A Discovery of Witches is a world rich in culture and travel
On my way over to the UK back in 2016, there was a ‘trilogy’ promotion on the iBooks store, so having run out of books to read already, I downloaded a few, including A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.
Thankfully, by the time I downloaded it, I was only a couple of days from arriving in Bristol. If I hadn’t been, I’d possibly have missed our time in Prague, Helsinki and Tallinn, because I was hooked. My husband couldn’t quite understand (he never does when I have my nose in a book) how I could just read in every possible break available. I finished A Discovery of Witches in two days and went on to download the other two books in the All Souls Complete Trilogy: Shadow of Night and The Book of Life. I finished all three in six days.
I love the books because they have a healthy mix of the supernatural (witches, vampires and daemons), history (Elizabethan to be precise) and science (which I know very little about, but find interesting). Not to mention, the author is a history professor and I’m so into books written by people who know their stuff.
A couple of weeks ago, Sky released their television series based on the books and the beautiful scenery has moved me to share a bit about my time in the locations visited in the series (some I’d been to before I read the books and some possibly because I’d read the books).
WARNING: The post will contain spoilers
I warn you that this post will likely contain some spoilers because I am basing it on the books not the show. However, I’ll try not to spoil too much of the storyline, just share the great places you can visit.
Let’s start in Oxford
Quite a few of us on the Ladies What Travel team have spent time in Oxford. There’s a reason for that: it’s a stunning location and rich in history.
Deborah Harkness went to Oxford and lived at Keble College, so her descriptions really make you feel like you are there.
I think the best way to see the places Diana talks about is to do a walking tour. There are plenty of walking tour options, but in case you want to do your own tour, here’s where you should go:
“No matter what I told myself in the quadrangle, my walk home was faster than usual. The gloom of New College Lane was a spooky proposition a the best of times. I ran my card through the reader at New College’s back gate and felt some of the tension leave my body when the gate clicked shut behind me, as if every door and wall I put between me and the library somehow kept me safe. I skirted under the chapel windows and through the narrow passage into the quad that had views of Oxford’s only surviving medieval garden, complete with traditional mound that had once offered a green prospect for students to look upon and contemplate the mysteries of God and nature.” – Chapter 2, A Discovery of Witches
“The Bodleian had always been a sanctuary to me, a place unassociated with the Bishops.” – Chapter 1, A Discovery of Witches
“Passing by the dome of the Radcliffe Camera, where the undergraduates read their assigned books…” – Chapter 12, A Discovery of Witches
All Souls College
“All Souls College was a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture, resembling the love child of a wedding cake and a cathedral, with its airy spires and delicate stonework. – Chapter 14, A Discover of Witches
Sadly, you can’t visit All Souls College, but you can take a good look through the main gates, just near the Radcliffe Camera.
“They looked up, dazed, as I walked by on the way to Blackwell’s for tea. – Chapter 2, A Discover of Witches
Book lovers rejoice! Blackwell’s is an amazing bookshop in it’s own right, but it’s even cooler that you can go there, browse and get your own tea, in Diana’s footsteps.
Pitt Rivers Museum
“Marcus has even checked Matthew’s favourite haunt, the Pitt Rivers Museum, where the vampire could often be found dividing his attention between the skeleton of an iguanodon and a likeness of Darwin.” – Chapter 16, A Discovery of Witches
I loved the Oxford University Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum (they are in one building). There is so much to see, I suggest you leave at least two hours to cover off on most of it quickly.
Oxford University Museum Natural History Museum opening hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
Pitt Rivers Museum opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4:30pm and Monday, 12pm-4:30pm
Cost: Admission is free for both
The Covered Market
“I went shopping along the aisles of Oxford’s Covered Market. List in hand, I made my first stop at the butcher for fresh venison and rabbit, and then to the fishmonger for Scottish salmon.” – Chapter 12, A Discovery of Witches
If you love your food, it’s fun to wander around the Covered Market. You might even stop at Brown’s for breakfast, just like Diana.
The Bridge of Sighs
“The vampire sat in the shadows on the curved expanse of the bridge that spanned New College Lane and connected two parts of Hertford College, his back resting against the worn stone of one of the college’s newer building and his feet propped up on the bridge’s roof.” – Chapter 3, A Discovery of Witches
Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs (despite being more similar in style to the Rialto Bridge in Venice), is a popular landmark and very photogenic.
An escape to France – twice!
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in France, but mostly in Paris. I did, however, convince my Dad and my husband to take a day trip to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mont Saint-Michel, so I could see it up close and personal.
“My knowledge of the island was limited to stories swapped by friends of mine who sailed every summer around the Isle of Wight: that it was surrounded at low tide by such dangerous currents that boats were crushed against the rocks. I looked over my shoulder at our tiny boat and shuddered. It was a miracle that we were still alive.” – Chapter 8, A Shadow of Night
It’s an amazing island, with cobbled streets, winding alleyways and beautiful, historical buildings. It’s not only busy, but there are a lot of attractions (especially the Abbey), so you’ll need a few hours here to see everything, including getting over from the mainland (which is much easier these days!).
It’s not the most accessible tourist attraction, so if walking up hills and uneven paths isn’t for you, you may have to give Mont Saint Michel a miss.
