UNESCO City of Literature: Where to find #creativecities

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@DownshiftingPRO UNESCO Cities of Literature

As we begin planning another Book Club year, we have made book choices that will entertain, educate and provoke discussion. Overall, I love the effect of literature as a vehicle to open discussion about relationships, human struggle, society, history and humour. I especially love how books can transport you to another land – armchair travel if you will. I am awestruck by the effect books, films, music and the arts plays in the mental well-being of people. It is very important to appreciate the arts and how they play a role in our society. In October 2019, UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network added 11 more locations to their list of UNESCO City of Literature. Here’s an ultimate guide on where to find them.

PicassoGuernica
By PICASSO, la exposición del Reina-Prado. Guernica is in the collection of Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.Source page: http://www.picassotradicionyvanguardia.com/08R.php (archive.org), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1683114

Through these artistic mediums, we can gauge the state of humanity today. So many great masterpieces are created because of strife and conflict. Consider Picasso’s Guernica, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bells Toll – statements about the Spanish Civil War. Ai Weiwei’s Crabs and Accidental Dropping was a political statement expressed through ceramics and performance art (respectively).

Accidental Dropping 2000 Ai Weiwei AGO 2013 DownshiftingPRO

As I continue to write about the benefits of travel and art, I came across UNESCOs Creative City designation and was intrigued to find out more. Since 2004, UNESCO has been gathering cities to share experiences in seven fields of creative industries: (1) literature; (2) film; (3) music; (4) crafts and folk art ; (5) design; (6) media arts; and (7) gastronomy. The goal is to establish international partnerships in creative industries. Creative Cities was created to promote culture and art by showcasing creative communities. In October 2019, 66 cities have been designated as UNESCO Creative Cities. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network now counts a total of 246 cities.

UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE
Quebec City is a UNESCO City of Literature

UNESCO City of Literature

UNESCO Creative Cities of Literature aimed to foster the tradition of public poetry readings, engage the public with cultural experiences, enhance the profile and support bookshops in their role as literary meeting spaces, promoted their writers and particularly young and emerging ones.

  • Quality, quantity, and diversity of publishing in the city
  • Quality and quantity of educational programs focusing on domestic or foreign literature at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels
  • Literature, drama, and/or poetry playing an important role in the city
  • Hosting literary events and festivals, which promote domestic and foreign literature
  • Presence of libraries, bookstores, and public or private cultural centres, which preserve, promote, and disseminate domestic and foreign literature
  • Involvement by the publishing sector in translating literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature
  • Active involvement of traditional and new media in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products

Angoulême, France

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One of six panels “Realite-Sortie de Secours” by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
Photo credit: T. Llansades via Flickr

Know as the ‘Ville de l’image’ Angoulême has become a destination for animation and the French video game industry. All very modern but the history of this city goes back as far as the 2 or 3rd century when it was a Roman city.

Located about 2.5 hours on the train from Paris, Angoulême has always been associated with paper. What we would call ‘the funnys’, the French have a long tradition of the comic strip. The Ministry of Culture declared 2020 the Year of the Comic Strip, with celebrations taking part in the 47th edition of the Comic Strip Festival last January.

Angoulême, France has street art dedicated to this art form and there is no question you will want to take a tour of the quirky Cartoon Trail. The Comic Strip Festival will celebrate its 48th edition in January 2021. In the centre of the city, you will find a bronze bust of Hergé, the author of the much-loved Tin Tin series.

Book: The Adventures of Tin Tin (series), Hergé

Baghdad, Iraq

This UNESCO Cities of Literature wouldn’t be complete without mention of the wayward destination of Baghdad, Iraq. Baghdad is the capital and largest city in Iraq. In fact, it is the second-largest city in Southwest Asia after Tehran and the third-largest city in the Arab world after Riyadh and Cairo. Baghdadi Museum, The National Museum of Iraq, Hatra Ruins, Abu Hanifa Mosque, Al-Shaheed Monument (Martyr Monument) are some of the must-see places in the city.

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Book: Baghdad Central, Elliott Colla


If you are someone that loves to get lost in the books of places you visit, I recommend the Baghdad Central Elliott Colla. Although this is his debut novel, he does a great job of entertaining readers through his storyline. He is also a professor of Arabic literature at Georgetown University and lives between Washington, DC, and the Middle East.

Baghdad Central is one of those books which is totally immersive in Middle Eastern affairs and it’s fictional, but this book will give you a better picture of life in Iraq in 2003 and an understanding of the US- Iraq relationship from the local inspector’s perspective and how he lives through it all. He is someone who has lived long enough in pre-and post-Saddam Iraq and knows that clinging on anything besides his daughter is getting into trouble!

Anna Sherchand, Solo Female Travel Blog

Barcelona, Spain

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Labyrinth Park of Horta, Barcelona, Spain

The Catalan capital, Barcelona is known as Spain’s second city. It’s famous for its modernist landmarks, its many museums, and is also a City of Literature. Barcelona is a publishing hub for Spanish and Catalan books. In fact, it exports almost half of what is published all across Latin America. 

For anyone wanting to pick up a book in Barcelona, there are plenty of places to enjoy a read. Take a walk to any of the beautiful parks near the city center or veer off the typical path and wander the grounds at the Parc del Laberint d’Horta. Prefer to stay indoors? Go to a cafe such as Els 4Gats which was once a popular meeting place for artists Picasso and architects such as Gaudí.

There are plenty of places to enjoy a good read and lots of things to do in Barcelona. If you’re looking for a book recommendation set in Spain check out The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Enjoy a piece of Spain in Barcelona or wherever you go with this timeless classic.

