fern Hill Farm, which inspired his poem “Fern Hill.” The Dylan Thomas Centre is home to a permanent exhibition dedicated to the poet’s life and work and hosts the annual Dylan Thomas Festival in October and November.
For a small town, Oxford has been home to an impressive canon of writers, including John Grisham, Barry Hannah, and — most notably — William Faulkner. Pay homage to Faulkner at Rowan Oak mansion, where he lived for more than forty years. Inside the house ($5 admission), visit the writing room, the walls of which are covered in Faulkner’s outline for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Fable.
Follow the wooded trail through the property to the Ole Miss campus, where Faulkner studied for three semesters. Every July, the university hosts the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, which draws hundreds of writers and fans. (It also hosts the only national writing conference dedicated exclusively to creative nonfiction.) In the J.D. Williams Library, the third-floor Department of Archives & Special Collections houses original writings unearthed from the closet at Rowan Oak after Faulkner’s death, as well as the first manuscript of Grisham’s A Time to Kill, and some 69,000 other rare books.
Finish the Faulkner trail at Saint Peter’s Cemetery, the writer’s final resting place. His plot is hard to miss — look for the pints of whiskey, left by adoring fans and writers looking for their muse.
Lit lovers should visit Square Books, which hosts more than 150 author events per year between its three locations. Grab a drink at the bar on the second floor of City Grocery — a favorite watering hole among local writers, including Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, whose legacies (and drinks of choice) are marked on plaques on the bar top and seats.
Visit Nobel Prize-winning poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda in Santiago. An elaborate mural in Cerro Santa Lucia park honors Mistral, the first Latin American and fifth female to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Her face is also on the country’s 5,000 peso note.)
Neruda described Santiago often in his poetry. His three homes in and around Santiago have been converted into museums (approximately US $7.50 admission) filled with personal items, including his bed, writing desks, and tchotchkes — all of which he meticulously designed and arranged — offering a more intimate glimpse into his life than most house museums. La Chascona, located in Santiago’s Bellavista neighborhood, was a hideaway for him and his wife and muse Matilde; Neruda named the home “La Chascona,” (tangled-haired woman) after her.
For a deeper look at Neruda’s life, drive an hour and a half to his house La Sebastiana in Valparaíso. His fifth-floor study looked out over the city, inspiring him to write: “If we walk up and down Valparaiso’s stairs we will have made a trip around the world.” An hour south of Valparaiso, on the rocky Pacific coast, Isla Negra is where Neruda and Matilde are buried. Some of his hand-written poems and books are on display in the house.
Due to the high cost of printing new books in Chile, an underground literary scene and a large market for secondhand publications have flourished in Santiago. For a literary talisman to take home, visit the weekend market on Lastarria Street near the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, or peruse the booksellers near the intersection of Providencia Avenue and Miguel Claro Street.
Concord and Amherst, Massachusetts
The sixty-mile stretch from Concord to Amherst has bred some of America’s most significant literary figures. Start in Concord at the Ralph Waldo Emerson House ($9 admission), where the writer completed his most famous works, Nature and Self Reliance. Emerson rented out the nearby Old Manse to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the two frequently met with Henry David Thoreau in the study — the eventual birthplace of the American Transcendentalism movement. (Hardcore Thoreau enthusiasts should make the hour drive to Walden Pond, too.)
Spend the night at the Hawthorne Inn, a bed and breakfast across the road from The Wayside, a former home to Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. Next door, the Orchard House is where Alcott wrote and set Little Women (guided tours, $10). There have been no major changes to the house since the Alcotts lived there — even the majority of the current furnishings were owned by the Alcotts — so it feels as though you’re walking through the novel.
Drive an hour and a half to Amherst to retrace the steps of the famed poet Emily Dickinson. There, the Emily Dickinson Museum includes the house where Dickinson was born, lived most of her life, and wrote most of her poems. Dickinson’s most devoted followers can reserve one- to two-hour studio sessions in the poet’s former bedroom to write and ponder privately. Other important landmarks include the former Amherst Academy, which Dickinson attended school (now marked by a commemorative stone); College Hall, the old village meetinghouse where Emily Dickinson and her family attended services; and the Dickinson grave site at West Cemetery.
Istanbul has been an important city for both international and homegrown writers. Start out at the Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah, where you can book a night in the Agatha Christie Room, where the British novelist wrote Murder on the Orient Express (you can also visit the Sirkeci station, where the real Orient Express terminated); or stay in one of the five Ernest Hemingway Suites, which pay tribute to the writer, who frequented the hotel.
Head to the Eyup neighborhood for coffee at Pierre Loti Café, dedicated to French novelist, whose stories were inspired by the city of Istanbul. Its famous views over the Golden Horn might ignite your own literary genius.
Do not miss Masumiyet Müzesi (The Museum of Innocence), based on the eponymous novel by Nobel Laureate for Literature Orhan Pamuk. Set inside a 19th-century timber house in Çukurcuma quarter, the museum comprises three stories’ worth of objects related to the characters and events in the eponymous book, including a series of vitrines that retell the love affair of its protagonists Kemal and Füsun. Afterward, wander the Nisantasi neighborhood, where Pamuk grew up, and Cinhangir, where he wrote.
