Guided tours of your favourite fictional universes
Ever read a book and wanted to live it? Go on, you can admit it – it’s not just literary nerds who wish they could delve into the pages to emerge in the Dickensian streets of London or Tolstoy’s Russia. All great writers have the power to transpose us to another time and place, to make us hear new sounds and see strange sights, to fuel our imagination.
Popular novels, classics, potboilers, penny dreadfuls: if it’s been published, it’s likely to have found a reader so enamoured with the content, so spellbound by the word-spun world between the covers, that they’ve sought it out for themselves.
Of course, some worlds we simply have to make do with imagining; if the landscape lives only in the author’s mind, no amount of wishful thinking will allow us to traverse it on foot. Fortunately, Hollywood’s habit of turning bestselling books into blockbusters means there’s often something tangible to visit; think Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings, whose set outside Matamata can be explored with Red Carpet Tours. This reflects a growing trend for recreating phantasmic places in real life. If you’ve got a favourite fictional realm, there might just be a way to get there.
Tumble down the rabbit ‘Hole’ in Oslo
Jo Nesbø fans can get to grips with Oslo from the perspective of intrepid gumshoe Harry Hole. The protagonist of ten Nesbø novels, his exploits have been translated into 40 languages and made his creator one of the most popular crime novelists in the world. Let experienced Oslo guides Mari Atlanta Lunde and Anne Marie Vøien Fleischer (both of whom have picked the author’s brain and gained approval for this concept) lead you through Hole’s world, from Oslo’s Courthouse to the Police Department where he works as well as Sofies Gate, the street our hero calls home.
This excellent Oslo Guide Bureau tour departs each Tuesday at 5pm from the lobby of the Best Western Karl Johan hotel, and is priced 200NOK for adults (approximately £19), 100NOK for children. Walks are conducted in Norwegian and English and you’ll even get to stop by Nesbø’s publishing house, Aschehoug. For more information, see Visit Norway.View holiday rentals in Oslo
Magic and mystery in London
While Nesbø’s tales of hard-bitten sleuths and homicidal maniacs are largely targeted at adults, the castellated domain of Hogwarts and the narrow lanes of Diagon Alley form the wizarding world of Harry Potter, a family-friendly fictional kingdom. I remember, as a twelve-year-old, eagerly visiting the cinema for the first Potter film, The Philosopher’s Stone. There was more than one kid in attendance clad in a long black cloak, sporting round, wire-rim glasses and carrying a broomstick. It’s clear that the Potter kingdom is a magical macrocosm which every pint-sized reader would love to inhabit.
Muggles (that’s a non-magical person to the uninitiated) can get their wish thanks to London Walks, who can take normies on an exhaustive Harry Potter Film Location Tour. There are several tours to choose from, including an entertaining taxi ‘safari’ that takes in multiple Potter touchstones including Gringotts Bank, the Knight Bus Bridge and Platform 9 3/4. What’s more, the tour is an excellent way of seeing many of the city’s landmarks, from Scotland Yard to Downing Street and Trafalgar Square.
While under eights go free, the walk is £3 for older kids, £9 for adults, and £7 for concessions. Tours depart every Saturday and Sunday. The taxi safari, meanwhile, can be booked any day of the week. The good people at walks.com have made a short film about their excursions which can be viewed here.Stay in Harry’s London
On the trail of a Russian classic
If your literary chops are a little more highbrow than Harry Potter, perhaps a tour of Dostoyevsky’s St. Petersburg will be more to your liking. The former imperial capital of Russia was, of course, the location for Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment, first published in 1866. Visitors to the city can embark on a three-hour tour of the sites associated not only with this masterpiece, but with the writer’s other books and life in general.
Peterswalk has almost 20 years’ experience of guiding budget-conscious, English-speaking travellers through the labyrinthine streets of St. Petersburg. Along the way, you’ll check off such monuments as Dostoyevsky’s last apartment, where he passed away in 1881, and the house of Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment’s complex protagonist. At present, it’s only possible to book the tour privatel, by contacting email@example.com; the cost is 120 euros (approximately £94) and covers a party of eight.St Petersberg holiday rentals
Get gritty on the Rebus trail
We’ve already mentioned the British capital, but north of the border, Scotland’s capital has its own literary hero – and I’m not referring to JK Rowling, who wrote the first Potter novel in an Edinburgh cafe, nor Irvine Welsh. I’m talking, in fact, about gruff Detective Inspector John Rebus. Ian Rankin’s hugely popular Rebus novels, of which there have been 19 to date, delineate a citywide trail of pubs, clubs, housing schemes and police stations, as well as university and business districts.