Book: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Jeanine Romo, Le Wildexplorer.com

Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut wartorn building

Beirut has a rich but troubled history that dates back more than 5,000 years. Over the centuries, it has been conquered and inhabited by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans. Once Lebanon gained its independence from France in 1943, Beirut became a popular tourist destination and was known as the “Paris of the Middle East”.

This came to an abrupt halt, however, when the city was ravaged by a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. Even in the early 21st century, reminders of this brutal conflict were still very visible. Mixed in with the fancy skyscrapers were the empty shells of buildings bombed during the war.

Nowadays, though, Beirut is once again a thriving, cosmopolitan and culturally diverse capital with a great nightlife scene. There are some fabulous restaurants in Beirut too, featuring plenty of vegan and vegetarian options and a wide variety of cuisines.

Book: From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman

To gain an understanding of Beirut’s turbulent past, read From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman, who spent 10 years in Lebanon and Israel as a correspondent for The New York Times. Originally published in 1988, it was republished in 2012 with a new afterword covering the Arab Awakenings and Israeli/Palestinian relations.

 Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan

Dublin, Ireland

Trinity College Library - Book of Kells, Dublin, Ireland a UNESCO City of Literature.
Trinity College Library – Book of Kells – Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is a gorgeous UNESCO City of Literature and has been home to many popular authors including Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce. Book fans will love exploring the Dublin Writers Museum which showcases a lot of the literary past of Dublin.

The Book of Kells in Trinity College is another top sight in the city for book lovers. Here, you can see the world-famous illuminated manuscript and visit The Long Room in Trinity College’s old library, which is the library of every literary lover’s dreams.

While in Dublin, don’t forget to also check out some of the other great attractions that the city has to offer. The Guinness Storehouse provides an in-depth look into Ireland’s most famous beer, and you can even sip on a free pint at the Gravity Bar which offers panoramic views of the city. Stop by St. Stephen’s Green to relax in a gorgeous park set in the middle of the city. Don’t forget to visit Temple Bar and Grafton Street too!

Book: Dubliners, James Joyce

If you’re looking for a book that takes place in Ireland, you’ll definitely want to check out some of James Joyce’s best works, including Ulysses and Dubliners.

Krystianna from Volumes & Voyages

Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin Railway Station
Dunedin Railway Station – Photo Credit: So Many Places! So Little Time!

Dunedin is the second-largest city on New Zealand’s South Island and is known for its strong Scottish heritage and as a student city.  It’s a city where research and learning thrive. New Zealand’s first daily newspaper the Otago Daily times began in Dunedin. It has an impressive publishing heritage and is a city where writers, literature, and books thrive.

Dunedin is very much a university town and as such has a great student culture reflected in its nightlife, cafes, and quirky events. It is located at the head of a stunning harbor and is a major eco-tourism destination with its surrounding valleys and hills and fascinating wildlife.  Dunedin is a popular stop on travelers’ motor home road trips.

Book: The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

The most well-known recent international award-winning book from New Zealand is the 2013 Booker Prize winner “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton who, at 28 years of age, was the youngest author to win a Booker prize. The book has now been adapted by Eleanor Catton herself for a six-part joint BBC Two and TVNZ miniseries. The story takes place on New Zealand’s South Island during the 19th-century gold rush.

Maureen Spencer from So Many Places! So Little Time!

Durban, South Africa

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Durban, South Africa is one of the most charming beach cities in the world, and its friendly inhabitants love to make guests feel welcome. The most famous attraction in Durban is uShaka Marine World. This theme park contains the 5th largest aquarium on the planet, as well as a thrilling water park where children love to play. Afterward, you can eat some scrumptious local seafood while enjoying views of the gorgeous nearby beach.

Be sure to get off the beach for a moment and visit the Durban Botanic Gardens, which are the oldest surviving botanical gardens in all of Africa. Admission is free, but if you pay a little extra to take a guided tour on a golf cart you can learn about the loneliest plant in the world, among other secrets. Finally, Durban has a massive Indian population, so don’t miss the local Indian food. It is authentically spicy and delicious!

Book: Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Gripped a Nation, John Carlin

For a gripping true story about South Africa’s victory in the 1994 World Cup, try reading Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Gripped a Nation. Even if you don’t know anything about rugby, you won’t be able to put the book down.

Stella Jane, Around the World in 24 hours

Edinburgh, Scotland

Armchair Bookstore Edinburgh Scotland

Edinburgh is one of the top literary cities in the UK and has been called home by many famous authors over the years. The city was named a UNESCO city of literature in 2004 and for good reason. With a writer’s museum, beautiful libraries, award-winning bookshops and inspiration for authors dotted all around, it’s a treasure trove for book lovers.

No literary tour of Edinburgh would be complete without visiting the best Edinburgh bookshops: Armchair Books and Golden Hare Books. Armchair Books is the best second-hand bookshop in the city (and the most beautiful too!) with winding corridors filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Meanwhile, Golden Hare Books hosts the most well-curated selection of new books of any British bookshop. They were even named Independent Bookshop of the Year!  

Book: Harry Potter (Series), JK Rowling

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter then plenty of JK Rowling’s writing spots and inspirations can be found around Edinburgh, including a graveyard containing many characters’ names and the cafes in which she wrote. For fans of classics, The Writer’s Museum is a must to find out more about Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson (it’s completely free!). 