Visiting Mont Saint Michel:
Opening hours: The island is always open, but the Abbey has specific times, 9:30am to 6pm from September to April and 9am to 7pm from May to August.
Costs: The museums and other attractions are priced differently, but you can get a
Parking: Driving is probably the easiest way to get there (unless you’re on a guided tour) and it’s about four hours from Paris. Parking is on the mainland (about €11.70) and you can either take a free shuttle bus over or walk.
Running from the villains in Elizabethan London
Sadly, many of the places Diana visits in A Shadow of Night no longer exist, including Richmond Palace, Greenwich Palace, old St Paul’s Cathedral, and Baynard’s Castle. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get your fix. Here are a few places that will give you a really great insight into Elizabethan London.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is amazing generally, but what’s even more amazing is the number of Tudor and Elizabethan period portraits. On the top floor galleries, you’ll see portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Sir Walter Raleigh, William Cecil and more.
You can get through this part of the gallery in about an hour if you’re quick, but if you want to see everything, you’ll definitely need more time.
Details about the National Portrait Gallery:
Admission: Free (donations welcome)
Open: Open daily 10am-6pm, Friday until 9pm
Location: St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
Visit the website
Museum of London
The Barbican isn’t the most exciting part of London, but that’s where you’ll find the Museum of London. It has some brilliant exhibits and it really gives you a good understanding of London through the ages. You’ll need at least two hours to look around, so make sure you leave plenty of time!
Details about the Museum of London:
Admission: Free (donations welcome)
Open: Open daily 10am-6pm, Friday until 9pm
Location: 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
Visit the website
PS. If you’re a history nut like me, you may enjoy this map of early modern London.
A ‘quick’ sojourn to Prague
Prague is an amazing city and I was so lucky to spend five days there a couple of years ago, wandering the streets and eating delicious food. A few spots get a mention and are definitely worth visiting while you’re in the city:
The Old Town
“On our way across the Moldau River to Prague’s Old Town, I had my first opportunity to experience the hustle and bustle of the city centre. There, affluent merchants conducted business in arcades nestled beneath the three- and four-story houses that lined the twisting streets.” – Chapter 29, Shadow of Night
“‘If we didn’t have to meet Herr Roydan, we would stop and see the clock strike the hours,’ Herr Maisel said apologetically. ‘You must ask him to take you past it on your way to the bridge. Every visitor to Prague should see it.'” – Chapter 29, Shadow of Night
“More than five thousand Jews lived in this small enclave smashed between the industrial riverbank, the Old Town’s main square, and a convent. The Jewish Quarter was crowded – inconceivably so, even by London standards – with houses that were not so much constructed as grown, each structure evolving organically from the walls of another like the chambers in a snails shell.” – Chapter 29, Shadow of Night
Sadly, I didn’t visit much of the Jewish Quarter, but I’ve been told by friends that it’s amazing and to get the most out of it, a walking tour would be a great idea!
“It was not my first glimpse of the castle, for I’d seen it looming over its surroundings when we came into Prague and could look up to its ramparts from our windows. But this was the closest I’d yet been to it. The castle was even larger and more sprawling at close range than it had appeared at a distance, like an entirely separate city full of trade and industry.” – Chapter 27, Shadow of Night
Details for visiting Prague Castle:
Opening hours: The opening hours are complicated, so take a look at the website
Cost: Diana wasn’t kidding about Prague castle being a small city, so take a look at the package options on the website
Visit the main website
The Powder Tower
“But there was one place where not even Gallowglass could gain admission: the Powder Tower, where Edward Kelley worked over his alembics and crucibles in an attempt to make the philosopher’s stone. We stood outside it and tried to talk our way past the guards stationed at the entrance.” – Chapter 28, Shadow of Night
I visited Prague before reading the books, so each time I read Shadow of Night, I experience a pang of regret for not having visited the Strahov Library and spending more time in the Jewish Quarter.
A brief trip to Venice
The Isola della Stella may not actually exist, but you will still get a feel for Venice in the way Diana described it by wandering the bridges and pathways on the main island and taking a boat trip to Burano and Murano.
“Venice, I had discovered, was mostly water, valiantly (if vainly) held together with bricks and mortar.” – Chapter 37, The Book of Life
“She drew me toward another example of her commitment to quality at any price: a large glass flask. It was free of imperfections and clear as crystal, which meant it had come from Venice.” – Chapter 22, Shadow of Night
I highly recommend visiting the Murano Glass Museum while you’re in Venice. It’s €12 per person (plus a boat ride to the island) and the examples of glass made in Murano is just stunning.
Passing through Amsterdam
Amsterdam only gets a few passing mentions, but it’s such a beautiful city, I wanted to make my own passing mention.
“Matthew’s house in Amsterdam turned out to be a seventeenth-century mansion on the most beautiful stretch of the Herengracht.” – Chapter 41, Shadow of Night
On the trail of A Discovery of Witches and the All Souls Trilogy – pin for later!
I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind trip around Europe. There are honestly so many stunning cities and sights to see, in particular for history nerds like me. I’d love to hear about your experiences with travelling the book!
Check back because I’ll keep updating this post as I travel more of the A Discovery of Witches/All Souls Trilogy world!
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