Here are the top five places to read in Edinburgh – that are not the National Museum Balcony Cafe, because if we are honest, it is pretty, but it is expensive and the chairs are not comfy.
Reading? In a library? How novel (sorry). Libraries are one of the only places left where you can spend time in public without paying. And they therefore must be protected and visited. It is free to just wander in, with your own book or to browse through theirs. It is also free to join – and here is the really juicy gossip – it is free to download and listen to audiobooks. Join Edinburgh Council library, download the Libby app, log in with your library card number and password. It. Is. So. Easy! Audible who?
You know when you are desperate to achieve that perfect Sunday morning Insta story, of perusing bookshop shelves leisurely after a coffee and croissant, but you want to support local booksellers at the same time? Same. Edinburgh plays host to a myriad of independent bookshops, and as a consumer, it is really important to patron these places if you want them to stay open. Wander down to Stockbridge for a stroll, get the aforementioned Insta snap, and cosy up with a book by the fire in Golden Hare Books. More centrally, Lighthouse Bookshop is right by campus, and if you pull up a chair to read they will happily bring you a cuppa and let you read away. I do recommend buying something if you are going to sit in a bookshop for hours – it is polite, and independents really need the support – plus, buying a lovely poetry anthology or award-nominated piece of fiction is not really such a hardship, is it? Booksellers also have a lot of book knowledge, so if you’re looking for recommendations, just ask them!
Dunbar’s Close Garden
If you want a sheltered space to read outside, but you do not fancy hiking a mountain, Dunbar’s Close Garden is the place for you. It’s central, just off the Royal Mile, and at this time of year the flowers are coming into beautiful bloom (at least, they would be if Edinburgh wasn’t blasting hot and cold with sun and snow). The garden was built in the 17th century, and is very well kept, with neat hedges and ivy-enclosed walls that keep the sound out. Plus, nobody seems to ever go there, so you’ll be left well alone.
One of the best views in Edinburgh, so maybe this is a place if you want to half read, half daydream. I am a big believer in reading surrounded by books – it feels affirming. The Waterstones on Princes Street has a cafe with outstanding views of the castle and great coffee. It’s a great place if you like a little more bustle around you as you read. Before, during, and after your reading session, you can browse books (and then buy them, inevitably).
Me at 11pm, scrolling Twitter and trying to doze off: I don’t know why I can’t ever get to sleep I literally drank chamomile and everything
My phone: emitting horrible blue light and giving me FOMO
My book: great content which would lull me into sleep, if only I picked it up
Me: unexplainable indeed
The moral of this story? Read, kids! It’s relaxing and you might fall asleep.
In all seriousness, often when I pick up my book, it’s one of the only times of the day when I devote my full attention to total leisurely relaxation (Netflix and stressful phone-scrolling as you absorb FOMO and horrible blue screen light doesn’t count). It’s lovely to take a book to a library or cafe, but there isn’t always time. Reading before bed is a great way to take care of yourself and means that the last thing you do in the day is just for you, and you alone. And if you pick a bad enough book, it’ll bore you to sleep. Win-win.
Illustration: Sophia Constantinou.