Laura Hartley, What’s Hot – Book and Travel Blog

Exeter, England, UK

Exeter Cathedral photo credit CANVAPRO
Exeter Cathedral, Exeter, UK Photo Credit: CANVAPRO

Exeter, in Devon, was announced as a UNESCO City of Literature in November 2019 and for book lovers, the city’s literary associations are numerous and diverse. J K Rowling studied at the University; Hilary Mantel received an honorary Doctorate there too. Charles Dickens was a junior reporter in Exeter and used some of the regulars of the Turk’s Head in the High Street as inspiration for characters in The Pickwick Papers. Agatha Christie was born nearby in Torquay and used the area as the setting for many of her books.

Head to the Gothic Exeter Cathedral to view the Exeter Book.  The book is a collection of poems written in Old English in the 10th Century. In 2016 it was inscribed by UNESCO as one of the ‘world’s principal cultural artifacts. Because of its historical importance, viewing of the Exeter Book is limited. Find out dates on the Exeter Cathedral website.

The Special Collections Department at The University of Exeter holds an archive of writings by famous authors including Sir John Betjeman, Daphne du Maurier, Ted Hughes and William Golding.

Exeter’s Library appointed its first female librarian in 1849. In 2019, it was one of the busiest buildings in the city with over half a million visits.

Larch, The Silver Nomad

Book: The Pickwick Papers or Pair of Blue Eyes by Charles Dickens

Granada, Spain

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The city of Granada is one of the most beautiful ones in Spain. Because the city is close to the Sierra Nevada mountains, the weather can be a bit unpredictable. But the mountains are great for a trip in nature or to go skiing in winter. Besides the nearby Sierra Nevada, the city itself is packed with history. It once was home to different cultures and religions, which created a beautiful mixture in architecture. The most famous part of culture and history in Granada is, of course, the Alhambra.

The Alhambra is a palace combined with a fortress and used to belong to the rulers of Granada. In 1492, during the Reconquista, it was taken by the Christian kings Ferdinand and Isabela. They added some Renaissance architecture to the Islamic palace. The famous building is the gem of Granada, but not the only good part. Do not forget to wander through the Arabic barrio Albayzin, visit the cathedral and most important: taste some tapas. In Granada you get a free tapa with every drink, so do some bar hopping to find the best place!

Manouk Oord Groetjes uit Verweggistan (With Love from Far Away)

Book: Tales of the Alhambra, Washington Irving

Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving. Washington Irving visited Granada in 1828 and wrote this book about his visit to the Alhambra. Irving writes about historical events and myths and was clearly fascinated by the city.

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg Germany Photo Credit CANVAPRO
Heidelberg, Germany – Photo Credit: CANVAPRO

Heidelberg can easily be called one of the most romantic and picturesque cities in the region. Ancient castles, beautiful gardens, medieval streets, and churches give the city a charming and unique look. Heidelberg is surrounded by incredible natural landmarks of Germany and is located on the Neckar River that runs through the green hills. In addition, it was here that the remains of the first man in Europe were discovered as a result of archaeological excavations.

This city is an open-air museum founded in the XIII century. In the 17th century, Heidelberg was destroyed by the troops of Louis XIV, but the inhabitants were able to restore it completely. Since then, Heidelberg has remained untouched. Even during World War II, the city was able to avoid any bombing.

Heidelberg is a city of scholars and students. For centuries, people have visited here from all over the world, looking for inspiration and new knowledge. Joseph von Eichendorff and Jean-Paul (German Romantic writers), Muhammad Iqbal (ideologist of Muslim unification), Mark Twain, Mandelstam, scientists Bunsen and Kirchhoff (creators of the spectrograph) and many, many others lived, worked, taught and studied in Heidelberg.

If a city attracts people of this magnitude, there is definitely something special about it! Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has spent here some time too and you can read some of his books such as Faust or Theory of Colors.

Inna Nedostupenko from the Executive Thrillseeker

Book: Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Iowa City, USA

Iowa City Iowa photo credit Iowa City FB Page
Iowa City (photo credit: City of Iowa City, Iowa)

Located right off of I-80 and beside the Mississippi River, Iowa City, Iowa is a college town that deserves more attention than merely a road trip stop in between the coasts! Its claim to UNESCO City of Literature fame rests in the world-renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Their programs trailblazed the study of creative writing at a university level and remain a writer’s haven for students and professionals alike.

The city celebrates its literary roots with the fall Iowa City Book Festival that pairs well with seasonal pumpkin patches and apple orchards.  Visitors will enjoy small museums to suit every age, lots of public parks and green space, and a modern downtown with trendy restaurants and unique boutiques, making it a wonderful place to spend a weekend and explore some of the many things to do in Iowa as a whole. Don’t miss the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk, a path of plaques commemorating over 45 writers who are connected to Iowa in some way and swing by the Iowa City Farmer’s market to enjoy some of the other things that the state is famous for like sweet corn and tomatoes!

Book: Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties by  Carmen Maria Machado, an Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate – a collection of short stories sitting at the intersection of horror, sci-fi, and modern female experience.

Stephanie Woodson, Explore More Clean Less

Kraków, Poland

Color coordinated outfits and horses parade along the streets of Krakow ©WOTR Anne Sterck
Colourful parade along the streets of Krakow ©WOTR/Anne Sterck

Krakow, like an onion, needs peeling to be understood. At first sight, it might seem a bit rowdy, what with bands of bachelor Brits drinking their way through the Old Town and a joyful, youthful population.

But Krakow is a town steeped in history. It was once Poland’s capital, it has one of Europe’s oldest universities, and it was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, who made it a headquarters and didn’t destroy it. Krakow’s mayor had decided (controversially) to let them in, hoping they would spare the city. It worked.

