8 Vacations Based on Books

Literary destinations

Photo: Simon Cocks [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

The great thing about books is that you can make them your own. There are few visual representations of the story to detract from the pictures in your mind. (Or at least that’s true until a movie version of your favorite novel is inevitably released).

While it's not possible to catch a plane to Middle Earth or Winterfell, there are plenty of works of literature set in real places. You can follow in the author’s footsteps, see what inspired them and blend your interpretation of the setting with what you see.

Here are some of the most popular literary destinations. (Text: Josh Lew)

'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' in Savannah

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Savannah, Ga., has always been filled with historic buildings and a classic Old South ambiance. However, it remained largely off the tourist map until 1994, when author John Berendt published the fact-based crime novel "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The Southern Gothic tone, quirky locals, and skillful descriptions of Savannah's landscapes made the city an instant must-visit destination for many readers. Even today, almost two decades after the book’s publication, you can still visit the mansion-lined plazas and tour some of the homes that were depicted in "Midnight."

The famous Bird Girl statue from the cover of the original novel, sits in history-filled Bonaventure Cemetery. Savannah is one of those places where you can feel like you've had a full vacation even if you spent your entire stay simply wandering around soaking in the sights and atmosphere. However, there are also a number of walking tours, like the one offered by Savannah Walks, that trace the narrative and visit some of the most important places used in Berendt's book. Most tours begin at Monterey Square, where the murder that is at the center of "Midnight" takes place, before passing through Bonaventure and stopping at several historic homes.

Sherlock Holmes' London

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More than 100 years after he first gained popularity in the pages of Strand Magazine, Sherlock Holmes still captures readers' imaginations. The genius detective and his sidekick Watson spent many stories scouring the streets of Victorian London for clues and suspects. Though it still is sometimes shrouded in fog, London is now a very modern city with many roads that little resemble the cobblestone streets and narrow lanes of Holmes' era.

However, you can still visit historic areas throughout the city. These include the site where 221B Baker Street is located (it is now a museum). The Sherlock Holmes Walking Tour, offered by London Walks, leads fans on a route that passes through the narrow alleyways of the Strand and the atmospheric air and impressive opera house of the Convent Gardens. Many spots in Arthur Conan Doyle's stories are now themed attractions. The Sherlock Holmes Pub, for example, was created on the spot where the Northumberland Hotel, the setting of an important scene in the famous "Hound of the Baskerville's" mystery, once sat.

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' in Stockholm

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For some people, Stockholm was merely a name on a map, somewhere north of Paris and Berlin. Thanks to the late Stieg Larsson's "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and its two follow-ups that make up his popular Millennium Trilogy, many people have seen Stockholm in a new light, as one of northern Europe's most interesting and atmospheric cities. Inspired by the books, tourists have been flocking to Stockholm to see the places where the story was set.

A few intrepid travelers have even tried unsuccessfully to visit Hedestad. This small town plays an important part in the story, but is actually a completely fictional place. Fans can find the characters' favorite haunts on the hip island of Sodermalm, a neighborhood with trendy cafes and bars set amidst wooden homes and historic stone buildings. The central Stockholm District also plays an important role in the books, and walkers can stroll up and down its hilly streets soaking in the uniquely Scandinavian atmosphere. The Stockholm City Museum offers official Millennium Walking Tours, in both English and Swedish. These two-hour tours hit the districts mentioned above, as well as many more places mentioned in the pages of "Dragon Tattoo."

'Twilight' in Forks, Wash.

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The small-town Pacific Northwest is hardly the most exotic and exciting place to spend a vacation. That is, unless you are a fan of the impossibly popular "Twilight" series. A pleasant place about a four-hour drive from Seattle, Forks has a lot memorabilia shops and touristy sites relating to the series. Team Forks Twilight Tours takes visitors to the most important sites from the book via bus. You can see Bella's House, the Forks High School, and town's quaint-looking city hall. The best thing about Forks, however, is the fact that it acts as a gateway to the surrounding ancient forests of the Olympic Peninsula. Some tours take you through the forests all the way to the seashore. It is in these naturally beautiful areas that you can start to soak in the Pacific Northwest atmosphere that played such a prominent role in the tone of the books.

