Discover the UK's literary hotspots with SWR

The literary hotspots in the UK

8 February 2022

The UK has a rich literary history, with classic British texts dominating popular culture throughout time. Whether tucked away in the rolling hills of Edinburgh, or set in the bustling landscape of London, the UK is the backdrop of some of the world’s most famous tales. If you’re a fan of Austen or perhaps have a secret affinity for Shakespeare, it’s always exciting to hear familiar British landmarks appearing on the pages of your favourite books.

This spark of recognition helps you to imagine the world of the author more clearly, and enables you to walk hand in hand with your most beloved characters. This idea got us thinking, so we set about investigating the most popular settings for books around the UK, with the hopes of visiting these iconic locations ourselves!

We analysed data from Goodreads to find books that have been set in the UK and discover which cities and counties have most commonly been the setting of some of our favourite scenes. We also looked at the top genres and average rating to find which areas have seen the most fictional detectives or wizards. So, without further ado, where will your literary adventure take you?

Top 10 places in the UK for book-lovers

Discover the UK's top ten literary hotspots with SWR

Take a trip to London and step into the world of Dickens, or set out for Somerset to walk in the footsteps of Moll Flanders. With hundreds of books based around the UK, the options for exploring are endless.  

So now you’ve got your map and your motive, it’s time for your great literary adventure to begin!

London

In an expected twist, London ranks at the top of our list, with over 400 books of all genres based in this sprawling metropolis.

As a capital city steeped in history and culture, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the historical genre is the most popular. Whether you’re reading fictional imaginings about The Other Boleyn Girl or you’re consuming facts about The Secret of the Tudor Court, the rich history of London provides an incredibly immersive backdrop for all of these tales. With an average rating of 3.9 stars, you can’t go too far wrong with these history picks.

If mysteries are more your thing, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie are a good place to start. Pick up your well-worn copy of Sherlock Holmes and get ready to take on the role of Watson on your wanders through the streets of London.

Edinburgh

Head to Scotland on your next weekend away to get involved with solving crime in the right setting! These winding cobblestoned streets provide a perfectly eerie backdrop for mystery, with crime writer Ian Rankin basing all his major mysteries in Edinburgh. Of course, infamous novel Trainspotting is also based in this bustling city, with fans of the book and film often flocking here each year.

Scotland offers an expansive and varied landscape for plots to come to life with almost 40 novels based here, with J.K Rowling famously having devised Harry Potter on these very streets almost 20 years ago! Whilst magic and mystery may be the most common genres, a number of classics also feature. Grab a copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and watch the drama play out on the streets around you!

Brighton & Hove

Ever been to Brighton? Well, if you’re a Peter James fan, this landscape may feel familiar to you – as Brighton features heavily in all of his crime novels. Walk in Dead Man’s Footsteps as you explore this seaside town...you never know what literary inspiration is left lingering in these streets!

Or why not try Graham Greene’s classic Brighton Rock for that push you need to visit this coastal haven.

Oxford

Most people associate Oxford with academia, but for Philip Pullman fans, the mention of this city brings a whole fantasy world of wonder to life.

Although His Dark Materials, which house the famous Northern Lightsbook,ends up exploring the remotest parts of the world, they are grounded in Oxford – and although you may be far away from Iorek Byrnison, the novel will have you in the thick of the action soon enough!

Bath

Before visiting Bath, it’s a great idea to brush up on the classics. Fans of Jane Austen may feel that they know the streets of Bath inside out, with some of her greatest works based in this beautiful cityscape. Her last ever (albeit incomplete) novel Persuasion was set here, and Bath is therefore a common pilgrimage for all Austen lovers.

With our literary hotspots round up, it’s all about getting immersed in fiction – so a read of Northanger Abbey, with novel-obsessed Catherine Morland, has perhaps never been more apt.

Literary hotspots in the South west

Discover the literary hotspots of the south west with SWR

Dorset

Known for its Jurassic Coast, Dorset’s sandy beaches provide the perfect romantic setting for a range of popular texts.

If you feel like an emotional read and beautiful excursion, On Chesil Beach should be next on your reading list. Simply hop on a train to Weymouth and take a romantic walk to this seaside setting to relive the heartbreak of this beautiful tale.

Isle of Wight

Whilst on a trip to the wonderful Isle of Wight, you might write a postcard to your loved ones saying ‘wish you were here’. This phrase becomes more poignant when you consider Swift’s novel Wish You Were Here, which brings a tragic tale to the island’s shores. Keep your tissues close if you bring this one with you – start reading it on your train journey to Portsmouth & Southsea (or to Southampton Central), and prepare to spend long hours pondering this beautiful literary adventure once you’ve made it across the water to the Isle where it all began.

Surrey

Surrey is renowned for inspiring some of England’s greatest writers, with the likes of Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle and EM Forster all seeking refuge there during their writing careers.

So, if you feel like a trip, make sure to revisit Emma and A Room with a View to truly immerse yourself in your surroundings. Or if you’re feeling more in the mood for a frivolous read, grab a copy of Confessions of a Shopaholic for a tale befitting our modern world.

Devon

One of Agatha Christie’s most famous works, And Then There Were None takes place at a “beautiful mansion on the deserted soldier island” off the coast of Devon. Whilst we can be thankful that no crime will punctuate your own holiday, the air of mystery is still afoot in this iconic location.

If you’re not in the mystery mood, choose a classic which slots into this setting instead. On your journey to Exeter St David’s or Exeter Central, dust off your copy of Sense and Sensibility or The Hound of Baskervilles for a fitting read for your trip. With 14 novels set amongst this magnificent landscape, it’s worth the visit no matter what you’re in the mood for.

Cornwall

On the rugged southwestern tip of England is the historic country of Cornwall. Although renowned as a surfing haven, Cornwall is an incredibly popular literary setting, with almost 50 books based there.

Perhaps most famously, Daphne Du Maurier lived on Cornwall’s south coast, a place which she later immortalised in Manderley in Rebecca. Romantic and tragic, it’s a book that should be in your beach bag on your next trip to this idyllic county.

Visit the literary hotspots of some of our greatest authors for newfound inspiration, and delve into your favourite books with fresh eyes on your return. From city breaks to seaside escapes, there are literary hotspots worth exploring all across the UK! As literary lovers, you now know some of the best hotspots to visit, and bookshops in the south west can be treasure troves too.

We hope that you are thoroughly inspired, and if so, you can visit some of these iconic locations on out network! Make the most of the cheapest deals by planning in advance. Check out our flexible range of train tickets and explore our train times to get your book tour underway!

Methodology:

To determine the top literary hotspots across the nation, we analysed over 40 lists on Goodreads that catalogued the books that have been set in the UK. We looked at all of the settings listed for each of these books to find out which cities and counties have been most commonly used to set the scene. We also looked at the top genres and average book rating for each.