Of all the places to visit in Krakow, the Old Town should top the list. In the evenings, classical music will waft through the streets from the many churches and concert halls. Climb to a vantage point above the main square, Rynek Główny, to listen to the trumpeters of Mariacki, St Mary’s Basilica.

After the Old Town, it’s time to visit Kazimiers, where Jews and Christians lived side by side until the Nazis built a ghetto.

And head for one of the traditional pierogi restaurants because yes, they’re better here. When you’re full, head back to the main square for spectacular iced chocolate from Wedel’s…

If you have an extra day, take the time to visit the death camp at Auschwitz. It’s not a cheerful experience, but it is an important and deeply moving one that will help you understand Krakow.

Leyla from Women on the Road

Book: Flights, Olga Tokarczuk

Since the Nobel Prize in Literature was established in 1901, Poland has had five winners. The latest went to Olga Tokarczuk in 2019. Her books are full of wit and cunning and won Tokarczuk the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, and in 2019, her book Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, made the Man Booker International Prize shortlist and the long list of the first National Book Award in Translated literature. 

Kuhmo, Finland

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One of Finland’s thousands of lake, Photo Credit: Taiga Times

One of the newest additions to the UNESCO City of Literature, Kuhmo was added in the fall of 2019. Located approximately 6 hours north of Helsinki, the natural beauty surrounds Kuhmo, Finland is what will take your breath away. Most of the area is very wild, featuring more than 600 lakes and extensively forested, providing a home to abundant wildlife. The area is home to Finland’s large carnivores and offers a window on the Kainuu wilderness – the brown bear, the wolf, the lynx and the wolverine.

As it borders with Russia, there is a long history in the area between the two countries. In 1990, they established the Friendship Park and Finnish-Russian Friendship Nature Reserve. It includes the Friendship Park and the 49,200-hectare Kostomuksha Nature Park (Zapovednik Kostomukshkij) in Karelia, Russia. On the Finnish side, the areas of Friendship Park are suitable for hiking, nature guidance and nature tourism, with the exception of Ulvinsalo Nature Park. The areas offer guided routes and serviced services for nature lovers, but also a wild wilderness for the independent traveler.

The significance of the area to literature is The Kalevala, written by Elias Lönnrot. It is a compilation of poetry, songs and folklore collected by Lönnrot during his expeditions from Kuhmo. Most of Finland’s folklore comes from it and is quite relevant for the visitors who are interested in stories while on our camping and hiking tours. The Kalevala is very nature-based and there are lots of sayings or proverbs that people still use today which use the names of the characters from the books.

Kia and Jeff, Taiga Times Nature Tours

Book: The Kalevala, Elias Lönnrot

Lahore, Pakistan

Lahore The Diary of a Nomad

Lahore is the vibrant cultural and food capital of Pakistan. It’s filled with immense history, majestic architecture, charming gardens, and bustling bazaars. It’s also one of the UNESCO Cities of Literature, and many great books have been written about this city. One of them is Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, which details an Indian author’s days in this city back in the 1930s, before India and Pakistan were separated.

One of the best places to see in Lahore is Badshahi Mosque, a jewel of the Mughal Empire. The architecture of the mosque is simply breathtaking, and you can also taste some of the finest local dishes on Fort Road Food Street nearby! I also recommend checking out the market at Delhi Gate for a glimpse of local life — the atmosphere there is simply amazing. Some other sites not to miss during your time in Lahore are Masjid Wazir Khan, Anarkali Bazaar, and Tomb of Jahangir.

Book: Lahore: A Sentimental Journey, Pran Nevile

Jiayi Wang, The Diary of a Nomad

Leeuwarden, Netherlands

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Afbeelding van Piet van de Wiel via Pixabay

Leeuwarden is not just one of the best off the beaten track cities to visit in the Netherlands, but also one of the two listed as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Leeuwarden is located all the way in the north of the Netherlands in the province Friesland, known for its lakes and rivers – perfect for a boat trip – its charming cities and Wadden islands. The Netherlands actually has two official languages, the main one is Dutch and the other one is Frisian and only spoked in Friesland. This minority language is related to Dutch and English, so you might be able to understand some words or two.

The main city in Friesland is Leeuwarden – or Ljouwert in Frisian. Highlights are the leaning and unfinished tower Oldehove offering views of the city, a free street art tour to spot the coolest murals, or an old prison now used for small shops, restaurants and a Frisian book restoration shop.

Author: The garden where the brass band played, Simon Vestdijk

One of the best-known authors from this area is Simon Vestdijk (1898-1971). You can download a literature app with a Vestdijk literature route in his birth city Harlingen to learn more about the writer and poet.The garden where the brass band played is one of only a few books translated into Englsh. Vestdijk was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature numerous times from 1950 to 1966.

Maartje & Sebastiaan from The Orange Backpack

Lillehammer, Norway

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Mjøsa, Norway – The largest lake in the country

Lillehammer is a two-hour drive north of the Norwegian capital of Oslo. With its 20,000 inhabitants, it is a medium-sized city by Norwegian standards. The total population is only 5 million. Surrounded by natural beauty, there are three national parks nearby (Rondane, Jotunheimen and Langsua). This is a region just waiting for you to hike, bike and ski in.

Two unique and interesting stops would be an outdoor museum (and village) and the Olympic Museum. Maihaugen Museum offers activities and experiences for the whole family. This is the largest open-air museum in Norway with more than 200 historic houses from the 13th century until today. The Norwegian Olympic Museum is a multi-media modern museum with video, biathlon simulator, digital displays and artifacts from both the 1994 Lillehammer and 1952 Oslo Winter Games.

