Staying at home and need some distraction? Planning new trips or just feeling some wanderlust? A book is always a good idea. And for those thinking of visiting Europe or reliving their previous trips – or simply dreaming about the continent – here is the selection of the best books set in Europe.
I believe in silver linings, and I think now is a great time to dive into reading. It will make your future travel experiences deeper, will add more layers to it. Imagine visiting Transylvania after reading Bram Stocker’s Dracula – it will have so much more additional charm and mystery. And what about ordering an espresso in the same Parisian cafe where Ernest Hemingway has done it before you? Wouldn’t it give your coffee just that extra gist only you will be able to taste?
This list of the best books set in Europe will take you on a journey to Barcelona, Paris, Iceland, Lake District and Cornwall in the UK and many many other places – without you leaving your couch.
So grab a piece of paper, a cup of hot something and a cosy throw and prepare to choose some books you’re going to read for your future trips to Europe.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
- 2 The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
- 3 Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- 4 The Sagas of Icelanders
- 5 Dracula by Bram Stocker
- 6 Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
- 7 Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer
- 8 Ulysses by James Joyce
- 9 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
- 10 Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammadi
- 11 Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
- 12 A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
- 13 The Shape of the Water by Andrea Camilleri
- 14 The Muse by Jessie Burton
- 15 A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
- 16 This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets
- 17 Origin by Dan Brown
- 18 One Day by David Nichols
- 19 Liked this post? Save it for later on Pinterest!
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
Read by Lee from The Travel Scribes
When you think of World War II, Italy is usually not the first country that comes to mind. But, once you turn the first page of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, you’ll be captivated by the uniquely Italian tale of an unsung wartime hero, Pino Leila.
Based on a true story, this smash hit of a novel starts its tale in fashion-forward Milan as Pino, an innocent Italian teen, has his youth destroyed by the onset of the war and the Allied bombing of his home. As the chapters unfold you’ll find yourself captivated by this beautifully written story. Pino, an ordinary young boy, is forced to enlist in the German army and somehow worms his way into a highly prized role. He becomes the personal driver to General Hans Levers, the one-time sidekick to Adolf Hitler himself.
What ensues is entirely dramatic, heartbreaking and achingly brave as Pino uses his position for good, saving hundreds if not thousands of people from certain death.
The novel is a poetic read, a richly written story jam-packed with compassion, humility and exquisite words. It’s particularly special since while it’s a historical novel at it’s heart, it somehow feels very real, with the soaring Italian Alps as vivid as the striking descriptions of the people it depicts. A captivating novel that, although it paints a bleak background of Italy will definitely inspire you to visit Italy and see where this fascinating tale unfolded.
Buy this book in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
Read by Clemens of Travellers Archive
The hero of this Turkish novel – a somewhat lawyer named Galip – one day discovers that his wife and cousin have disappeared. He goes on a quest and sometimes thinks he is getting closer to them, but Istanbul is increasingly becoming a labyrinth of secret clues in which he loses not only the two but also himself.
Nevertheless, the real protagonist of this novel is the city of Istanbul in Turkey. The author Orhan Pamuk explores its depths, its secrets and its overlapping for us, he plunges down into the underground on which the modern city rises – Byzantion, Byzos, Nova Roma, Constantinopolis. He shows the many faces of a capital city that lies at the intersection of Europe and the Middle East, between history and modern urbanity.
Hardly any book manages to take the reader to Istanbul so well without having to travel there. After a few pages, you are in the middle of old Istanbul, regardless of whether you have been there before or not. The city is hard to describe and yet with every word Pamuk manages to shed a little light on the eternally averted face of Istanbul, to take the courageous reader with him into the winding alleys of an unfathomable city.
Buy The Black Book in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Read by Elisa from World in Paris
Ernest Hemingway’s novel “Moveable Feast” is one of my favorite readings. The book tells the adventures (and some misadventures) of Ernest Hemingway in Paris with his wife Haley during the roaring twenties. At that time Hemingway is a young journalist who wants to become a writer even if this means not getting a decent meal for a few days.
He and Haley live in a small apartment in the 5th Arrondissement, not far from Rue Mouffetard. During their stay in Paris, they meet cool people like Gertrude Stein, Picasso or Scott F. Fitzerald and it is interesting to read how Hemingway describes his new friends and the conversations between them.
Hemingway’s life in Paris is concentrated on the Left Bank of Paris – the poor and bohemian side of the city – and more precisely around the neighborhoods of Montparnasse, Saint Germain-des-Près and the Latin Quarter.
