Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Edinburgh. There’s something about the city that just radiates nostalgic indulgence. The pub that had just the right music. The view that was hit by just the right light. The kebab that hit just the right spot. You know the story.
But even for a city as old as Edinburgh, the streets are genuinely teeming with hidden treasures that are as rich as the ideas that made our city known across the world.
For my money, it’s always been the myriad and eclectic conflation of old and new bookshops in the oddest of places and at the best of times. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter, there’s more to browse from than you can dream of. If you know where to look…
1. The National Library of Scotland
I’m cheating, gosh darn it, but I won’t be moved. Situated on George Bridge, the NLS is not only architectural stunning but home to the very essence of literature in Scotland. And has a copy of most of it, mind you.
Everything from its grand entrance to its immaculate reading rooms makes it a natural home for the studious; often unfairly ignoring its lovely cafe and wide-ranging selection of Scottish titles to buy.
Whether you’re in the mood for a blether in nice surroundings or have a project that needs a thrashing with fantastic resources, this is the place to go. It’s easily one of the most wonderfully regal and welcoming atmospheres in the city.
2. Armchair Books
Located just off the Grassmarket and in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Armchair Books is stuffed from floor to ceiling with second-hand gems and vintage editions. With all the love in the world, it’s messy, cluttered saturation is what makes it a great place to browse.
Something is always peaking out that’s sure to grab your fancy and it has the rare distinction of being, just maybe, the only bookshop in the city that thrives from its disorganisation,
3. Edinburgh Books
This maze is tucked around the corner on West Port street, and for connoisseurs of non-fiction, and history, in particular, it’s the Louvre of unexpected finds.
In many respects, going to Edinburgh Books is about as comprehensive a visit to Edinburgh as any tour bus. It’s packed with layers of books upon shelves upon piles of titles are offer surprises at every turn. It’s helped nicely along by being a Penrose steps of four bumpy rooms which you can take days to saunter through. With its impressive collection of titles, beware the basement – it’s a one way trip to a non-fiction section you’ll inevitably be heaving bags up from…
This is the student Aladdin’s den. What sets Till’s apart is just how much is jammed into such a small place. It’s got the precious novelty of pop culture memorabilia with a burning hearth next to a wide-ranging classics for those winter’s nights.
It’s very Meadows-esque, and the cosy smell of incense invites you into the living room you never knew you missed. You’re unlikely to find a better range of used fiction and classics titles that are always ebbing and flowing, and regularly visits are recommended for the fiction fans out there.
Kill me although you may, the Big W at the West End is not what it once was. The closure of its sister branch on George Street with its oak-panelled walls and black shelves made the shop the natural home for serene browsing.
The West End’s converted to your walk-in living website; a multi-floored magazine for the latest titles and is missing the rustic charm of its departed sibling.
A happy compromise, and hence my little cheat here, is Blackwell’s. It’s still the academic home for the aspiring students or specialist and happens to be opposite Old College which just gives it a beautiful buzz of activity. If you have a choice between the two, come here – you get the best mix of the new and title variety that we all need.
Additionally, a cheeky pint in the Captain’s Bar across the road may have influenced this pick….