Author Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” That’s why in inspired and uninspired moments alike, a change of scenery might be just what you need to lend perspective to your writing. And why not further entice inspiration to follow by choosing a destination with a literary history all its own?
Here are 10 of our favorite destinations for writers, and some tips for maximizing your time at each one. But this is by no means a comprehensive list—join in the fun and share your own favorites at writersdigest.com/forum.
#1 BOSTON, Mass.
What to Read Before You Go: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (for a reminder of the town’s puritanical past); Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (for your moment of nearby Zen). What to See While You’re There:Get your footing with a walking tour around historic Beacon Hill (bostonbyfoot.org)—which features the homes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hawthorne and others. Then immerse yourself in the charming Boston Athenaeum library (bostonathenaeum.org), long frequented by famous scribes. Afterward, head to nearby Concord to take in the setting of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and get your transcendentalism on at Walden Pond (mass.gov/dcr/parks/walden). Where Writers Wine & Dine: The Saturday Club was the ultimate writers group—imagine having Longfellow and Charles Dickens as critique partners—and it met at what is now the Omni Parker House (omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BostonParkerHouse.aspx). Drop by for Boston crème pie (the hotel claims it was invented here), and the long-faded echoes of the Christmas Carol reading Dickens reportedly gave the club before taking it public. Editor’s Choice: At King’s Chapel Burying Ground, legend has it Hawthorne took a particular interest in the grave of a woman named Elizabeth Pain. Look closely: Is that engraving on the top-left of the headstone an A for Adulterer?
#2 KEY WEST, Fla.
What to Read Before You Go: Your pick of Ernest Hemingway classics (for obvious reasons); Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana (written at his Key West home); A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett (because you’ve always wanted an excuse). What to See While You’re There: The no-brainer is Hemingway’s house (tours $12.50, hemingwayhome.com). For maximum exposure, consider booking a room at Lighthouse Court (historickeywestinns.com) across the street. Legend has it Hemingway used the lighthouse to guide himself home from his favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joe’s. Papa aside, poets can delight in tracing the steps of Pulitzer Prize winners Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill and Richard Wilbur, among other masters (plan your walk with help from fla-keys.com/hemingwaymedia/literary-landmarks.cfm). Where Writers Wine & Dine: Capt. Tony’s Saloon (capttonyssaloon.com) was the site of Sloppy Joe’s in Papa’s day (his bar stool and other memorabilia remain) and also counted Williams, Truman Capote and Robert Frost among its patrons. You’ll also want to visit the new Sloppy Joe’s (sloppyjoes.com) for live music, food and libations—it’s touristy, but it’s fun. Editor’s Choice: Beat the winter blahs by planning a January visit to coincide with the annual Key West Literary Seminar (kwls.org), which draws an impressive roster of writers to discuss and celebrate the craft.
#3 LONDON, ENGLAND
What to Read Before You Go: Anything by Dickens (for due diligence); The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (which still defines the city today); Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (for the fantastical modern London underground). What to See While You’re There: There’s simply too much for the 200 words we have here (don’t even get us started on nearby Stratford-Upon-Avon). But here are three possibilities: See the ornate graves of Chaucer, Dickens, et al. at Westminster Abbey (about $26, westminster-abbey.org); get a photo outside Holmes’ 221B Baker Street (but skip the accompanying museum unless you’re really a superfan); catch a play at the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe theater (shakespearesglobe.com). Where Writers Wine & Dine: For a serving of writing-world history (and a pint!), take the excellent Literary London Pub Walk (about $13, walks.com). Then grab a bite on Fleet Street at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (does it get more British?), which has been here since 1667. The charming wood-paneled interior has long been a magnet to writers, drawing the likes of Dickens and Joseph Conrad. Editor’s Choice: If you go nowhere else in London, go to the British Library (bl.uk). With its collection of everything from the Magna Carta to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks to original Beatles lyrics, it’s safe to say it will be your cup of tea.
#4 NEW ORLEANS, La.
