There are a multitude of reasons why Edinburgh was crowned the first UNESCO City of Literature, from the exceptional libraries, quirky independent bookshops, and illustrious literary history, the Scottish capital is a wonderland for bibliophiles.
Edinburgh has inspired the backdrop of many stories, so it’s no surprise that this city is also teeming with top notch literary haunts. Places linked to Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, JK Rowling, Walter Scott, Muriel Spark, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name but a few.
You can immerse yourself in the city’s literary roots at the Writer’s Museum, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, or perhaps a Literary Pub Crawl or Book Lovers Walking Tour is more your style. If you plan ahead, the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival is held in August, which is an epic celebration comprised of over 800 bookish events, with award-winning authors and thought leaders from all over the world.
In Edinburgh’s old town, steps away from the Grassmarket, is historic West Port. Once the site of riots, murders, and all things gruesome, these days West Port is a long road lined with an array of bars and cafes, vintage shops, and pre-loved bookshops.
One such bookshop is Armchair Books, a labyrinthine rabbit warren brimming with beautiful second-hand books from floor to ceiling. It’s a disorderly scene, or as Armchair Books humorously self categorise themselves, nearly alphabetised chaos.
It’s a relatively compact little bookshop overloaded with quality titles. I always overuse the term treasure trove when describing antiquarian bookshops, but it characterises their aesthetic so perfectly.
Armchair is the type of bookshop where you could literally spend an entire afternoon sifting through their shelves. Thankfully I had a friend to keep me in check, who shadowed me and didn’t let me wander too far unattended. I left with only one book in hand, instead of the entire vintage Shakespeare catalogue that I wanted to buy.
The exterior is rather dishevelled, but once inside, you are immersed into a magical bookish paradise. Books are slotted into any vertical or horizontal space they fit. Newer titles are stored at the front of the shop, with packed aisles that wind around to a backroom filled with rare collectable books and an impressive Victorian collection.
As I wandered through the bookshop, I carefully inspected the book spines and looked for something special to take home. I settled on a 1909 vintage copy of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, which is a collection of Shakespeare’s plays rewritten. Armchair even knock 10% off the price for poor impoverish students, like myself.
Armchair Books will also buy and resell your books, should you ever wish to part with them. All books are lovingly inspected and assessed for quality. The shop floor is very small and they don’t have enough room to take on excess, so they will only take books that add something special to their eclectic, yet classic collection.
Armchair Books has a quirky personality, best encapsulated in their own self-description on the website.
“Armchair Books ekes out its intense and blustery existence on Edinburgh’s hallowed West Port…ancient home of booksellers. In view of the castle, above the Grassmarket, it bakes under the torrid Scottish sun. The dangers are manifold; our overburdened shelves groan like masts in a squall, our threadbare and quasi-oriental rugs may distractingly catch the eye or foot. Books in the window may spontaneously burst into flames, and the Managers must be kept locked in at all times… Sporadically under feeble but sinister attack by the government, we struggle under goad of fear, towards beauty”
“Armchair Books is staffed by Edinburgh’s finest book people… to help you find ‘that blue book with the gold writing on the spine, possibly a drawing of an elephant or a tornado on the cover’. Each member of our team brings a wealth of knowledge to the shop—as artists or designers or students of fascinatingly obscure stuff—so please feel free to ask us questions about our favourite books”
Edinburgh, United Kingdom