Best Books for When You Want to Vacation to Europe

Ah, Europe. With its towers of royalty, canals of grandeur, and wheels of cheese, it’s no wonder far-flung travelers flock to its cobblestoned streets. 

Here at Literati, we’ve compiled the best books for the armchair traveler—those wanting to visit Europe’s illustrious cities, without the fuss of soggy airplane food and crazy long customs lines. Leave your passport at home and grab your book list: your flight is boarding. Destination? Literary European adventures. 

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson 

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Life-After-Novel-Kate-Atkinson/dp/0316176486

If walking through Europe’s past sounds like a dream vacation, why not hop into this novel beloved by Literati book club leader Susan Orlean? 

It’s a cold and bitter night in England, 1910 when Ursula Todd is born. Before she can let out her first cry, she dies, the umbilical cord wrapped taut around her neck. 

Then, in a blur of snow and cries, the world resets.

It’s 1910, and despite all the laws of time, space, and reality, Ursula Todd is born—again. Life After Life follows a heroine who is reborn as soon as she dies (which is frighteningly often) in this darkly comic historical fiction that will transport you to the streets of early 20th century Britain.

Why this book is perfect for armchair travel:

  • Gorgeous prose brings turn-of-the-century Britain to life
  • Ursula’s British humour complements her prose like a biscuit complements a cuppa

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

Image source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/TheEleganceOfTheHedgehog

Is there anything quite like traipsing through the streets of Paris? The smell of baguettes, the chic berrets, the … hedgehogs? 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, written by French novelist and philosopher Muriel Barbery, is one of France’s most popular contemporary novels. Barbery tells the story through two perspectives. The first, Renee, is an apartment’s concierge and, unbeknownst to its residents, an expert in the arts. The other, Paloma, is a 12-year-old apartment resident, intellectual protegee, and, unbeknownst to her, a kindred soul to Renee. 

Settle yourself into this Parisian apartment building and get caught up in this dual-narrative that offers a brilliant snapshot of Parisian life and love. 

Why this book is perfect for armchair travel:

  • Barbery’s engaging voice propels the reader through upper-class Parisian life
  • Pages brimming with sly wit, tender satire, and well-crafted insights
  • Philosophical musings into the meaning of beauty, art, life, and death

44 Scotland Street – Alexander McCall Smith

Image source: https://www.amazon.com/44-Scotland-Street-Book-ebook/dp/B002TXZRVS

If Edinburgh is on your list of must-see places, you’ll fall in love with 44 Scotland Street. The fictionalized address within the city of Edinburgh just received a new tenant: Pat, a student on her gap year who’s just about to meet a slew of colorful characters—from a vain athlete to a saxophone-playing five-year-old. 

The satirical and perceptive collection of short stories is an ode to Scotland’s hilly capital—guiding readers to each of its kilt-clad locations, from the suburb of Stockbridge to Edinburgh’s charming Glass and Thomson cafe. 

Why this book is perfect for armchair travel:

  • Paints a vivid portrait of Edinburgh’s rain-soaked cobblestone streets and those who inhabit them
  • Love triangles, art heists, and heroic Scottish crime writers
  • Witty observations into the Scottish way of life 

A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

Image source: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/304806/a-room-with-a-view-by-e-m-forster/

Edwardian ideals meet Italian zeal in this charming coming of age story. When prim-and-proper Lucy Honeychurch arrives in Florence, Italy to meet her cousin, she’s bombarded by a unique cast of personalities. Her favorite? Gloomy George and his entrancing admiration for all things beautiful. 

The meandering exposition will make you feel like Lucy’s travel-mate as she navigates various tiers of Italian society, spectacular Italian landscapes, and a blossoming love for the mysterious George Emerson. Molto bene!

Why this book is perfect for armchair travel:

  • Playfully humorous dialogue and narration
  • Lucy’s wistful introspection will have you questioning what you thought you knew about your own life
  • An animated cast of characters, each with their own unconventional eccentricities

Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier

Image source: https://www.amazon.com/Night-Train-Lisbon-Pascal-Mercier-ebook/dp/B0040QE39Y 

The breathtaking novel, Night Train to Lisbon, recounts the story of one man’s obsession with literature and his travels through the underbelly of Lisbon’s decorative dwellings. 

After embarking on the night train to Lisbon, Raimund Gregorius becomes enamored with his travel companion: a novel by Portuguese essayist Amadeu de Prado. Once in the capital city, Gregorius—who is, in fact, gregarious—familiarizes himself with those who knew Prado best, in a fevered effort to understand the author’s extraordinary life. 

Why this book is perfect for armchair travel:

  • Offers a backseat ride through Lisbon’s pastel-colored metropolis
  • Philosophical storytelling coupled with historical renderings
  • Encourages foolhardy soul-searching and travel 

Flights – Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk's <i>Flights</i> — Music & Literature

Image source: https://www.musicandliterature.org/reviews/2018/8/28/olga-tokarczuks-flights

Short stories are like day trips: a quick taste of a whole new world that satisfies the most pent-up travel pugs. Each short story of Flights explores different aspects of travel—from a Polish man’s befuddling Croatian vacation to a Russian woman’s railway revelations. 

Like a turbulent plane ride, each story ebbs and flows—some plunging into existential philosophies, while others merely drift upon the surface of cultural observation. Think of Flights as your universal travel card, transporting you across Europe through the eyes of characters you’ll never forget. 

Why this book is perfect for armchair travel:

  • A collection of thought-provoking essays, rememberings, and reverie that’ll have you holding onto your seat
  • Illustrated maps that embellish its pages—c’mon, who doesn’t love maps?
  • Stories spanning across various European countries and eras

Travel Alongside Literati

With a book in hand, the wide world is at your fingertips—whether you’re exploring the Parisian city center or embarking on a tantalizing train ride. Literati’s monthly book club picks are the perfect passport to new places and peoples. Save on air travel by riding the express train to literary adventure with Literati!

Sources: 

Budget Traveller. 15 Books That Made Me Fall in Love with Europe. https://budgettraveller.org/15-books-that-made-me-fall-in-love-with-europe/

The Guardian. Top 10 Books About Europe.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/09/top-10-books-about-europe

The New Yorker. Flights, A Novel That Never Settles Down. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/01/flights-a-novel-that-never-settles-down

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