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A tale of seven cities – our guide to literary locations

As theatres, museums, libraries, and arts venues open up again, we’re using good books to guide our autumn city breaks. Here’s our guide to seven cities with YHA hostels, looking at literary locations, linger-worthy libraries, and brilliant bookshops.

London

British Museum in London

London, of course, is one of the world’s great literary cities. So much so that it allows us to focus on the locale around a single hostel, YHA London St Pancras, which overlooks the British Library and sits a whisper away from Bloomsbury, a neighbourhood so steeped in bookish connections it had a literary social ‘set’ named after it.

JB Priestley, Karl Marx, and Arthur Conan Doyle all drank in the nearby Museum Tavern, while the British Museum inspired Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Keats’s Ode to A Grecian Urn, as well as a key scene in Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Oh, and a short walk away is The Old Curiosity Shop. Yep, that one.

Don’t miss: British Library, British Museum, Museum Tavern, Daunt Books Marylebone

Reading list: The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Manchester

Central Library Manchester

Manchester is a dedicated UNESCO City of Literature. Little surprise, then, that it’s worth coming to the city purely to explore its beautiful libraries, among them the 1930s-era Central Library, the neo-gothic John Rylands Research Institute & Library, and Chetham’s Library, the oldest free public reference library in the English-speaking world (and where Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto).

Anthony Burgess, the author of The Clockwork Orange, is one of the city’s most famous authors, and Manchester also features in novels by Charles Dickens (Hard Times), sometime resident Elizabeth Gaskell (Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life) and Louis Golding’s Magnolia Street, which provides a poignant look at life in pre-war Manchester.

In modern times, the most evocative voices of Manchester have been the poets Carol Ann Duffy and the unmistakable John Cooper Clarke.  Make the most of your visit and stay at YHA Manchester

Don’t miss: John Rylands Research Institute & Library, Sir Ralph Abercromby pub (frequented by Cooper Clarke and even Byron), Louder Than Words Festival, Manchester Literary Festival

Reading list: Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Magnolia Street by Louis Golding, The Luckiest Guy Alive by John Cooper Clarke

Cambridge

The Wren Library in Cambridge

It’s little surprise that Cambridge should have bred so many authors. There are more than 100 libraries (the Wren Library is one of the world’s most beautiful) and dozens of excellent bookshops. In short, it’s a bibliophile’s dream.

The list of authors who have written or studied in Cambridge reads like a who’s who of literary greats: Lord Byron (who kept a bear here), Rupert Brooke, Sylvia Plath, Zadie Smith, Stephen Fry, Ted Hughes, AS Byatt, EM Forster and many more. Books set in Cambridge are similarly numerous, including Robert Harris’s Enigma and Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories.   Why not book a stay at YHA Cambridge

Don’t miss: Wren Library, Heffers Bookshop, The Haunted Bookshop   

Reading list: The Old Vicarage, Grantchester by Rupert Brooke, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe, The Liar by Stephen Fry.

Bristol

Bristol Harbour

Bristol wears its culture loud and proud, from the spray-painted artworks by local boy Banksy, to the colour-smothered façades of its pubs, galleries and shops. Musicians and artists have long been attracted to its edgy streets – and the same applies to writers.

Eighteenth-century poet Robert Southey was born on Wine Street and befriended Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the city, and Daniel Defoe and Robert Louis Stevenson were both inspired by its maritime history. But modern Bristol doesn’t dawdle in the past: for proof, pick up poetry by Helen Dunmore, anything written by Emily Koch, or The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman. You could even join Bristol’s fantastic Write Club and be inspired to pen your stories.   YHA Bristol is a top accommodation spot with a city centre location.

Don’t miss: Bristol Central Library, M Shed, Write Club 

Reading list: Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore, Keep Him Close by Emily Koch 

Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeares Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Walking the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, you really wouldn’t know that Britain’s greatest writer came from this Midlands town… oh, wait. The references are everywhere. Ya Bard (a craft beer shop) and Much A Shoe About Nothing (no prizes) are among the many puns that Shakespeare would have been, well, quite frankly horrified to see. He would have approved, however, of Maggie O’Farrell’s fantastic Hamnet, which takes part of Shakespeare’s story and brings 16th-century Stratford into vivid perspective.

The town is also the location for Women of a Certain Rage by Georgie Hall and One Summer’s Night by Kiley Dunbar. Elizabeth Gaskill went to school in the town, too. The Stratford Literary Festival is one of England’s best. YHA Stratford-upon-Avon is in a perfect spot for enjoying this splendid city. 

Don’t miss: Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Reading list: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Women of a Certain Rage by Georgie Hall  

Liverpool

City of Liverpool at night

Many, no doubt, would argue The Beatles had a literary flourish to their lyrics (Paperback Writer?), but the more obvious plaudits go to poets Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten, who published Mersey Sound, one of the biggest selling poetry anthologies of all time. Seafaring author Herman Melville was familiar with the city, and wrote about it in his autobiographical Redburn, and Beryl Bainbridge was born here, inspiring the novels The Dressmaker and Liverpool Miss. The vibrant Museum of Liverpool features its literary history.  Make the most of your trip and stay at YHA Liverpool Central

Don’t miss: Museum of Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery 

Reading list: An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge, Mersey Sound by Roger McGough

Bath

The Royal Crescent in Bath

It is Jane Austen who is forever associated with Bath, as evidenced by the annual Jane Austen Festival (September): if you’ve ever felt the urge to parade in a Georgian period dress this is your opportunity. Her books Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are partly set (somewhat bitingly) in the city.

Meanwhile, Samuel Pepys, Mary Shelly and Charles Dickens all came to visit the spas – there must be something in the water. More recently, Bath in the Second World War is the focus of Keith Stuart’s The Frequency of Us, and This is Paradise by Will Eaves. It’s also where much of Bridgerton was filmed, but we can hardly call that literary… or can we? YHA Bath can be your ideal accommodation spot, so you can enjoy the festival.

Don’t miss: The Jane Austen Centre, The Beaufort Bookshop, The Holburne Museum

Reading list: Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Frequency of Us by Keith Stuart

Image credits: adobestock header/Colin & Linda McKie, Bristol/Nick, Stratford-upon-Avon/chrisdorney, Liverpool/dudlajzov, London/chrisdorney, Cambridge/offcaania, Manchester/GarryBass

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