With Rebus Tours, you get the opportunity to walk in the old-school copper’s shoes. Don’t worry, first-time visitors – Edinburgh isn’t nearly as stark as the novels imply! Take a Rebus Tour to unlock the history and mystery of the books’ locations, whilst soaking up unforgettable views of Edinburgh’s majestic terrain. The Hidden Edinburgh Tour, which starts in the Rebus pub The Royal Oak and includes a wander through the ancient medical district, runs from 12 midday to 2pm each Saturday and costs £10 per person. See the Rebus Tours site for more details.Stay in Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh
Hit the books, then Barcelona
The locale of our next literary ramble incorporates the arches, squares and alleyways of bustling Barcelona. One of Europe’s most romantic and recognisably literary cities, replete with bars, bookshops and tea parlours that serve as lodestones to creatives from the worlds of art and fiction, Gaudí’s city is the perfect environment to embark on a book-themed walking tour.
In the stomping grounds of Moltalbán and, more recently, the inimitable Carlos Ruiz Zafón, you can relive the stories of many an exciting novel. With ICONO Serveis, why not investigate the Gothic Barcelona depicted in Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind? One of the city’s predominant cultural services companies, the guides draw on over 15 years’ experience to add real depth to their narrated tours. For 14 euros, you’ll tread the path of Daniel Sempere, Julian Carax and other characters from the acclaimed mystery, set in the ‘40s and heralded as one of the classic Spanish novels of the 21st century.
The itinerary includes stops at Rambla Sta. Mónica, Santa Lucía Asylum and the famous Els Quatre Gats Café. Lasting two-and-a-half hours, tours are conducted in both Spanish and English. If your literary appetite remains insatiable, ICONO Serveis also offer a guided tour of the locations from Falcones’ epic Cathedral of the Sea.Barcelona through the eyes of Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Decoding Dan Brown in Italy
Few novelists in recent years have attracted controversy like Dan Brown, author of 80 million-selling The Da Vinci Code. While there has been reams of copy written about that bestseller, and the subsequent movie release starring Tom Hanks, it’s not his only novel to feature charismatic Harvard Professor Robert Langdon; the good professor is at the centre of both Brown’s debut, Angels and Demons, and his most recent publication, Inferno.
With getyourguide.com, fans can explore the locations in Rome that made the former such a success. Taking in beautiful churches and piazzas – sites pertaining to the ‘Path of Illumination’ from the book – you’ll learn interesting tidbits along the way: everything from Baroque art to ancient Rome, the Illuminati and modern papal customs is covered!
Lasting four hours, the Angels and Demons tour costs £45 per person; you can also book a private tour for a group of two at a cost of £300. The great thing is, you don’t even have to have read the novel – this half-day walking sojourn is a perfect opportunity to tick Rome’s most beautiful and famous locations off your to-see list.Apartments in Rome
If you can’t make Rome, but find yourself in Florence (what a fortuitous place to find oneself!), the Inferno Tour is no less engaging for Brown devotees. Spanning the whole day, the tour includes visits to some of the city’s most striking buildings, including the House of Dante, the Baptistry of San Giovanni and the mighty Romanesque Palazzo Vecchio. You’ll have the opportunity to stroll in Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks’ footsteps, through the lush, statue-studded Boboli Gardens, learning about Dante and Medieval Florence along the way. Suitable for groups of up to a dozen people, the tour costs 75 euros per person.From the medieval to the modern, try Florence
What’s your favourite literary location? I’m currently two-thirds of the way through the Gormenghast trilogy, and though its surreal world is fascinating, I wouldn’t exactly relish scoping a castle where murder lurks round every corner! No, give me the sun-blurred and nihilistic LA of Less Than Zero any day of the week.
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