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Armchair Explorations: 7 Must-Read Fiction Travel Books to Stoke Your Wanderlust

A first-person view of someone reading a book while on a beach vacation overseas

Have you ever read a story that took place in a setting that captured your imagination so fully that you actually felt like you were there? Have you ever felt a strong impulse to travel inspired by a good book? That feeling is called literary wanderlust and, for many of us, that feeling triggers our love for travel  

St. Augustine famously said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

We’ve compiled a curated list of must-read travel fiction books that will undoubtedly inspire you to embark on a journey of the imagination. These captivating narratives will transport you to distant lands, immersing you in the sights, sounds, and cultures of places far and wide. From the comfort of your armchair, you’ll traverse bustling city streets, serene rural landscapes, and everything in between. Each page turn promises a new adventure, stoking your wanderlust and inspiring your next travel plans. 

So sit back, relax, and let these 7 books take you on unforgettable journeys across the globe.

The Robert Langdon Series by Dan Brown

Synopsis: Dan Brown’s 5-part on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery thriller series revolves around its eponymous character, Robert Langdon, a professor of religious iconology and symbology at Harvard University. The series, rich in historical themes and Christian motifs, chronicles Langdon’s thrilling escapades as he deciphers various enigmas and plots using his expertise in historical symbols.

Readers will be allured by the settings of historic Rome, Italy; the sacred Vatican City; romantic Paris, France; cosmopolitan London, England; diverse Istanbul, Turkey; and lively Barcelona, Spain. 

Travel Ideas Inspired by the Books

  • Italy: Visit Tuscany, Naples, Calabria, Venice, Milan, lake Garda, Assisi, Portofino, and Turin. Explore the historic ruins of Pompeii, the Colosseum in Rome, and the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence, and taste traditional dishes like tagliatelle al ragù and spaghetti cacio e pepe.
  • Vatican City: Discover hallowed St. Peter’s Basilica and the astounding Vatican Necropolis, the breathtaking Sistine Chapel, the exquisite Vatican Gardens, the Pinacoteca Gallery, and the bustling Piazza San Pietro. Experience local dishes like yellowfin tuna filet, eggplant parmigiana, and tofu insalata.
  • France: Visit Paris, Strasbourg, Rouen, and Toulouse. Travel to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, Arc De Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the Palace of Versailles. Indulge in customary dishes such as choux à la crème, crepes, and freshly baked baguettes.
  • Spain: Visit Barcelona, Cordoba, Seville, and Madrid. Experience the ancient pilgrimage route “Camino de Santiago” in Santiago de Compostela, the romantic city of Segovia, the stunning Mediterranean coastline of Costa Brava, and the pristine beaches and crystal-blue waters of the island of Mallorca. Savor delectable local dishes like paella Valenciana, jamón Ibérico, and tortilla Española.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Synopsis: A genre-bending evocative historical and mystical fiction story of Vlad the Impaler and his fictional equivalent, Count Dracula. The story takes place in 1972 when a woman discovers an ancient book adorned with a dragon emblem, a symbol associated with Dracula. This discovery prompts her to seek answers from her father, propelling them both into an exhilarating journey steeped in historical mystery as they probe the enigma of Dracula’s existence. 

Readers will be charmed by the rich backdrop to the unfolding story as the characters travel to historically significant places across Europe—from the historic and vibrant transcontinental city of Istanbul in Turkey and the cultural and scenic Budapest, Hungary to the picturesque and canal-laced Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the majestic and serene Pyrenees on Canigou mountain in southern France.  

Travel Ideas Inspired by the Book

  • Turkey: Visit Istanbul, Cappadocia, Fethiye, Bursa, and Ankara. Travel to the beautiful seaside town of Cesme, the pristine waters of Fethiye’s natural harbor, Aya Sofya Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, and the colossal monuments and the marble-columned roads of Ephesus. Sample customary dishes like manti, meze, and kumpir.
  • Hungary: Visit Budapest, Esztergom, Eger, Veszprem, and Szeged. See Baroque architecture in Gyor, the historic markets and Lake Balaton in Keszthely, Hortobagy National Park in Debrecen, and the thermal spa of Cave Bath in Miskolc-tapolca. Dine on delectable local dishes like lángos and gulyás.
  • The Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Maastricht. Explore the Van Gogh Museum and Canals of Amsterdam, and the Gothic cathedral of Utrecht. Taste the traditional cuisine with dishes like bitterballen, stroopwafel, and sweet and savory pannekoeken.

The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Synopsis: A witty modern romantic comedy radiating chemistry about two best friends who strike up an unexpected friendship in college, which leads to a tradition of an annual summer trip for almost a decade. 

Readers will delight in the duo’s excursions and want to learn more about the architectural and cultural heritage of Dubrovnik, Croatia; the traditional cuisines and panoramic views of Tuscany, Italy; and the gorgeous region of Vancouver Island, British Colombia along the Pacific West coast.

Book-Inspired Travel Ideas

  • Croatia: Visit Dubrovnik’s old city, the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park, the Istrian coastal town of Rovinj, the historic city of Sibenik, and the sunny beaches of Hvar. Check out the Pula Arena’s Roman architecture and dine on traditional Croatian dishes like crni rizot and manestra.
  • British Colombia: Visit Vancouver Island, Whistler, and Squamish. Discover Stanley Park in Vancouver and try the famous BC Roll—a Vancouver-style sushi roll or traditional doukhobor borscht.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Ann Brashares

Synopsis: Anne Brashares’ 5-part contemporary fiction series captures the spirit of friendship as it tells the story of four teenage friends who share a deep bond and a unique pair of thrift store pants that magically fit each of them despite their distinct body shapes. The narrative unfolds as the girls part ways for the summer, each facing their own challenges but finding solace in the pants, which they mail to each other.