For most Norwegians, the city is best known for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics and for most foreigners from the Netflix series with the same name, but it is also home to the largest literature festival in the Nordic region and two of Norway’s most famous writers, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Sigrid Undset, once lived there.

Book: Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset

Born in Denmark, Sigrid Undset settled in Lillehammer and this is where she wrote her trilogy about Kristin Lavransdatter which earned her the Nobel Prize in 1928. The book describes Kristen’s life in Norway during the Middle Ages. It is a story about love and the man who Kristin wants to marry but also the devastating consequences of her choice, both for her and everyone around her. Sigrid Undset might not be as well-known as Henrik Ibsen but try this book to find out for yourself why she is my favourite Norwegian classic author

Kristin and Ben, Adventures with Ensuite

Ljubljana, Slovenia 

Ljubljana Where Angie Wanders 1
Ljubljana, Slovenia –

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a charming city with a diverse history of culture and heritage. Located on the banks of the Ljubljanica River its charming buildings, faded but full of character, and its bridges guarded by dragon statues, the national symbol, make it the perfect reason to spend 3 days in Ljubljana.

Immerse yourself in its history when you visit the Museum of Slovenia or discover the alternative side to culture in Metelkova, the city’s autonomous community based around literature, art and music.

All around the city from the statues to the bridges to the facades of the houses, the design is that of master architecture Joze Plecnik. He was also responsible for the design of buildings in Vienna and Prague and his style is noticeable in Ljubljana.

Explore Ljubljana castle by taking the funicular tram up the hill to the top. From here you will have clear views across the city’s rooftops and out to the Alps beyond. When you are back down, wander the cobbled streets of the old town and stop at one of the many cafés that line the riverbank; the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by.

With art galleries, an opera house and outdoor performances throughout the year, Ljubljana offers the traveller a wealth of cultural events to enjoy and it is easy to see why Ljubljana regularly wins awards and accolades for its achievements within Europe.

Angela Price, Where Angie Wanders

Book: Veronika decides to die by Paulo Coelho

Lviv, Ukraine

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Lviv, Ukraine is one of the most beautiful cities you can find in Europe. Stunning architecture, amazing interiors, numerous amazing churches, and lots of small quirks – with all the great things to do in Lviv you won’t be bored for sure. Wandering around the old town is like walking in a fairy tale – the cobbled streets and pastel houses look magical. The most charming corners are in the Armenian and Jewish quarters – don’t miss them! But the real beauty hides inside in places like the Opera, House of Scientist or the Armenian church – those interiors will make your jaw drop. Lviv is also known for its culinary and especially cafe scene. It is said that Lviv has the biggest number of cafes per inhabitants, so you can surely find great cafes around each corner.

Book: In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust, Robert Marshall. 

Numerous books have been set in Lviv, but most of them are in Ukrainian and Polish language and, sadly, not translated. The interesting book that tells about Lviv during World War 2 is “In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust” by Robert Marshall. 

Kami, My Wanderlust.pl

Manchester, UK (England)

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 Elizabeth Gaskell House- Photo credit: Helen Rapp

Manchester was added to the list of UNESCO Cities of Literature in 2017 but its literary tradition goes back much further. In 1653, Humphrey Chetham left money in his will to establish a library in a building that dates back to 1421; it’s now the oldest-surviving public library in Britain.

As well as Chetham’s Library, Manchester has two other great libraries. The grand circular Central Library is a landmark building in the centre of the city, while the extraordinary John Rylands Library looks like a cathedral and holds priceless works, including a fragment of papyrus that may be the earliest New Testament text still in existence.

Literary sites that visitors to Manchester shouldn’t miss include seeing Lemn Sissay’s poem “Flags”, which is embedded along Tib Street. Over the years some of the plaques have disappeared but the ones closest to Great Ancoats Street can still be read. Just south of the city centre, you can visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s house at 82 Plymouth Grove where she wrote Cranford, North and South and Ruth.

If you’re planning to visit Manchester’s literary landmarks, try to visit during the Manchester Literature Festival, an annual event that features both local and international writers.

Book: North and South,  Elizabeth Gaskell 

Helen Rapp, Helen on her Holidays

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne Library - UNESCO Cities of Literature - Where to find them

Not only is Melbourne a designated UNESCO City of Literature, but it is the second city to receive this designation in 2008. Melbourne remains the only city in Australia to receive this designation. Melbourne received the UNESCO designation in acknowledgment of the breadth, depth and vibrancy of the city’s literary culture.  

Being a born and breed Melbourian, I had no idea we held this designation and I certain many others would not be aware either. I was interested to know why Melbourne was awarded the designation and my research yielded the following information.

Melbournians consume more books, magazines and newspapers per capita than any other city in Australia and enjoy many more community book clubs. My hometown is also home to some of Australia’s greatest writers including Marcus Clarke, CJ Dennis, Peter Carey, Helen Garner are just a few. 

There are over 270 local libraries in Victoria, here are some facts listed below: 

  • there are over 2 million library members;
  • they borrow 43 million physical items and 2.4 million ebooks each year;
  • one third of all Victoria’s are library members;
  • Libraries receive 30 million visits per year. 

Victorian libraries run innovative events and festivals for writers and readers as well as creative writing competitions. I love that our local library has weekly mum and bub storytelling time, this encourages toddlers to sit and listen to a story encouraging a love of books from an early age. I would often attend these with my kids. 

