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What Is Literary Tourism?

By Debra Barnhart
Updated May 23, 2024
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Literary tourism is the practice of visiting cities and sites related to works of fiction and their authors. Combining literature with travel and cultural experiences, literary tourism is by no means a recent occurrence and has been practiced for several centuries. The use of electronic devices for participating in the literary tourism experience has become popular and has added some new twists to this form of tourism.

An interest in traveling to places associated with poets and novelists grew in the 19th century, when according to historical accounts, curious travelers began visiting the homes, graves and favorite haunts of famous writers. Travelers also visited the sites and cities described in famous poems and novels. During this time, Stratford, England was memorialized for Shakespeare, while Abbotsford, England, was venerated for Sir Walter Scott. The Bronte sisters were remembered for their home at Haworth, England.

Crossing the boundaries between literature and cultural studies, literary tourism invites readers to make fictional experiences come alive. Literary tourism enables travelers to immerse themselves in the local culture, while increasing their knowledge about authors and literature. To cater to the tastes of this specialized group of travelers, many cities have taken advantage of this phenomenon by creating walking and cycling tours of famous writers' homes, the places where they wrote, and taverns they may have visited.

For example, London, England, has tours that honor Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Homes. One tour includes a house dedicated to fictional characters from the novel. In Ireland, a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl invites tourists to walk in the shoes of writers like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and W.B. Yeats. The walking tour is guided by actors, and guests are invited to participate in a literary quiz with prizes.

The development of electronic devices for reading books has sparked new innovations in literary tourism, with authors writing novels that offer readers the option of a virtual travel experience or a new way to enjoy a travel destination. Travel guides in some of these novels allow the reader to visit sites remotely or gather information for a vacation. Some electronic literary tourism novels encourage the readers to visit a city by involving them in a game in which points are given for visiting different locations. An example is a novel by the Japanese author Higashi Moriyama, who has partnered with the city of Kyota, Japan, to draw tourists to the city.

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Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Feb 11, 2012

I work in Oxford, Mississippi, home to the late literary giant William Faulkner. The tourism sector of this town benefits greatly from this.

Faulkner's home is open to the public. It is a white mansion with beautiful tall trees leading up to the porch. It is treated like a museum, and fans come from all over just to see what life was like for him here.

They also visit his grave nearby. They go to areas that he used to visit, and they ask the locals for any extra information they can provide about him.

I was always surprised to see people wanting so badly to immerse themselves in the world of a dead writer. I guess some people are huge fans of writers and books in the same way that some are devoted to music and singers like Elvis.

By ceilingcat — On Feb 11, 2012

I think it's very interesting that electronic devices have presented new opportunities for literary tourism. From what I've read, a lot of people in publishing were very resistant to ebooks and ereading when they first came out.

I just don't get this. I feel like there is a lot of money to be made if you take advantage of ebook technology. Literary tourism is just one example! I know I might even consider paying a bit extra for a tour guide to one of my favorite books, if I were in the proper location.

By JessicaLynn — On Feb 10, 2012

@KaBoom - You're definitely not alone in your love for Anne of Green Gable. I understand the Anne of Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island is a very popular tourist spot in that area.

I've actually never taken part in any literary tourism, but I did used to live in a city that was a literary tourist spot. I lived in Baltimore for quite awhile, and there is a museum there dedicated to Edgar Allen Poe. Poe's grave is also in that city, and every year there are some festivities dedicated to Poe around Halloween.

I must admit, I don't care for Poe's scary stories much. When I lived in Baltimore, I much preferred the art museums.

By KaBoom — On Feb 09, 2012

@chivebasil - My parents visited Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West a few years ago. They really enjoyed it. One of their favorite parts was seeing all of the polydactyl cats that live on the property!

I'm not a big Hemingway fan, but I think I would visit if I were ever in the area. However, there is one place I would like to take a literary tour to: the Anne of Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island in Canada.

I loved the "Anne" books when I was younger, and I still enjoyed them when I did a reread as an adult. So I would love to take this tour to see some of the places talked about in the books.

By jennythelib — On Feb 08, 2012

It might sound a little silly for grown women, but a friend of mine and I are planning a trip to De Smet, South Dakota to see where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. Perhaps because it's a small town, they really go all-out for the literary tourism idea. I'm sure it's mostly families (especially families with daughters), but I'm excited. I loved the books growing up and was still impressed with them when I re-read a couple of years ago. (Not unlike the Harry Potter series, they get somewhat more adult in focus as the series goes on.)

You can tour two of Laura's houses, both of which have a lot of items that she and her family actually owned. You can also view a historic railroad depot and the store from The Long Winter.

We're planning to go in July, when a pageant society puts on their big show. they do a different book every year; I'm hoping for These Happy Golden Years, as I'm a bit of a romantic, but my friend is more interested in The Long Winter because it's more dramatic.

By nextcorrea — On Feb 08, 2012

My wife and I were in Paris last year and we went on a tour of some of the homes and haunts of the American expats who lived there so famously in the first half of the 20th century. I am talking about Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and countless others.

It was a cool tour. You got a sense for how they all operated in a little bubble. Many of their homes were close together and they would hang out in little neighborhood bars and cafes. It's amazing to think of how much creative energy was concentrated in one little place. For those few decades that was the literary capital of the world.

By chivebasil — On Feb 07, 2012

A few years back I took a trip to see Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West. It has been preserved and there is an area around it dedicated to Hemingway. It is kind of touristy but not in a bad way.

I had never really taken a trip like that but I love the novels and stories he wrote at that time in his life and I wanted to see what his home was like. Key West has changed a lot since then but not everything. You can look out his windows and imagine what he saw. It was a special trip. I still think back on it often.

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