What to Read Before You Go:Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (set in the city); Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner (who wrote this first novel here); The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice (for the city’s immortal heartbeat). What to See While You’re There: When you close your eyes and envision New Orleans, you see the French Quarter. So start there by browsing the stacks at Faulkner House Books (faulknerhouse.net), located where the author once lived. Then, check into a writer-branded suite at Hotel Monteleone (hotelmonteleone.com), which played host to such legendary scribes as Williams, Hemingway and Capote—some of whom became so enamored with the hotel they set stories there. The property also offers literary tours ($27/$10 for hotel guests). Where Writers Wine & Dine: After sipping New Orleans’ signature Hurricane cocktail (it’s probably safe to say Capote had a few), relax at Galatoire’s Restaurant (galatoires.com)—where Williams liked the crawfish bisque so much he sent Stella there in Streetcar. Editor’s Choice: Eat red beans and rice while reading Anne Rice. Drink Stella while screaming “Stelllaaaaa!” You’re in New Orleans: Go wild. Afterward, pick up your pen with a coffee and beignet at the iconic 24-hour Café Du Monde (cafedumonde.com).
#5 NEW YORK, NEW YORK
What to Read Before You Go: Anything: All your favorite books were published here. What to See While You’re There: The city’s mark on literature is so vast it can barely be touched in a visit. But whether you’re looking to pound the same pavement as the mysterious Edgar Allan Poe, the irreverent Dorothy Parker or the great Mark Twain, Greenwich Village is a must. Take it in on foot—countless guides exist to help you target your stroll (one to try: nyslittree.org)—and don’t miss longtime literary gathering place Washington Square Park (nycgovparks.org/parks/washingtonsquarepark). Save time to venture into Midtown’s New York Public Library (nypl.org) and its backyard, Bryant Park (bryantpark.org), named for poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. Where Writers Wine & Dine: Village watering holes: Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Steinbeck and Eugene O’Neill favored Chumley’s (86 Bedford St.); Dylan Thomas famously drank his last whiskey at White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St.). Editor’s Choice: After you’ve had your fill of Bohemian life, splurge on a meal at The Plaza (fairmont.com), overlooking Central Park and Fifth Avenue. Capote fans know it as the site of his famed Black and White Ball, and F. Scott Fitzgerald devotees will recall the hotel (which he frequented) from a memorable scene in The Great Gatsby.
#6 PARIS, FRANCE
What to Read Before You Go:Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (which defined “the Lost Generation”); Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (for dramatized love and redemption steeped in Parisian history). What to See While You’re There:Start with one of the American ex-pat Lost Generation’s favorite places—the Shakespeare and Company bookstore (shakespeareandcompany.com), frequented by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others before it closed during WWII. When it was reopened in Paris’ creative-centric Latin Quarter, the Beat writers settled in. After you go, haul your bag of books to the top of Notre Dame (notredamedeparis.fr/-English) for a glimpse of the gargoyles from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Then take in the Louvre Museum (about $8, louvre.fr), where Dan Brownfans can get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and other treasures. Where Writers Wine & Dine: For one of Fitzgerald’s favorite bars, visit the Hôtel Ritz—the cushy digs featured in Tender Is the Night, The Da Vinci Code and Ian Fleming’s From Russia, With Love. Dedicated to Fitzgerald’s famous pal, The Bar Hemingway at the Ritz (deemed “the greatest bar in the world” by Forbes) features Papa-related photography and a selection of his favorite Scotches. Editor’s Choice: Hop the metro to Père Lachaise cemetery (perelachaisecemetery.com)—where you can find the graves of Richard Wright, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and even Jim Morrison. The grounds offer tranquility in an otherwise bustling metropolis.
#7 ROME, ITALY
What to Read Before You Go:John Keats: The Complete Poems (to anchor Rome’s Keats lore); Brown’s Angels & Demons (for thrills). What to See While You’re There:You can get your literary fix in two tracks—one a bit more classic than the other. Poets won’t want to miss sacred ground of the romantic movement: the Keats-Shelley House (about $6, keats-shelley-house.org) at the Spanish Steps. The house, where Keats died of tuberculosis, is now a museum dedicated to the poet and his friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley. For more modern fare, Rome has all the Brown tours you can handle—notably, “The Official Angels & Demons Rome Tour” (about $79, angelsanddemons.it), which takes you along historic cobblestones to several stunning sites. Where Writers Wine & Dine:It’s not cheap, but if you want to sip coffee at stately marble tables favored by Lord Byron, Dickens and even Casanova (!), stop by the Antico Caffè Greco in Via Condotti. But be warned: Italian coffee is serious stuff. Editor’s Choice: Head to the ruins of the Roman Forum and see where Mark Antony gave his famous funeral oration (later dramatized by Shakespeare). Bellow out, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. …” And if you’ve still got the rest memorized from high-school English and have had enough Italian coffee, well, now’s the time.