Most of the cafes and places he frequents to work in his novels or to meet friends are relatively close to each other so it is possible to follow Hemingway’s steps and cover all these places in one full day. The good news is that some of them have not changed that much so visitors can still get a sense of that Moveable Feast.
Buy Moveable Feast in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
The Sagas of Icelanders
Read by Alexander of Gourmand Trotter
The Sagas of Icelanders is written by various authors and features some of the best medieval literature out there. The book takes place in Iceland and follows some of the most famous Vikings on their journeys, including the Vinland Sagas which tells the story of how Leif Eiriksson discovered the New World, centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot in America. In total, the book consists of ten Sagas and seven shorter tales that will give you a serious wanderlust of discovering Iceland, the land of fire and ice, home to the Vikings.
Although we can’t be sure of how much reality these sagas really are, they are written in a way that depicts life as it easily could’ve been like, according to historians. They tell us about the life stories of Norse men and women who settled Iceland, when there was nothing there, except a raw nature, that they believed could be a sacred place to the Norse gods themselves.
I like it because it’s a great piece of literature that is on the same quality as the epic Homer. Furthermore, these authentic sagas are being introduced by scholars and some of the best translators out there who have translated these epic sagas from old Norse language into English.
By Sagas of the Icelanders in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Dracula by Bram Stocker
Read by Cassie from Cassie the Hag
When I told people I’d booked a trip to Transylvania, I got a surprising amount of responses from friends who asked ‘Is that a real place?’ It appears that the name has become so synonymous with the location for gothic horror novel ‘Dracula’ (and the many media adaptations that followed) that people didn’t realise it is, in fact, a region in Northern Romania.
The book itself is split between Whitby, England and Transylvania, and both regions now have many tourist attractions dedicated to their fictional counterparts. The novel would appeal to classic fiction fans or anyone interested in reading the ‘original’ vampire fiction that jump-started a very long-lasting fascination with vampire fantasy that still goes in today. It’s interesting to see where many traits of an archetypal ‘vampire’ stem from. It’s written as a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper articles, making a good format to dip into… if you don’t mind a little fright once in a while.
Visiting Transylvania is a fun collision of history and fantasy, as you learn about ‘Vlad the Impaler’, a notorious leader who’s real name was Vlad Tepes Dracul. Through the interesting historical – though sometimes tenuous – connections, you can thus really visit ‘Dracula’s castle’. I was particularly nervous when spending a night in a local’s house in Sighisoara – Dracula’s birthplace.
In the fictional castle, house guest Jonathan Harker describes his fear of never being permitted to leave as the hounds howl through the night. In true horror movie fashion, the dogs howled outside my Airbnb and a gale rattled at the windows that night. Thankfully, I was able to leave and make it back to England. Less fortunately, in the fictional version, Jonathan escapes back to England too… but so does Dracula.
Buy Dracula in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
Read by Annabel of Smudged Postcard
Frenchman’s Creek is set in the county of Cornwall in south-west England. Charting the love affair of an English aristocrat and a French pirate, the story paints a vivid picture of 17th century Cornwall.
Much of the story revolves around the heroine’s home on the banks of the Helford river just north of the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. If you visit this corner of Cornwall today, you’ll discover that the river is very much how it must have been several hundred years ago. There are quaint villages and impressive homes along the banks of the river. Despite the region’s popularity this part of Cornwall remains relatively quiet, even in high season.
Anyone who likes their heroines to be gutsy with an air of independence and defiance will enjoy this classic tale by legendary author Daphne du Maurier. It’s an unexpected story with plenty of twists and intrigue.
Daphne du Maurier has written several novels set in Cornwall. If you wish to be transported to a beautiful part of the world, dip into one of her books and you won’t be disappointed. Her most famous book is the unsettling thriller Rebecca which uses the Cornish landscape to dramatic effect. However, I found Frenchman’s Creek a more enjoyable read. Try them both and let me know what you think!
Buy Frenchman’s Creek in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer
Read by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
This book is set in Paris, and more specifically inside Shakespeare and Company — an English-language bookshop that sits on the banks of the Seine right across from Notre Dame. It’s the memoir of Jeremy Mercer, a young crime reporter from Canada who ended up on the run after getting on the wrong side of the criminal underworld in his hometown and receiving death threats. Arriving in Paris in 2000 with very little money, he heard about Shakespeare and Company and its eccentric elderly owner, George Whitman.
Having traveled the world penniless himself in his younger years, George allowed anyone who needed a place to stay to sleep in the bookstore for free. His only conditions were that his “tumbleweeds”, as he called them, had to help him out in the store, write a one-page autobiography, and read one book every day for as long as they stayed0.