James Joyce's Dublin

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James Joyce was one of the most respected of the many literary talents to came out of Ireland's capitol city. He is best known for "Ulysses," an episodic, cutting-edge (for the early '20s) book that is still considered a classic today. In a strange way, this book was tailor-made for a walking tour. This is because the hero, Leopold Bloom, wanders around Dublin's streets over the course of a single day, and also because many of the places depicted in the book are still standing.

The James Joyce Center offers a Footsteps of Leopold Bloom tour, as well as tours that visit the scenes from Joyce's famous short story collection, "The Dubliners." Joyce's works are featured, along with those of other Irish luminaries, on the Literary Pub Crawl, a walking tour with stops in pubs where professional actors perform the works of Joyce, Beckett, Wilde and others.

'The Da Vinci Code' in Paris

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This blockbuster mystery-thriller was largely set in Paris, with important action taking place in the famed Louvre. There is a specialized tour that focuses on the museum itself and traces the story in the context of the paintings that are hung there. This experience is focused in the Grande Galerie where Da Vinci's original paintings are hung and where the book's inciting incident, the murder of the museum curator, takes place.

What is unique about this particular tour is that it goes beyond merely showing the settings and actually invites participants to "crack the Da Vinci code" by looking at works of art in this most famous of museums. Fans can take a different walking tour to visit places like the Hotel Ritz, the Jardin des Tuileries, and St. Sulpice, the site where some of the book's characters believe the Holy Grail was kept. Anyone who has been to Paris (and stepped beyond the well-trod tourist trail between the Arc de Triumphe and the Eiffel Tower) will tell you that the city is alive with history and atmosphere. This setting makes it easy to embrace the experience.

'Romeo and Juliet' in Verona

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Finding settings from novels written a few decades or even a century ago is simple compared to finding the places that inspired the likes of historic authors such as William Shakespeare. "Romeo and Juliet," arguably the bard's most famous work, was set in Verona, an Italian city that has a thriving tourist scene. Like nearby Venice, and many other metropolises in Italy, Verona boasts a lot of historic places that were standing when the story of the doomed lovers was first performed in the 16th century. In fact, scholars believe that the story was actually based on Italian legends that are hundreds of year's older than Shakespeare's play.

Though it is impossible to know if Shakespeare actually had certain real locations in mind, or if he went to Verona to do research at all, local tradition holds that some sites are the settings for this famous tragedy. Juliet's balcony is a pilgrimage site of sorts. It is certainly easy to imagine Shakespeare's scenes taking place in the historic enclosed courtyard. Guide Verona offers walking tours that visit this and other sites such as Romeo's home and the tomb where Juliet was buried. While the historical accuracy of these sites is debatable, Verona doesn’t lack a sense of history, so it’s easy to spark your imagination while visiting.

Graham Greene's Saigon

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A lot has changed since Graham Greene stayed in the former capital city and current boomtown of Saigon. Even the city's official name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City after reunification (though lots of people, including many locals, still refer to it as “Sai Gon”). Many of the street names have also been altered since Greene penned his classic, "The Quiet American," in the early 1950s, so it’s not helpful to use the book itself as a guide. Rue Catinat, where much of the action in the novel took place, is now Dong Khoi Street, though Greene's favorite haunt, the Continental Hotel (at right), still remains. The Central Post Office and the Opera House, both backdrops for the book’s narrative, are also still standing. Construction is occurring at a rapid pace all around the city, but there are still some timeless marketplaces and shady colonial era villas that have stood since well before Greene and the book's anti-hero, Thomas Fowler, walked the streets of Saigon.