Sally Lucas, Our3KidsVsTheWorld

Book: History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey

If you are interested in more books set in Melbourne and surrounding areas, you may want to drop by the Melbourne City of Literature Facebook page. They have a comprehensive list of books here.

Milan, Italy

Duomo Milan Italy - UNESCO Cities of Literature - Where to find them
Duomo, Milan, Italy – Photo: Untold Italy

Known for its impressive Duomo, nineteenth-century glass-domed shopping arcade and Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting, Milan also has a long history of supporting culture and the arts. The city is the center of publishing in Italy and there you’ll find over 200 public and private libraries. Holding over 40,000 manuscripts, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, the magnificent Ambrosiana library is among the finest in the world. 

Book: Beneath a Scarlet Sky, Mark T. Sullivan

Milan has had a chequered history and was almost destroyed in World War II as the allies advanced on Nazi forces who had made their headquarters there. Mark T. Sullivan’s recent novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, is a fascinating insight into the Italian resistance movement at this time. After the war, Milan again returned to nurturing artists and writers. Among its most famous and prolific residents was the late Umberto Eco whose novel of historical fiction In the Name of the Rose is considered a modern Italian classic.

Katy Clarke, Untold Italy

Norwich, UK (England)

Norwich, UK is a UNESCO Cities of Literature - Here's where to find them

Norwich is often overlooked as a holiday destination in the UK, but this somewhat out-of-the-way city is full of interesting historical sites and hidden gems. It’s also the ideal getaway for bibliophiles.

Norwich was the first city in England (second in the UK after Edinburgh) to be named a City of Literature, and this is well deserved! The city has a long literary history dating back to the 1300s with Julian of Norwich, an anchorite (a religious recluse), who is believed to have written the first book and autobiography by a woman. You can visit her former home at St Julian’s Church and learn more about her life.

Throughout the year there are also numerous literary-related festivals in Norwich, the most famous of which is the Norwich & Norfolk Festival normally held in May/June.

One of the best things to do in Norwich for book lovers is to seek out the book-themed murals around the city. There are currently eight Norwich City murals around the city, all of them were designed with the theme of ‘City of Stories’ in mind (this theme is more obvious in some than others).

Book: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Book recommendation: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro attended the University of East Angla in Norwich and incorporated some aspects of Norwich and Norfolk into Never Let Me Go. In 2017, he became a Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Dagney McKinney, Cultura Obscura

Nottingham, UK (England)

Nottingham, England, UK is part of the UNESCO Cities of Literature - Here is where to find them
Nottingham, England

Mention the city of Nottingham in the East Midlands of England and one of the first things people will ask is about Robin Hood. Head into Nottingham and you can have a selfie with the aforementioned hero of English folklore. The statue of Robin Hood is just one of the attractions of this bustling city in the heart of Nottinghamshire. You can also find The Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. A 450-hectare national nature reserve is home to the well-loved veteran oak tree the Major Oak, which is known throughout the world for its connection to legendary hero Robin Hood.

Wander the city or take a free walking tour to soak up the history and atmosphere. Enjoy the ornate architecture and the historic lace market before heading to the Broadmarsh Centre for a spot of shopping. 
There are also a number of museums worth visiting including Greens Windmill – a working mill and mini Science Museum. The Nottingham Contemporary is a popular modern art gallery and museum worth visiting too. 
Wollaton Hall and Park should also be on any Nottingham itinerary. The hall is set in 500 acres with a deer park, lake and forest to enjoy.

Book: Sons and Lovers, DH Lawrence

Tracy McConnachie Collins, Tracy’s Travels in Time

Óbidos, Portugal

Obidos, Portugal is a UNESCO City of Literature - @DownshiftingPRO

Óbidos is a small fortress town which has huge medieval castle as sitting on a hill overlooking the region. Now a Posada (historic hotel) you will need to book a room in order to see the interior of this edifice. Offering just 17 rooms between the castle and an additional wing you can enjoy a romantic weekend. The castle rooms have thick walls, quaint hand-painted tiles, wooden shutters, and a darkly romantic atmosphere you’d expect of an old and tastefully restored fortress.

You can walk around the walled town and climb the ramparts for a stunning view of the valley below. The houses are colourful and you can see painted tiles throughout the town. You will also find beautiful boutiques and shops with traditional handicrafts (cork products, linens, canned goods). The cobblestone streets invite tourists to meander and stay a while. Sit in one of the bistros and have a small glass of Ginjinha d’Obidos (a sour cherry liquor) savour some delicious Jamón Iberico and enjoy the quaint town located just one hour north of Lisbon.

Book: The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, José Saramago

Awarded the Nobel prize in 1998 for his ability to help us “once again apprehend an elusory reality”, José Saramago is without question Portugal’s most famous literary export. Back in Lisbon after sixteen years practicing medicine in Brazil, Ricardo Reis wanders the rain-sodden streets. While there, he chooses not to resume his practice of medicine but rather takes up residence in a hotel where he wastes his days reading newspapers and wandering the streets of Lisbon.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic is part of UNESCO Cities of Literature - Where to find them
Prague – Veronika Primm

Charming Prague has attracted writers, intellectuals and artists for centuries. Who wouldn’t happily give in to the lure of the City of a hundred spires, picturesquely located on the Vltava River, with narrow winding streets of the Old Town where even locals can sometimes get lost?

Until this day, Prague has kept its mystical magic. That is especially true if you visit in the low season and stroll further away from the beaten path.