#8 SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.
What to Read Before You Go: The Beat book of your choice (Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is an excellent default); Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (for a sense of noir). What to See While You’re There: North Beach is home to the must-see legendary City Lights Bookstore (see Page 34); explore the eclectic neighborhood on foot, and you’ll find the Beat Generation spirit lives on. Nature buffs should venture outside the city to Muir Woods National Monument (nps.gov/muwo) and the John Muir National Historic Site (nps.gov/jomu), where the scribe depicted the love for nature that influenced the creation of the National Park Service. And for mystery fans, the Hammett walking tour ($10, donherron.com) claims to be the nation’s longest-running literary tour, but times are limited. Where Writers Wine & Dine:A surer bet for hard-boiled buffs is John’s Grill (johnsgrill.com), a favorite haunt of both Hammett and his gumshoe Sam Spade. And from City Lights, hop next door to Vesuvio Café (vesuvio.com), once frequented by Jack Kerouac and company. Editor’s Choice: Visit for the San Francisco Writers Conference (sfwriters.org), held every February in the historic InterContinental Mark Hopkins. End each day with an elevator ride up to Top of the Mark to toast your writing with a view—and the 100-martini menu.
#9 SAVANNAH, GA.
What to Read Before You Go:John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (for a sense of the city); Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (for posterity); Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (for fun). What to See While You’re There:Trolley tours (trolleytours.com) get you around the entire historic district, and hop-on-hop-off options let you choose which sights to see up close—like O’Connor’s childhood home ($6, flanneryoconnorhome.org) and Mercer House ($12.50, mercerhouse.com), where the murder in Midnight took place. Where Writers Wine & Dine: In the historic district, there are no open-container laws, and restaurants and pubs provide plastic “carriers” in which to pour your drink when you’re ready to roam. Spark your imagination on a haunted walking tour (ghostsavannah.com), be it a pub crawl or a history-focused stroll. It doesn’t matter if you believe what you hear—the Savannahians do. Get lost in the storytelling as you sip a sweet tea (with or without Southern Comfort). Editor’s Choice: Head to River Street and walk until you hear live Southern blues—Savannah-born songwriter Johnny Mercer (who penned the “Moon River” lyrics for the film adaptation of Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s) would approve. You’ll find yourself immersed in the sights and sounds of local art inside one of several converted brick warehouses, steeped in so much history you can smell it in the night air. You’ll long to recapture this feeling on late writing nights, when it’s just you, the darkness and the page.
#10 VENICE, ITALY
What to Read Before You Go:Donna Leon’s Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery series (for intrigue); Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (for due diligence); Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels (for an outsider’s account). What to See While You’re There: You need not seek out inspiration in Venice—the city itself is a masterpiece. Rick Steves’ Venice is a wonderful guide to customizing your experience; you can use it to self-narrate your way along the Grand Canal on a vaporetto (water bus) or on foot around the Doge’s Palace and across the Bridge of Sighs. Where Writers Wine & Dine:Where throngs of tourists gather, Venice is obscenely expensive (in fact, skip the well-known Hemingway hangout Harry’s Bar—it’s just not worth it). Fortunately, getting off the beaten path is easy. Just start walking away from Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal, and soon you’ll be winding along calmer waterways. Grab a gelato, an espresso or a table outside a trattoria and soak in the real Venice, all around you. Editor’s Choice: When the day-trippers have departed, return to Piazza San Marco for a treat: dueling orchestras in outdoor cafés lining the square. Take in the evening at Caffé Florian (caffeflorian.com), which touts itself as Italy’s oldest café and has hosted the likes of Proust, Byron and Dickens.