Snag a seat and put pen to paper at Robinson Crusoe bookstore in the SALT Beyoğlu cultural center. Plan a visit during the massive annual sahaf festival in Beyoğlu, during which used booksellers host a two-week outdoor market.
Iowa City, Iowa
Since it opened in 1936, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — the oldest creative writing degree program in the country — has educated seventeen Pulitzer Prize winners and six U.S. Poets Laureate, and its reputation has inspired the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, and Rita Dove to take up residence in town.
The program’s influence on the city is overt: Poetry in Public features the work of local writers on city buses and buildings, and the words of Iowa-affiliated authors are cast in bronze and stamped into the sidewalks. This — along with new programs and events, like the Iowa Youth Writing Project and the Iowa City Book Festival — have made Iowa City the first (and only) UNESCO City of Literature in the U.S., and the third worldwide.
Drop into Prairie Lights, Iowa’s most famous bookstore. In the 1930s, its second-floor cafe was the site of a literary salon that hosted Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, and Gertrude Stein. You’ll still find literary elite there today — Michael Chabon was a recent guest reader. Stop by the Haunted Bookshop — Iowa City’s oldest secondhand bookstore — for more than 50,000 rare, out-of-print editions.
For a drop of liquid inspiration, head to Mickey’s Irish Pub: Poets Robert Lowell, John Berryman, John Irving, and Kurt Vonnegut sat, hunched over the antique bar (moved here from nearby watering hole Donnelly’s) imbibing until morning. Dave’s Fox Head tavern is officially dubbed the “Workshop bar” by the scores of writers who convene there.
Visit the second floor of the University of Iowa’s main library to read the senior thesis of the great Mark Strand and those of other famed Iowa MFA grads. Opposite the university, follow the river path — the setting for James Galvin’s poem, “I looked for Life and Did a Shadow See” — to the Iowa House Hotel, where John Cheever and Raymond Carver lived while they taught at the Workshop in 1973.
From its gypsy caves and winding alleys to the snow-capped peaks in the backdrop, Granada looks like it’s been plucked out of a poem. Appropriately, its most famous sight, the hilltop Moorish fortress The Alhambra features lines of Arabic poetry carved into the walls. And the city was home to one of Spain’s most renowned writers, Federico García Lorca.
At his childhood home, now the Museo Casa Natal Federico García Lorca (US $2 admission) in Fuente Vaqueros, you can view the poet’s crib, first editions of his works, theater costumes from his plays, and letters from Salvador Dalí and Rafael Alberti. The family’s house in nearby Valderrubio (US $3.30 admission) inspired two of his most celebrated plays, “Yerma” and “La Casa de Bernarda Alba.”
Lorca lived at La Huerta de San Vicente in Granada’s Camino de Ronda neighborhood leading up to his assassination. The house (US $3.30, guided visits only) features the desk where he wrote wrote some of his most important works, including “Blood Wedding” — a 1932 play about love, murder, and greed. In the Parque García Lorca, where the writer was killed, people hang quotations from the tree where the shooting is believed to have happened. When complete, the new El Centro Federico García Lorca will comprise a fifty-square-meter exhibition center with a theater and space for concerts, poetry readings, and literary events, along with an archive of nearly 20,000 manuscripts, drawings, and other compositions.
Granada also holds hundreds of literary events every year, namely the Festival Internacional de Poesía de Granada (FIP) — the most important poetry festival in Spain — which draws more than 10,000 people to the city each spring.
Key West, Florida
You can find traces of Ernest Hemingway’s legacy in cities around the world, but Key West provides the most intimate look at his life. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum — a U.S. National Historic Landmark — is where Hemingway lived when he penned “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” the novel To Have And Have Not, and the non-fiction work Green Hills of Africa. Keep an eye out for the six- and seven-toed cats that roam the property — descendants of Hemingway’s cats — and the trophy mounts and skins he brought back from African safaris and hunting expeditions in the American west.
In true Hemingway spirit, grab a drink at Captain Tony’s Saloon — once the site of a bar run by Hem’s friend “Sloppy Joe” Russell, where Ernest met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. In 1937, Russell moved the bar half a block away to what is now Sloppy Joe’s. Hemingway often stored his belongings at the bar, some of which are on display there today. Head to Latitudes for dinner inside the Ernest Hemingway Room, lined with photos of the writer. An avid boxer himself, Hemingway refereed matches on Friday nights at a saloon, now occupied by the popular restaurant Blue Heaven.
Take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park — a cluster of seven islands located seventy miles west from Key West — one of the author’s favorite fishing spots, and stop at Fort Jefferson where he was once marooned for two weeks. Stop by the permanent Hemingway exhibit at the Custom House, and get face-to-face with the writer’s bust at the nearby Key West Historical Memorial Sculpture Garden in Mallory Square, dedicated to Key West’s most influential residents. Join the annual Hemingway Days Festival on the author’s birthday (July 21) to participate in a Hemingway look-alike contest and a “Running of the Bulls” event.