When UNESCO launched its City of Literature scheme in 2004, Edinburgh was first to receive the accolade. Its main railway station, Waverley, is named for a series of 19th century novels by Sir Walter Scott while working authors resident here include Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith (not to mention its part in the genesis of a certain boy wizard). Edinburgh has literature nailed – but does it have any decent bookshops?
If the interior of a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop should feel like a wander through a novel by Borges or Eco, then Armchair is a winner, shelves groaning under the weight of pre-owned literature. Small, cramped, untidy, appealing – and with a droll Twitter feed – it offers everything you want from such an establishment. Its stock covers everything from architecture to travel and there’s fiction too.
In bookshop terms, these premises have a distinguished history. They were once occupied by Scottish academic bookseller James Thin, but taken over by Blackwell’s in 2002. Sitting opposite the University of Edinburgh’s Old College, the shop was a familiar sight to generations of students. As a branch of Blackwell’s it remains a significant academic bookstore, but also operates as a general bookshop with fiction and all the other usual categories.
If you like your comic shops with authentic backstreet cachet, then Deadhead is the shop for you. Small, stacked with titles and boasting staff who really know their stuff, it's a comic aficionado's delight. Fun fact: at its previous incarnation on Candlemaker Row, it was also the star of a no-budget Scottish superhero movie, 'Electric Man'.
Tucked up in the bijou suburb of Bruntsfield, The Edinburgh Bookshop has carved a niche for itself on the capital's literary scene as a stand-out children's bookshop (though adults are well-catered for as well). Keep an eye out for regular author events and book groups, stocks of signed copies and two dedicated story time sessions for under-5s, every Thursday and Friday morning from 9.30-10am.
Formerly based nearby in Cowgatehead, this small shop moved to its current location in 2011 and continues to fly the flag as a specialist sci-fi bookstore. You can find anything here from classics of the genre to otherwise unavailable American imports, a conveyor belt of new titles as well as work by local authors like Ken McLeod, Charles Stross and the late Iain M Banks.
Covering four floors of a prominent site on Princes Street, looking over to Edinburgh Castle, this is its biggest Waterstones in the city. It can sell you anything from magazines like Monocle or Wallpaper* to new fiction, travel guides to military history, cookbooks to 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. It may be a chain store but it’s huge, it’s handy, it’s obvious and it has an in-store Starbucks.
For more than 20 years, this politically outspoken bookshop has ploughed its radical furrow. Fans include writers like Alan Bissett, Kathleen Jamie and AL Kennedy, comedian Mark Thomas and poet Benjamin Zephaniah. It's the base of operations for both the Edinburgh Book Fringe and the annual Edinburgh International Radical Book Fair and it’s the prime place to pick up signed copies of James Kelman novels or, perhaps, the latest analysis of nationalism in Europe by Czech historian and theorist Miroslav Hroch.