Prague’s buildings show the history of architecture in wonderful examples – you can admire Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance, even Art Nouveau and Cubism.  Apart from the city center, make sure to stroll in Prague’s neighborhoods, such as Vinohrady, with its fair share of merchant houses that often feature a tower too.

Many Czech writers are buried at the Vyšehrad cemetery right next to the Vyšehrad Cathedral, including Karel Čapek, Jan Neruda, Karel Hynek Mácha or Božena Němcová.

Book: Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

There are many books set in Prague, written by notable Czech and foreign writers. I can recommend the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, which follows the lives of 4 people and a dog in the times of the Prague Uprising in 1968. 

Veronika Primm, Travel Geekery

Québec City, Canada

A view of the Chateau Frontenac from a lower street vantage point.  Quebec City is part of the UNESCO Cities of Literature - Where to find them

Quebec City is a study in contrast. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quebec City’s Old Town is a wonderful place to visit any time of the year. Whether you visit for the winter Carnival or the large gathering for the Festival d’Ete (one of the largest – and best-kept secret- music festivals), you will be charmed by one of the oldest cities in Canada.

As the provincial capital, Quebec City is a government town but has plenty of cultural and historical sites to visit. One of my favourites is the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec

Book: Suzanne, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette never knew her mother’s mother. Curious to understand why her grandmother, Suzanne, a sometime painter and poet associated with Les Automatistes, a movement of dissident artists that included Paul-Émile Borduas, abandoned her husband and young family, Barbeau-Lavalette hired a private detective to piece together Suzanne’s life. Suzanne is a fictionalized account of her grandmother’s life over eighty-five years, from Montreal to New York to Brussels, from lover to lover, through an abortion, alcoholism, Buddhism, and an asylum.

Reykjavík, Iceland

View of the harbour in Reykjavik, Iceland Photo Credit: Stephanie Craig - A UNESCO City of Literature
Reykjavik, Iceland Photo Credit: Stephanie Craig

Reykjavik is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it is enriched by its cultural and literary traditions. Once you’re in the city, you can visit the gorgeous modern architecture at Hallgrimskirja and Harpa concert hall, enjoy tours of the city’s fantastic museums and see the beautiful skyline from the Perlan.

There are also great day trips to be had, from the Blue Lagoon to the Golden Circle. You can even rent a car and drive along the south coast to some of the most famous Ring Road spots. If you want to prepare yourself before coming, read a copy of the Icelandic Sagas, by Robert Kellogg, though you can do what I did and purchase a copy to take home as a souvenir from Iceland.

Book: The Sagas of Icelanders, Robert Kellogg

Telling the stories of the earliest Icelanders, these ancient tales bring the landscape and traditions of Iceland alive.  If you find the sagas difficult to read you can get modern translations and even catch some of the stories which have been worked into the television show Vikings.

Stephanie Craig, History Fangirl

Seattle, USA

SeattleLibrary AdventuresAbound
Seattle Public Library – Adventure Abounds

The city of Seattle, named for the famous Duwamish Chief Si’ahl, has a long history of Indigenous storytelling before any settlers ever called the port city home. It is upon that legacy that this Unesco City of Literature has built a culture of literature arts recognized internationally.

Boasting an incredible public library system and host to over 30 independent bookstores in the surrounding area plus numerous literary events throughout the year, Seattle is an incredible city for writers and readers alike.

 In fact, on National Independent Bookstore Day, the city hosts its own celebrations complete with a scavenger hunt-like Passport Challenge. Book enthusiasts must visit 19 of the 22 participating bookstores across the Puget Sound area within the day to be crowned and rewarded with 25% off at all participating bookstores for a full year – a prize well worth the effort and a fun day full of one of the many free things to do in Seattle.

Book: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

To taste a little of the adventure the city has to offer without leaving the comfort of home, pick up Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple, which takes place in Seattle. Better yet, bring your copy with you on your visit and cozy up in one of Seattle’s hundreds of coffee shops during one of the infamous rainy days and feel right at home getting lost in pages of an adventure.

Michele Granera, Adventures Abound

Tartu, Estonia

Tartu Town Hall Square 1

Tartu is a cute university town in Estonia that should be on everyone’s travel radar. Here, Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve measured the size of a meridian and thereby calculated the exact size and shape of Earth for the first time. Today, you can go and visit his observatory and learn more about this famous astronomer.

As Tartu is famous for its university, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that some of the main attractions here are linked directly to it. The University of Tartu Museum, for example, or the University of Tartu Art Museum.

The latter is especially fun to visit as it includes a visit to the University holding cells. Back in the days, universities were free to set up their own laws and punishments. Students who did not return library books or who were caught swearing, for example, would be sent to the holding cells for a few days.

After having explored the university, you should walk through the Old Town. Here, you can sit down with a good book in one of the cafes at the Town Hall Square or climb to the top of St John’s Church to see the city from above.

Daniel and Ilona from Top Travel Sights

Book: The Czar’s Madman, Jaan Kross

Timo von Bock’s release by the Czar from nine years’ incarceration does not spell the end of the Baron’s troubles: he is confined to his Livonian estate to live under the constant eye of police informers planted among his own household, and is subjected to endless humiliations. In The Czar’s Madman Jaan Kross weaves together the elements of intrigue surrounding those historical characters who survived in post-Napoleonic Russia, and by a skillful shifting of chronology and viewpoints, creates a superbly rich and moving narrative.

Utrecht, Netherlands

Utrecht Netherlands Photo Credit CANVAPRO

Utrecht was included as part of UNESCO’s Cities of Literature in 2017, for its long and impressive history of literature, and a large number of festivals, bookstores, publishers, and writers in the city.

