5 Winter Holiday Destinations for Book Lovers
by Beth Hutton
If you’re anything like me, then you’ll agree there’s nothing better than cosying up on the sofa with a cup of tea, a crackling fire, and a good book on a chilly winter’s evening. But for many of us, the encroaching winter months can incite a bookworm’s affliction; although I’m a sucker for sticking to the comfort of my own home with my favourite novel in hand, the colder British seasons can trigger serious wanderlust.
That’s why I’ve gathered together the top five winter holiday destinations for book lovers, so that you can have the best of both worlds.
1) Oxford, England
My hometown, Oxford, will always have a special place in my heart. It might make me biased, but it’s genuinely one of the best English cities for bookworms, as its cobbled streets have been home to some of the greatest minds in Britain’s literary heritage. The city is not only historically awe-inspiring, but also aesthetically striking, with the magnificent architecture of the Bodleian Library, Weston Library, and Christ Church College attracting hordes of literature nerds every year.
While London is also a popular spot for lovers of England’s literary roots — especially the Dickens enthusiasts reading this — the cosy and quaint atmosphere of Oxford is unbeatable in the chilly winter period.
Publisher’s tip: I wouldn’t be a true Oxford local if I didn’t insist that you visit the iconic Blackwell’s bookshop, which is the largest academic and specialist bookseller in the UK. With three miles of bookshelves and four floors filled with titles, it’s simply a bookworm’s paradise.
If you fancy something a little bit stronger than a cappuccino at Blackwell’s cafe, make sure to drop into The Eagle and Child pub, which is famous for its associations with the Inklings writers’ group. The meeting place for J. R. R. Tolkien and his companions, this charming drinking spot is lined with Lord of the Rings memorabilia in honour of the pub’s rich literary history.
2) Matamata (Hobbiton), New Zealand
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, why not take a trip to the magical Shire and follow the footsteps of your favourite LOTR characters on a Hobbiton film set tour? Lush lawns, cute Hobbit-holes, bloomy flowers, and picturesque woodlands — sounds dreamy, right? You can even grab a beer at the Green Dragon Inn and nestle into one of the reading nooks by the fireplace (and don’t worry, unlike most of the film set, the fireplace and beers are actually real).
Publisher’s tip: If you’re travelling all the way to New Zealand, you’ve got to make the most of it. The country has many marvellous storytelling traditions, founded by the Māori people prior to British colonisation. So if you’re planning a winter vacation in New Zealand, make sure to add a cultural Māori tour to your to-do list and experience the poetic skill of these oratory legends first-hand.
3) Hanoi, Vietnam
Along with the Myanmar Himalayas, Northern Vietnam is one of the only two regions in Southeast Asia to have a distinct, cold winter season, giving it a cosy home-away-from-home feel. While the seasonal change parallels England, the similarities stop there, as the country boasts its own unique literary history.
Immerse yourself in the spiritual beauty of Hanoi’s Temple of Literature and indulge in the city’s multitude of quirky bookstores, including Bo Ho, Trang Tien, and Bookworm. These book-havens offer visitors a peek into the ancient pensiveness of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, which can be a welcome break from the commotion of the city’s bustling urban scene.
Publisher’s tip: Hanoi is home to one of my favourite coffee shops in Southeast Asia — Note Cafe. I’ve spent hours there just reading the walls, since sticky notes adorn every surface of the shop, with a variety of well-wishes, inspiring quotes, and uplifting comments written by travellers from all over the world. If you drop by, make sure to order one of their hot egg coffees, which (in my opinion) are the best in Northern Vietnam.
4) Lake Louise, Canada
There is nothing quite like immersing yourself in nature to get your creativity flowing and to inspire the writer within. Having recently migrated from the hustle and bustle of Birmingham to the tranquillity of Lake Louise, I can vouch for the meditative quality of the Canadian Rockies.
The peaceful atmosphere of Lake Louise takes me back to some of my favourite nature novels and provides me with a sense of peace and balance that I found hard to channel when I was engrossed in the commotion of city life. And what Lake Louise lacks in population size, it makes up for in reading spots; grab a hot chocolate and a book in Fairmont Château, read right next to the slopes in The Viewpoint bookshop, or browse the locally-owned Mooseprint Books.
Publisher’s tip: On one of my recent morning walks, I spotted a book exchange box nestled under the snow on the roadside by the lake, where locals trade their favourite novels. It’s easy to miss, so keep an eye out for it.
5) Paris, France
A book lover’s destination guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the enchanting hub of Paris. But where to start? The city is a literary treasure trove, with its myriad of bookstalls lining the River Seine, the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookshop, and a wealth of literary museums, including the famous Maison de Balzac.
The City of Love has inspired countless legendary authors, from Victor Hugo to Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Its freethinking and captivating quality seems to transcend time and pulse through its veins; Paris is one of the most authentic destinations for glimpsing the perspective of some of our greatest literary pioneers.
Publisher’s tip: Is the writer inside of you feeling inspired? If so, you could partake in the Shakespeare and Company’s Tumbleweeds program — it offers volunteers the chance to reside in the quintessential bookshop in exchange for a couple of hours’ help around it each day. The company’s motto holds: “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
The number of must-see destinations for bookworms is too high to list, but I hope that this guide helps you find your next winter-getaway-come-literary-utopia. Explore beyond the pages of your favourite novel and bring its narrative to life by indulging in this travel bucket list for book lovers. How many places can you tick off?
And if you’re already planning ahead with a yearning for the warmer season, check out our guide to a British staycation.