I’m not sure how it started but somewhere during my travels, I started reading books that are set in the cities I’m visiting. This helps me climb inside a place like nothing else. It makes the entire vacation feel more like I’ve created my own time machine and less like a tourist trap.
Whether you travel for work or pleasure, I’ve learned how to improve my trips with the power of a book.
Whether you’re looking for romance, mystery, man-hunt, or some history, a story set in your local unlocks a piece of literary magic only found in books. The parks, streets, art, and architecture become characters waiting to greet you. Somehow you have been transported to another century. The ghosts of Michelangelo or Bonnie Prince Charlie are wandering around the cities looking to say, “hello.”
I like to load them onto my Kindle app and add-on whisper sync audio. This allows me toread, listen or both. But, I’ve also waited until arrival and buy books from the gift shops I visit as well. My guess is that it will become your new favorite way to travel.
Below, I’ve given you a spot I’ve visited and a book I’ve loved set in that location. Now you too can transport yourself and improve your travels!
My first trip to Europe was to see my brother who was a doctoral student at Durham University. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. My ancestors seemed to be tickling my Celtic DNA so that I didn’t miss any of the glorious sites. My favorite location was in Scotland. The historic part of Edinburgh is called the Royal Mile. A castle sits at each end of this cobbled street. At one end is Edinburgh Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born and at the other end is the Palace of Holyroodhouse where Bonnie Prince Charlie planned his uprising. This castle is also where the current Queen resides when in town. Even the Starbucks is in a 600-year-old medieval building!
My Scotland Book Recommendation:
If your travels lead you to the Scotland, land of the glens and lochs, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is your friend. This novel has it all, time travel, an epic love story, Gaelic myths, swashbuckling battles, fantastic architecture, and the most evil character I’ve ever experienced. It will transport you to a time where tribal ties run deeper than any you’ve imagined.
Northern England is my favorite as much of it seems untouched by time. There is absolutely nothing like an English garden in June. But, London and it’s storied history and darkness becomes a character in any novel set here. Entering by boat through the “Traitor’s Gate” to see The Tower of London will send nervous chills up your spine. This is the spot where both commoners and royals entered here to be locked away, or worse for displeasing a monarch.
My London Book Recommendation:
I’m a sucker for all things Tudor so for this trip I would recommend anything from Philipa Gregory. I can’t pick just one so let me offer two of my favorites, The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen. They are so good you might finish them both while you’re exploring the center of the United Kingdom.
Each Spring I take about 50 8th graders to the East Coast, so I’ve traveled to this extraordinary area over a dozen times. I’ve been in the White House where I had the pleasure of meeting Bo, the dog, and his trainer. Toured the capitol, and the Supreme Court and hung out on George and Martha’s back porch along the Potomac. The most beautiful building, in all my travels, however, is the Library of Congress. Considering I’ve been in the Sistine Chapel, which tells you all you need to know about this stunning structure.
My London Book Recommendation:
Each year I buy a book set in the home of our capital city, so it’s hard to pick just one, but to get inside these historical and gorgeous buildings, I have to recommend Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. Part mystery, part history lesson, it is such a fun ride they’ve even created The Lost Symbol Tour to walk the adventure.
The cradle of the Renaissance, and indeed one of the most beautiful spots in the world. The train trip from Rome to Florence is mesmerizing. Soak up the picturesque hills, red poppies, and stone villas. Wander with wonder as you walk through narrow streets sipping a cappuccino or licking a spoon full of gelato. All while popping in and out of museums to visit The David, Bacchus, and the Tondo Pitti, (Oh, Italy!).
My London Book Recommendation:
If there was any place you don’t need a book to transport you to a setting it might be here, but I still recommend you immerse yourself in Italy by reading the classic novel by Michael Irving, The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Autobiographical Novel of Michelangelo, you will enjoy your Italian adventure even more.
I only got to spend one day here. But, to have a local guide take me to the steps of the Plaça del Rei where Columbus was greeted by Isabel and Ferdinand? To be in the spot where he told them of his travels to the “West Indes?” It was a “weak in the knee” moment for certain. Of course, Columbus ends up being on the villain in America’s history, but the power of this spot is all the stronger by knowing a little of Isabel’s biography.
My Barcelona Book Recommendation:
I love all the Royal Diaries and Dear America series, but although Isabel: The Royal Diaries it is so worth your time. This gives a behind the curtain, “what if” to Isabel of Castille before she was a “Catholic King” wooed by Christopher Columbus to fund his travels.
The birthplace of our country has history around every crook and corner. You can eat in the City Tavern where the Founders went to unwind and imbibe after a long day debating the Declaration of Independence. You can walk Elfreth’s Alley the most adorable and oldest lived-in neighborhood in the United States. It’s also the seat of government while Washington DC was being designed and built. It is during this time when Martha Washington lost her most prized possession, a slave named Onie.
My Philadelphia Book Recommendation:
While in Philadelphia, please treat yourself to the book by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught. It is the true story of Ona Judge, Martha Washington’s slave and constant companion who decides to escape from the “First Family’s” grasp. This novel also gives you a behind the curtain peek at life at Mt. Vernon, Virginia The Washington’s Virginia plantation.
New York, New York
If you’re like me, you’ll endure Time Square and Rockefeller Plaza, and a trip to the top of the Empire State Building as you long to see a play on Broadway. Then stroll through Central Park, and visit Grace Church, and the home of Louis Armstrong, and Grand Central Station. The architecture and culture of New York are everywhere. Despite the fact that until 2015 he had fallen from history and simply lived on your ten dollar bill, no one has his thumbprint on New York, as well as our country than Alexander Hamilton.
My NY Book Recommendation:
Please read Hamilton by Ron Chernow, full stop. Then see the musical, visit Alexander and Eliza’s home, The Grange, and visit their grave sites as well as Angelica Skylar Church’s at Trinity Church Cemetery.
I know you will love your travels even more as you read books that transport you!