The history of literature in Edinburgh

Scott Monument D

The first in the world to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2004, Edinburgh has a remarkable literary heritage. Not only was it the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment, it was also here that the world’s first circulating library was established in 1725 and, in 1768, the first copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published.

The first printed Gaelic book was published in Edinburgh in 1567, as was the first secular Gaelic book (1741) and the first collection of Gaelic poetry (1751).

Today, there are so many ways to explore Edinburgh’s literary scene. Each August the city plays host to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the largest public celebration of the written word in the world. First held in 1983, it now regularly brings over 800 writers to the city from 45 different countries.

Edinburgh International Book Festival Reading Cr Book Festival

(Image Credit: Edinburgh International Book Festival)

Discover more about The Edinburgh International Book Festival> 


For those who really want to follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors and characters, there are an abundance of literary tours across the city. The Edinburgh Book Lover’s Tour spans 500 years of literature and penetrates the capital’s ancient wynds, closes and graveyards; or for Ian Rankin fans, the Rebus Tour which celebrate Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels, are a must.

To see collections of manuscripts, first editions and personal items belonging to Edinburgh’s celebrated writers, make sure to take time to visit some of the city’s fascinating collections, including The National Library of Scotland, Scotland’s largest library; The Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the lives of three of Scotland’s literary giants – Scott, Stevenson, and Burns – and The Scottish Poetry Library, which is housed in the world’s first purpose-built poetry library and home to an unparalleled collection.

Writers Museum

For serious bookworms, no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to one of the city’s many bookshops. Loose yourself as you browse through the city’s fantastic collection of antique and independent bookshops. For inspiration, have a look at our guide to Ten of Edinburgh's Best Bookshops.