Jeremy stays for several months and meets a whole menagerie of unusual characters while he’s there. I know for a fact that his account absolutely corresponds with real-life at Shakespeare and Company, because I stayed there myself, just a few months after he did. The reason I loved this book so much is because reading it filled me with nostalgia and made me realize what a magical thing I had been a part of. Anyone who is intrigued by the bohemian subculture in Paris or who dreams of travelling the world on a shoestring budget will love this book.
Buy The Time was Soft There in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Read by Amy of Oceans to Alpines
When most people hear Dublin, Ireland the first thought is to Guinness beer and pubs. However, Ireland is also famous for many influential writers of classic literature. One of the most popular novels being Ulysses by James Joyce. This novel is based on one day, 16 June 1904, in Dublin.
This book follows the daily routine and appointments of a Leopold Bloom in Dublin. While this novel accurately portrays the daily conversations and environment of Dublin, this book claim to fame is more focused on the writing of James Joyce who influenced writers for decades after.
Ulysses is famed as the start of modernist literature. This novel is written from stream of consciousness – meaning that James Joyce just wrote what came to him to compile this novel. Ulysses displays the intelligence of James Joyce through parallels to the famous Odyssey poem, numerous puns, allusions and humor. This book with all the literature accomplishments is ranked in many Classic Literature top ten must read novels.
James Joyce has since become a national treasure of Ireland. Ulysses is so famous in Ireland, that Dublin celebrates Bloomsday on 16th of June – where you will see people dressed as the characters from the novel (20th-century style!). Participate in Bloomsday, or just enjoy walking around Dublin and take in some of the same views that Leopold Bloom did.
If you want to visit some places other than the pubs then learn about other famous Irish writers at the Writing Museum in Dublin. Or pick up a true souvenir of the spirit of Dublin and drop into any of the numbers of bookstores in Dublin to pick up a collector’s edition of Ulysses.
Buy Ulysses in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Read by Sandy from Greece Travel Secrets
This book is Set during the 2nd World War on the island of Kefalonia, in Greece.
It centres on the Italian invasion of the island and an ensuing love story between an Italian Army Captain and a local girl Pelagia, the daughter of a local doctor.
Pelagia is engaged to a local fisherman who has gone to join the fight at the front. Antonio Corelli is billeted to live with Pelagia and her father and she is determined to hate him.
When the Italian Army arrives and eventually join the allies, the soldiers are freed from their military duties. The German’s stage a tragic massacre of the Italians and Pelagia. Her father is forced to hide the Captain, during which her sentiments change.
When the Captain returns to Italy he leaves behind his Mandolin with the promise to return and marry Pelagia. And then things don’t quite go according to plan.
I have spent a week on Kefalonia in 2019, and specifically in the towns of Agia Effimia and Sami where much of the movie adaptation of this book was filmed. It was hard not to constantly think of the colourful and often brutal history of the island and events such as the war and the destructive earthquake not long after. Kefalonia is a large and very beautiful island with a distinctive Venetian influence as is found across the Ionians. The houses are brightly coloured and the red tiled rooves and iron lacework are reminiscent of many Italian villages. Life is still relatively simple with many people still eeking out an existence as fishermen and farmers.
Books like this remind you that you find heroes in the most unlikely places, especially in fiercely proud Greek communities.
Buy Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammadi
Read by Lindsay of Seven Day Weekender
One of the best ways, in my opinion, to “visit” a country you have never been to, or to revisit your favourite place on earth, is through a book. Italy is a country that has long fascinated me. I’ve never been, but I am pretty sure that I would fall in love. Reading the book Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way by Kamin Mohammadi, further confirmed this. Based on the year Mohammadi spent in Florence, Bella Figura celebrates living life — the Italian way.
Why is it that in many other countries it’s impossible for us to enjoy ourselves, really take our time to eat a meal rather than rushing through it in 15 minutes, and in general living our lives at a slower pace so that we can truly appreciate it? After working a successful editorial career in London, getting laid off, and realizing that the hardcore grind of chasing success was ruining her physical and mental health, this is what Mohammadi was looking for. And in all reality, when I discovered this book about a year and a half ago was very similar to the situation I found myself in.
From the “characters” that enter Mohammadi’s life in Italy to the amazing food she cooks and eats (which finds itself into the book by way of featuring a recipe at the end of each chapter), Bella Figura is for the person looking to slow down, to find self-love, and to savour the little things. The way that Mohammadi describes everything will immediately transport you, and upon finishing the book you will immediately get online looking for the best deals to Italy. I’ve never been to Italy but you can bet I will be making my way there as soon as I can to find my own Bella Figura.