Readers will enjoy the various characters’ experiences in gorgeous destinations like the sun-bleached architecture and crystal blue waters of beautiful Santorini, Greece; the local and cultural charm and pristine beaches of Puerto Escondido, Mexico; and the quaint seafaring town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia nestled into the North Atlantic coastline.

Travel Ideas Inspired by the Books

  • Greece: Visit Santorini, Mykonos, and Halkidiki. See the Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens, the beautiful beaches of Milos, and the Temple of Apollo’s remains in Delphi. Taste the delicious moussaka, baklava, and amygdalota.
  • Mexico: Visit Puerto Escondido, Mexico City, and Puerto Vallarta. Explore the Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes, Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, and the sunny beaches of Cabo San Lucas. Try flavorful chilaquiles, tacos al pastor, and pozole.
  • Nova Scotia: Visit Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. Discover the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site and Halifax Gardens. Dine on the famous lobster and Digby scallops.

The Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters

Synopsis: Elizabeth Peters’ 20-part exciting historical mystery series is a captivating saga set in the Victorian age. Each novel follows the intriguing exploits of Amelia Peabody Emerson, a unique and independent female Egyptologist. The narrative takes off in 1884 when Amelia, an unwed scholar, comes into a sizable inheritance from her father and embarks on a journey from England to explore the world. Her adventures lead her to Egypt where she encounters the Emerson brothers – Radcliffe, an Egyptologist, and Walter, a philologist. Together, they encounter mysteries and adventures, often related to their archaeological excavations and discoveries. 

Readers will revel in the diverse and exciting backdrop of each book; places like Kent, England; State of Palestine; Sudan; Cairo, Giza, Mazghuna, Zawyet el’Aryan, Amarna, Beni Hassan, Gebel Barkal and Napata in Egypt. Peters’ descriptive imagery draws the reader into the diverse landscapes, enchanting customs and traditions, and the variety of savory cuisine. 

Travel Ideas Inspired by the Books

  • England: Visit Kent, Cornwall, and Chester. Travel to the Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset, the cathedrals of Durham, and the Cliffton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge and the River Avon in North Somerset. Try traditional dishes like Beef Wellington and fish and chips.
  • Sudan: Visit Khartoum, Meroe, and Suakin. Explore the Pyramids of Meroe, Gebel Barkal, and the Sudan National Museum. Taste flavorful foods like aseeda, kisra bread, and shahan ful.
  • Egypt: Visit Cairo, Giza, Mazghuna, Zawyet el’Aryan, Amarna, Beni Hassan, Gebel Barkal and Napata. Venture to the Pyramids of Giza and the Egyptian Museum or cruise the Nile River. Dine on savory dishes like ta’meya, ful medames, and mulukhiya.

The Gallaghers of Ardmore Series by Nora Roberts

Synopsis: Nora Roberts’ 3-part swoon-worthy romance series unfolds in the verdant landscapes of Ireland, focusing on the lives of the three Gallagher siblings who manage a family-owned pub in the charming seaside village of Ardmore. As the trilogy progresses, each Gallagher sibling is tasked with finding true love and reciprocating it to lift an ancient curse cast by a heartbroken fairy prince mourning his lost love.

Readers will be left craving more of magical Ireland’s lush landscapes, breathtaking seascapes, vibrant traditional music and dance, fascinating customs, and rich cuisine.

Travel Ideas Inspired by the Books

  • Ireland: Visit Ardmore, Donegal, Dublin, and Limerick City. Explore St. Declan’s Well and Oratory and Cliff Walk in Ardmore, Donegal Castle, Dublin Castle, and scenic Slea Head Drive. While there, don’t forget to try local Irish cuisine with dishes like Irish stew, a full Irish Breakfast, and boxty—a traditional Irish pancake.

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith

Synopsis: Alexander McCall Smith’s 24-part hilarious mystery series unfolds in Botswana and introduces us to Mma Precious Ramotswe, who holds the distinction of being Botswana’s first female private detective. The narrative kicks off with Precious Ramotswe setting up her detective agency in Gaborone, the capital city, using the inheritance she received from her father. As she unravels mysteries for her community, the series delves into themes of national identity, the interplay between tradition and modernity, and underscores the significance of emotional intelligence in navigating life’s complexities.

Readers will learn about the beautiful land-locked capital city of Gaborone, Botswana in Southern Africa, known for its welcoming and kind people, small population, rich cuisine, and vast wilderness.

Travel Ideas Inspired by the Books

  • Botswana: Visit Gaborone, Francistown, and Maun. Venture to the Moremi Game Reserve to view stunning scenery and diverse wildlife, Kgale Hill for hiking, and Mokolodi Nature Reserve in the unspoiled terrain of the Okavango Delta. While there, be sure to try some of the local cuisines such as seswaa, vetkoek, braai meat, and segwapa.

Are You Ready to Start Your Literary Travel Plans?

As our literary journey comes to an end, we hope these 7 travel fiction books have ignited your wanderlust and broadened your horizons. Each narrative offers a unique perspective on different corners of the world, reminding us that travel is as much about inner discovery as it is about exploring new places. 

So, whether you’re planning your next trip or simply dreaming of far-off destinations, remember that a good book can be your passport to the world.

To see the world for yourself, you’re going to need a passport. If you’re not sure where to start that journey, we recommend starting with our guides to getting a new passport and how to renew a passport. There you will find answers to all your travel document questions based on our over 20 years of helping travelers like you see the world.

Happy reading and enjoy your journey on your next armchair exploration!

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About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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