Sunday 21 January 2018

Travel Insider: Fiction can be a fascinating and far-reaching travel guide

The Lake District, England - forever associated with Wordsworth
The Lake District, England - forever associated with Wordsworth
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Talk about books and travel, and traditional guides spring to mind. But travelling with a novel, scouting out the haunts of an author, or finding real-life locations where fictitious events took place can also be a thrilling inspiration for a trip... and a deeply personal one at that.

Think of Joyce’s Dublin, Lorca’s Grenada or García Márquez’s Cartegena. Our travel pages feature several literary destinations this week, but really, any book or author with a powerful sense of place will do. I’ve felt that tingle in touristy places like Wordsworth’s Lake District (above), Hemmingway’s Madrid and New York’s Chelsea Hotel, but I’ve also felt it at smaller sites like Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, or Sweny’s Chemist in Dublin ( Sweny’s featured in Ulysses, and remains a terrific time capsule — thanks to a team of volunteers who read from Joyce at lunchtimes.  

Of course, cultural tourism can also be crass. We all know the ‘literary’ mugs and tea towels, the boozy bias towards dead (and mostly male) writers, the stereotypes that reduce rather than expand our knowledge. But when literary landscapes are tastefully interpreted, rather than turned into theme parks, the effect can be amazing. A good work of fiction offers perspectives you’ll never find in a guidebook; it ties the richly individual act of reading to actual places in surprisingly emotional ways.

Ireland is a world-class example. Think of Yeats Country, Patrick Kavanagh’s Monaghan, or the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, Co. Derry. The only tool required for your next trip is imagination.


Literary tourism can sound like an elitist niche, but once you open the lid, all sorts of possibilities spill out. Take a look at, for instance — run by a couple who met while studying English in Boston. Recent articles range from Harry Potter in Universal Studios to Virginia Woolf in Sussex. Closer to home, travel writer Muriel Bolger has a guide to Ireland’s literary landscapes on Ireland’s Blue Book website (, while you can read more from author Michelle Jackson on her books and travels at


Inspired by the trips on these pages? Our Reader Travel Awards are open for nominations until November 28, and entries are piling in. Where do you love to travel? What are your tell-a-friend tips? We’re looking for your nominations across several categories — share them with us, and you’ll be in with a chance to win some mouthwatering prizes (see below). Ireland’s favourites will be revealed on Janaury 14. Enter on today, and share the news on Twitter and Facebook using #indotravelawards!

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