Besides checking out the bookstores and festivals, there are quite a number of fun things to do in the fourth largest city in The Netherlands.

Architecture lovers will love walking around the city and checking out the incredible architecture and buildings in Utrecht. For example, the Dom Tower, Castle De Haar, St. Willibrord Church, St. Peter’s Church, or St. Martin’s Cathedral.

Other things to do in Utrecht include strolling along the Utrecht canals or checking out the botanical garden or the excavations at DOMunder. If you are looking for ways to educate yourself, there are plenty of museums to explore in Utrecht. Some examples include the Railway Museum, the Central Museum, the Clock Museum, and St. Catherine’s Convent Museum. Finish off a perfect day in Utrecht with some traditional Dutch food, such as the split pea soup at one of the cozy Dutch restaurants and cafes, which you can find in every corner of Utrecht

Book: The Assault, Harry Mulisch

The most obvious book tip for The Netherlands is of course Anne Frank’s diary, as this is a classic book set in The Netherlands. And I can recommend this book to anyone who’s looking to learn more about the second world war. Another great second world war book set in The Netherlands is The Assault by Harry Mulisch. If you don’t mind thick novels, Harry Mulisch’s The Discovery of Heaven is considered one of the best Dutch books ever. Lastly, if you are looking for a lighter and easier-to-digest novel, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old, is an awesome book about an 83-year-old man living in a Dutch elderly care home. 

Lara – Both Feet On The Road

Wonju, South Korea

Museum San Marie Boes Be Marie Korea
Museum San, Wonju, Korea

Wonju is a small town located in Gangwon-do Province, South Korea and is most known for one of its museums, namely Museum San. This is a modern art museum that houses works by James Turrell, Rietveld and many more well-known names. What makes this museum so special is its stunning architecture and the surrounding landscape. 

Apart from Museum San, there are lots of other things to do in Wonju. If you are interested in Korean literature you can visit the Toji Cultural Foundation, which was built in remembrance of the famous Korean novelist Pak Kyongni. She lived most of her life in Wonju and her most famous book is ‘The Land’ which has been listed in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.

You can get to Wonju by bus from Seoul, which takes about 2 hours. Once you reach Wonju, use public transport to get around the city. Be sure and include Wonju in your 5 day Korea itinerary.

Marie Boes,  Be Marie Korea

Book: Land, by Pak Kyongni

Acclaimed as an important piece of modern Korean writing, this book is set against the background of the struggle between conservative and modernizing forces at the turn of the century. It follows the fortunes of several generations of Korean villagers during a time of turbulence and change.

Wrocław, Poland

Wroclow Poland Photo Credit Caitlin Boylan

Wroclaw, Poland with a population of more than 600,000 people, is also the home to a band of gnomes. Yes, gnomes like the ones you might see popping out of the neighbors’ flowers. The gnomes of Wroclaw, meanwhile, are mostly made of bronze, not ceramics. There are about 100 of them – all engaged in various activities such as eating pizza, reading a book, or conducting an orchestra.

Beyond the bizarrely cute, intriguingly seeped in history, and fun to stumble upon gnomes, there is plenty to see, do, and eat in Wroclaw. As many cities in this part of Europe do, Wroclaw centers around an Old Town square – which centers around a large stone space filled with restaurants, bars, tourists, and activity.

In the outskirts of town, you can find The Wroclaw Fountain – a large object spouting water into the sky. The fountain puts on a show every hour – and after dark, that show features all sorts of different colored lights which illuminate the water.

Beyond the hot spots, there is a lovely, walkable canal in Wroclaw which you can find plenty of greenery-filled restaurants and bars abutting.

Caitlin Boylan, The Country Jumper

Book: Home Is Nearby by Magdalena McGuire

UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE 5
UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE 6
UNESCO CITY OF LITERATURE 8

City of Literature – Additional members

Bucheon, South Korea

Montevideo, Uruguay

Nanjing, China

Odessa, Ukraine

Slemani, Iraq

Ulyanovsk, Russia


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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.

10 thoughts on “UNESCO City of Literature: Where to find #creativecities”

  1. I have been trying to get to Glasgow, Scotland for the Harry Potter references and literary tie ins now for awhile. Too bad I can’t get there quite yet. One day. As an English Lit major, I used to travel specifically with literature in mind. I took a bunch of Hemingway books to Cuba because it felt right. Hemingway has to be read in Key West or Cuba or Spain. It just fits. James Joyce of course is Dublin. Read that a trillion years ago. Actually did a theatrical/ literary tour that incorporated literature and pubs while I was there on. a media trip a couple of years ago. It was something I would look for in a trip again. Great post!

    • Put it on the list GF… I’m dying to to back to the UK with hubby and see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No question, I’ll be back to Ireland too. What a great trip don’t you think?

    • Thanks for dropping by. I think UNESCO did a great job of connecting people who love literature with travel. Then need a few cities from The Balkans I think!

    • I was only in Dublin for a few days and know I have to return. I was not able to go to Trinity College because I got a flu bug but my daughter loved it! I need to go back!

  2. Now this is a list I can get behind. It combines my two favorite things: travel and reading. I’ve been to a few places on the list, but not nearly enough to call myself a book lover. Thanks for the tips and for extending my reading list.

    • It is really great to read and get to travel. I agree with you 100% on bring to loves together. I had to find a few books for the list and have added a few to my reading list. Thanks for dropping by.

    • I found the UNESCO Cities of Literature because I was reading about the Creative Cities Network. I’m going to write about the gastronomy cities next. What do you think? Which cities you you put on that list?

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