Shannon McKenna Schmidt knows books and she knows travel. She’s combined the two in Novel Destinations (co-authored with Joni Rendon and available now in a new, fully updated second edition), a travel guide featuring more than 500 swoon-worthy literary destinations around the world. (The Denver Post called it a “dream come true for reading enthusiasts who also travel.”)
We asked Schmidt to give us her top five can’t-miss spots for book-loving travelers. Get ready to book your next trip!
Hay on Wye, Wales
Medieval-era Hay Castle has an unusual attribute: bookshelves lining the stronghold’s outer walls. They display the wares of the Honesty Bookshop (payment is placed in an unattended till), one of about 15 bookstores in Hay on Wye. Many of the shops in this tiny town in southeastern Wales sell secondhand and antiquarian books and specialize in specific genres like mysteries and thrillers, poetry, cinema, and even Charles Dickens.
Visit in late May, and the bookish delight multiplies when Hay on Wye hosts a renowned, 10-day literary festival—an extravaganza dubbed by former attendee Bill Clinton as “the Woodstock of the mind.”
Explore the other charms of Wales and its neighbors with National Geographic Traveler’s Great Britain guidebook.
Sir John Ritblat Gallery, British Library, London
While most libraries keep prized items locked away for safekeeping, the British Library’s literary gems are on permanent display. To enter this public gallery—home to more than 200 millennia-spanning treasures—is to step inside a bibliophile’s Louvre. Instead of works of art taking center stage, though, it’s the humble word that stars in documents like the 800-year-old Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Don’t miss the original manuscript and illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks on technological innovations (penned in his famous mirror handwriting), and the final two manuscript chapters of Jane Austen’s Persuasion sitting atop her writing desk.
Plan more fun during your visit to London with the National Geographic’s London Book of Lists.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Both the oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S. and the world’s largest library (containing more than 160 million items on hundreds of miles of shelves—and counting), the Library of Congress is the grand dame of the stacks.
Its palatial Thomas Jefferson Building is a visual feast with murals, mosaics, and sculpture galore and a Great Hall rising 75 feet from marble floor to stained glass ceiling. Among its adornments are themes of literature, music, philosophy, and education, along with tributes to other countries and references to the zodiac and mythology. Take a free docent-led tour for insights on the library’s creation, collection, and architecture, some of which draws on the Italian Renaissance style.
Explore the rest of D.C. on foot with National Geographic’s Walking Washington, D.C., guide.
Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon
Superb indie bookshops abound on both sides of the Atlantic. But laying claim to being the largest used and new bookstore in the world is Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland.
Four stories tall and spanning an entire city block, the store stocks more than a million books in its 1.6 acres of retail space. Pick up a printed, color-coded map to plot your way around, unless you prefer to get lost among the shelves. Bonus: author events take place nearly every day.
While you’re in the Pacific Northwest, visit one (or more!) national parks.
National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California
One of the most impressive literary shrines anywhere is this purpose-built museum dedicated to John Steinbeck’s life and works. Thematic galleries with interactive exhibits, mini-theaters showing film adaptions of his novels, and unique features like an oversize, light-up crossword puzzle for testing one’s Steinbeck smarts make it both informative and entertaining.
Parked permanently at the museum is the custom-made pickup truck camper Steinbeck drove on the 34-state journey depicted in his memoir Travels With Charley—inspiration for your own literary road trip.
While you’re on the road, explore the nearby Bay Area with National Geographic’s San Francisco guidebook.