Buy Bella Figura in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Read by Kathryn of Wandering Bird Motorhome Adventures
One of my favourite books of all time is Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome.
This is one of the first books which inspired me to travel – I desperately wanted to get a small dinghy and go and have adventures on a lake. As a young child, I read the book over and over again.
The story is simple, and in many ways, that’s what’s so appealing. It’s set in the 1950s, in the Lake District in England. There are steam trains, campfire cooking and old-fashioned children playtime. There is no death and destruction- just 4 children camping on an island, sailing their boat and having adventures. Having said that, there is a pirate (retired), a parrot and some missing treasure!
The entire series (because of COURSE there’s a series) is complete nostalgia for me- I grew up with my Dad reading them as bedtime stories, before being able to read them for myself. In turn, I’ve read them to my own daughter and fuelled her wanderlust.
We actually planned a trip to the Lake District as part of our epic England road trip – and it was just as magical as I’d dreamed. The entire area is exactly as it’s described in the book. We liked it so much we’ve been back 3 times!
Buy Swallows and Amazons in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Read by Pauline of Beeloved City
If you are looking for a book that will help you understand France and French culture, A Year in The Merde by Stephen Clarke will be perfect.
Set in Paris, this book is the perfect mix of story-telling, humour and facts. You will discover the story of Paul West, an English man, who moves to Paris for a year. He starts a new job for a French company and rents a flat in Paris.
Why is this book a must-read I hear you say? Well, because Paul bumps into every aspect of French culture you can possibly think of. By following his adventure, you discover some of the most famous french stereotypes but also facts that, even though extremely accurate, are rarely mentioned. This, added to Stephen Clarke’s British humour, becomes the perfect recipe and guide on how to understand the French!
France is a very interesting country and if you want to know more about it, A year in the merde will be a very entertaining way to do so. It’s also the perfect read for anyone moving to France!
As a French person, I obviously know the country very well and I absolutely love this book. I read it several times. Even if it’s a bit caricatural, I find it extremely accurate and funny. Everything is a bit pushed to the extreme, but somewhat still very accurate. It’s so interesting to understand the way other people see my country.
Stephen Clarke is an amazing author! He makes fun of France but deep down, you can feel his unconditional love for this country and its culture.
Buy A Year in the Merde in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
The Shape of the Water by Andrea Camilleri
Read by Annalisa of Travel Connect Experience
Do you dream about visiting the region of Sicily in southern Italy? Sicily is the biggest island of the Mediterranean Sea, a paradise for foodies and lovers of sunny beaches and crystal-clear waters.
The “Shape of the Water”, published in 1994 and written by award-winning author Andrea Camilleri is set in the fictional village of Vigata on the Sicilian coast. This is the first of more than 30 mystery novels starring Inspector Montalbano, a Sicilian devoted to defending his territory from the Mafia. The story takes you on an intriguing journey by the side of the inspector, who investigates the death of Engineer Luparello.
The clues collide with Montalbano’s intuition so he decides to undertake thorough research. Unlike many of his colleagues, Montalbano chooses justice against personal security, he’s a role model in a country that has a serious issue with criminal organizations.
This novel reflects perfectly the state of things in contemporary Italy. The most enjoying part of this read is that the inspector is passionate about local cuisine and his native land. You will be guided across many delicious meals in tiny trattorias and slow, digestive walks on the beach.
It’s only after a satisfying lunch that Montalbano has that fantastic idea that allows him to solve the case, or while he’s sipping his morning coffee on the balcony of his house by the beach. Sure thing is, after reading this book, you will need to travel to Sicily.
Buy The Shape of the Water in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Read by Megan of Red Around the World
Odelle Bastien gets a job at the Skelton gallery in London in 1967 that changes her life forever. After moving to London from Trinidad five years before, she struggled to find her place in the world, but she knows that is about to change when she accepts the job as a typist under the glamorous Marjorie Quick. While Marjorie helps unlock her confidence and find her place, she becomes lost again when a masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.
Back in 1936 in rural Spain, we find out the history of the painting starting with Olivia Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, who has secret ambitions of her own. Soon we meet Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa who weave themselves into the Schloss family with explosive and devastating consequences.
This is not the type of book I normally read, but it earned a spot in my favourites list very quickly. It’s got love, art, and war, everything a great story needs and it will make you feel like you’re going through everything with them. It’s a wonderfully heartbreaking story with romance and betrayal, friendship and sacrifice.
If you like historical fiction (and even if you don’t), this is a must-read. While I haven’t been to Spain or London, it has certainly made me want to see the Spanish countryside and learn more about the tumultuous history of the country.
