The Books to Read Before Visiting Your Favourite Euro Cities

The Books to Read Before Visiting Your Favourite Euro Cities

Read them before you go but resist the urge to wander around belting out quotes when you’re there – unless you’re actively looking to lose your travel companions, that is.

the 17th century, European cities have been a hotbed for authors,
producing some of the world’s most experimental, emotive and
immersive literature. To really get under the skin of these
destinations, we’ve picked out our some of our favourite books
which helped to put them on the literary map. Read them before you
go but resist the urge to wander around belting out quotes when
you’re there – unless you’re actively looking to lose your travel
companions, that is.


If anywhere matches London for literary glory it’s Paris, steeped as it is in romance and rebellion from
Flaubert to Voltaire. To bring the city’s heyday to life, it’s hard
to beat Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, in which
writers and artists struggle to make ends meet outside legendary
bookshop, Shakespeare and Co. Scott Fitzgerald believed that
France has the only two things toward which we
drift as we grow older – intelligence and good manners”. For both
of these in spades go for The Hare with the Amber
by Edmund de Waal, which traces the twisted tales of
a family heirloom from its genesis to the modern day. Finally, for
those after the less romantic side of Paris’s past, it’s worth
picking up Andrew Miller’s Pure, which won the
Costa Prize in 2011. In this visceral but gripping tale, an
engineer is tasked with transplanting the cemetery of Les Innocents
church in pre-Revolutionary France.


A Barcelona classic, George Orwell’s Homage to
sears the city into the minds of its readers,
vividly evoking the civil war in all its complexity and anguish.
For something a little lighter, The Lonely Hearts
by Raul Nunez is an amusing romp through the seedier
side of Barca. In contrast, eerie thriller The Shadow of
the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is set between the dark
streets of the Gothic Quarter and a labyrinthine library of
forgotten titles. Irish writer Colm Tóibín has lived in the city
for most of his life and his Homage to Barcelona
is a perfect companion to your trip, simultaneously personal and
informative. His novel, South, combines this setting with the
female-led fiction he’s renowned for.


It’s pretty hard to imagine what Rome was really like in the time of senators and
gladiators, but Robert Harris’s series on Cicero (beginning with
Imperium) is a thrilling reimagining of the
period. For a more serious approach, Robert Graves’ I,
Claudius is wonderfully told and immersive, while
The Woman of Rome by Alberto Moravia is a 1947
masterpiece set in the backstreets of the city, where a beautiful
and vulnerable prostitute gets caught up in Fascist intrigue. In a
similar vein, The Ragazzi by Pier Paolo Pasolini rattles through
the life of a street urchin in the poet’s inimitable style. To get
a sense of the city’s contemporary literary culture, Rome
(edited by Helen Constantine) is 20 stories about
the city from 20 of its best writers. And if you only do one thing
in Rome, visit Keats’ house on the Spanish steps to get a sense of
the environment in which he masterminded some of his best work.


Don Quixote may be considered the first novel
ever written, but it probably shouldn’t be first on your reading
list, given its staggering length and dense medieval prose which
can render you a little stumped. Instead pick up The
by Camilo José Cela, a bold portrait of post-civil
war Spain that was censored and first published in Argentina. Taking place over three days, its
short chapters give a bleak but fascinating insight into the
country. If you’re planning on a longer stay, Leaving
Atocha Station
by Ben Lerner is a beautiful slice of
meandering ex-pat life, taking in the Prado, boho cafés and
countryside escapades.


It’s impossible to write about Swedish literature without
mentioning Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy,
which set a global thirst for Scandi noir in motion. But dig a
little deeper and there’s lots beyond gritty crime fiction. Eyvind
Johnson is considered the most influential writer in the Swedish
canon and his Return to Ithaca is an entertaining
retelling of The Odyssey. The Red Room by August
Strindberg is often considered the beginning of modern Swedish
literature, exploring the politics and culture of Stockholm society through the eyes of an
idealistic civil servant. Also by Strindberg, The People of
is a thoughtful tragicomedy set on a fictional
island in the city’s archipelago.


Writers and intellectuals have been drawn to the Austrian
capital for decades, and the literary output reflects this fertile
environment. William Boyd recreates the dazzling atmosphere of its
past in his whodunit Waiting for Sunrise tale.
Graham Greene’s The Third Man and The
Fallen Idol
is a near perfect recreation of post-war
Vienna told as a haunting thriller, with Greene also writing the
screenplay of the seminal film version. With a contemporary
setting, The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
(winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2004) brings to life the
Vienna Conservatory and the hidden desires of the city at


The bestselling Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier is a philosophical
quest through the mysteries of the city with enough romance and
intrigue to keep you gripped from start to finish. The poetry of
Fernando Pessoa will also keep you sustained through long hot
Lisbon nights but for less cerebral reading, Antonio Tabucchi’s
Pereira Maintains is a stinging rebuke against complacency of the
press in difficult times. Requiem: A Hallucination
by the same author is a beautiful and surreal short story told as
an ephemeral journey through the city.


A city of historical turmoil, Berlin has been fertile ground for
literature about torment and emotion. Goodbye
, a semi-autobiographical account of Christopher
Isherwood’s time there in the 1930s, was described by Orwell as
“brilliant sketches of a society in decay” and certainly makes for
a thought-provoking read. Not for the fainthearted, A Woman
in Berlin
is a harrowing anonymous memoir chronicling the
Russian occupation of Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the war.
To get a sense of the city of today, Chloe Aridjis’ Book of
is an impressionistic walk around town, with the
characters and scenes painting a picture-perfect scene. Paul Beatty
recently won the Man Booker Prize in 2016 and his third novel,
Slumberland, is a freestyle quest on the trail of
a mysterious jazzman in the days before the fall of the Berlin


If endless trials and human-sized bugs in the attic aren’t your
thing, it may be worth steering clear of Prague’s most famous
author, Kafka. Instead, The Unbearable Lightness of
by Milan Kundera is a beautiful meditation on the
delicacy and randomness of life. For a more critical take on the
city’s past oppression, Philip Roth’s The Prague
follows his famous hero Nathan Zuckerman into the
communist underbelly of the state. Although Rainer Maria Rilke
spent most of his life on the road, he was born in Prague and his
lyrical poetry is the perfect companion to your travels.


In perhaps one of the most famous depictions of wanderlust, E M
Forster’s heroine in A Room with a View bemoans
not being able to see the beautiful Arno, and when someone tells
her that “the true Italy is only to be found by patient
observance”, it’s hard not to agree. Florence is best seen over
months rather than in days, leaving plenty time to immerse yourself
in rich literary culture. Sarah Dunant’s historical fiction
overflows with story and substance; her best-known work,
The Birth of Venus, is so vivid you’ll be half
expecting the young lovers to appear on the cobbled streets in
front of you. George Eliot’s Romola is set in the
same turbulent period but has all the trimmings of a great
Victorian novel.

Discover More
What the SUITCASE Team are Reading this Summer