Buy The Muse in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Read by Lindsey of Have Clothes, Will Travel
“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles is a wonderful novel, recommended by even the likes of Bill Gates. You don’t have to be interested in Moscow, Russia either to be charmed by the wit of Count Alexander Rostov – the book’s main character.
The Count’s story takes place almost entirely in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, which is near the Bolshoi Theatre and the Kremlin in the heart of Moscow. This hotel is where he is sentenced to house arrest in 1922 for the remainder of his life.
Count Rostov is “an indomitable man of erudition and wit, who has never worked a day in his life.” He carries out his life sentence in an attic room in the Metropol while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history unfold outside the hotel’s doors.
I couldn’t help but be captivated by the ever-endearing Count Rostov and the friends he makes in the Metropol. This book took me maybe a week to finish.
I was, also, living in Moscow at the time I read the book and was able to tour the Metropol Hotel to compare it to the book. Many of the places mentioned in the book are real. While the Metropol Hotel has undergone some renovations in recent years (so its layout is slightly different than that in the book), there are plenty of similarities that will delight fans of “A Gentleman in Moscow.”
Buy A Gentleman in Moscow in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets
Read by Laura of Laura No Esta
I discovered “This too Shall Pass” in a bookshop a few years ago, first I felt attracted by the title, the premise that reaffirms that every moment in life is temporary. Without knowing much about the author I bought the book.
This novel is about grief so be ready for some crying moments during the reading. Blanca loses her mother and has to learn how to live without her. The book shows us her way to do it, to accept the loss and grow. This is a perfect book for anyone who wants to know a female perspective on grieving. Plus, this book gives you some inspiring views on life, on love and family.
Although the book starts in Barcelona, Spain, the main location is Cadaques. This small coastal town that has been the house of Salvador Dalí and a summer holidays spot for Marcel Duchamp, is located two hours away from Barcelona.
In “This too Shall Pass” Cadaques becomes one of the characters. Since the main character arrives at her family house in this town, we start to get to know the city through her. We discover the history of Blanca while we explore the cobble streets and the white houses
Sadly, I haven’t been in Cadaques yet but, since I read this book, it has become one of my biggest travel dreams to spend a few days in that town, dipping into that amazing calas and looking into wonderful sunsets.
Buy This Too Shall Pass in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
Origin by Dan Brown
Read by Lauren from The Expat Chronicle
As an American expat who lives abroad in Barcelona, I was thrilled to learn that the setting of author Dan Brown’s (The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons) latest novel happens in this incredible city.
Barcelona is the perfect setting for any story centred around history, religion, controversy and hidden codes. Readers that have travelled to this city will enjoy even more the detail and drama associated with Brown’s story. And anyone who has not visited Barcelona will be sure to put it on their bucket list after finishing Origin.
For those that are already fans of the Robert Langdon series, you won’t be disappointed by.
Origin. The story has its usual twists and turns taking the reader on an adventure back in time full of mystery and investigative experiences.
The tale begins with Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, attending a high society event in which an unveiling is to be shared about a discovery said to change the scientific world forever.
After a series of dramatic and explosive events ruin the evening, the discovery remains hidden. And with intent. Langdon finds himself fleeing to Barcelona to uncover a series of cryptic symbols and codes which lead to exposing this scientific discovery. The city’s ancient history coupled with a labyrinth of religious passageways makes for a head-spinning journey for its main characters and readers alike!
Origin is an imaginative and gripping tale! The science is accurate and compelling, and the information about historic buildings in Barcelona, such as La Pedrera and La Sagrada Familia, is fascinating to read.
Buy Origin in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.
One Day by David Nichols
Read by Gizelle Marie from Mirage
Twenty years on the same day they’ve met, Emma and Dexter’s story unfolds. On July 15, 1988, they formally met in Edinburgh, and through the years in the story, they would be in many cities but mostly in London, Paris, and back to London on that same day.
It’s a love story that those my age could relate to – one of close friendship, one that’s so obviously in front of you but couldn’t see. The author (David Nicholls) makes you wonder what the two would be up to on July 15 each year…if they would be on different cities, in the same country apart, or finally together in the same house. It’s a love story we would hope to have a beautiful ending and would want to know the characters in real life. That line “She made you decent, and in return, you made her so very happy,” is one that will always be a favourite.
While I’ve been both to London and Paris and loved both, the settings of the earlier years in London made me want to walk it in that era. A less-crowded Trafalgar square, not much people gawking at the Big Ben would have been a nice experience. Edinburgh has been on my list, and whenever I get to see my One Day book laying around, that want intensifies. I would definitely want to walk those streets where Emma and Dexter did in the book.
Buy One Day in hard copy or for Kindle on Amazon.