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9 top cities for 'detective travel'
Murder. Smuggling. Extortion. Here's all the grit your guidebook won't mention, but your favorite mystery writer will
Once upon a time it was the sunlit fjords, clean cities and reputedly gorgeous locals that drew tourists to Scandinavia.
Now it’s crime, grime and darkness that’s equally likely to reel them in.
A recent boom in the popularity of so-called Nordic noir -- TV cop dramas and crime novels based in northern Europe -- has seen fans making pilgrimages to the scene of the crime, the Scandinavian cities featured therein.
But why stop there?
With France tipped as the next hotbed of Euro-crime fiction, there’s plenty of vacation inspiration from the doings of Gaelic gumshoes.
There’s no reason to limit your detective travels to Europe.
Why travel like a private eye? The reason, as Sherlock Holmes would say, is elementary.
Whereas traditional guidebooks stick to the boring old tourist mill, crime fiction steers its readers to the seamier corners of the city, where mystery, adventure and possibly even sauciness lie in wait.
Let’s look at the evidence.
Exhibit A: Stockholm
Detectives: Mikael Blomkvist, a bed-hopping journalist whose worthy but dull scoops lead him to lock horns with suits, sadists and psychopaths.
Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed security consultant who hacks computers, kicks ass and wreaks nasty revenge.
Both appeared in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy.
Guide books say: Pretty Scandinavian city once home to Vikings and ABBA.
Crime fiction says: In Södermalm, the buzzing island suburb that both Blomkvist and Salander call home, you’ll find stunning views, interesting shops and groovy people.
Stockholm City Museum now offers guided tours of Millennium trilogy locations.
Crime scene: Mellqvist Kaffebar, Hornsgatan 78; +46 (0)76 875 29 92. The coffee shop and cafe was a favorite of both the late Larsson and his characters.
Exhibit B: Copenhagen, Denmark
Detectives: Inspector Sarah Lund, an obsessive near-sociopath with a stylish taste in knitwear who has relentlessly chased suspects through three twisty seasons of TV drama “The Killing.”
Guide books say: Visit the twee Little Mermaid or the happy hippies of Christiania commune.
Crime fiction says: Lund’s city is dark, cold, perpetually overhung with rain clouds, riddled with corruption and littered with corpses.
Lund's $370 Faroe island sweater might steal the show, but there are plenty of other stars, not least the elaborate brick-built City Hall, the austere police headquarters or the upscale Østerbro district that Lund initially called home.
Crime scene: Holberg No. 19 cafe, Holbergsgade 19d; +45 33 14 01 90. A favorite of “Killing” star Sophie Gråbøl.
Exhibit C: Edinburgh, Scotland
Detective: Inspector John Rebus, a grizzled former military man whose prodigious love of jazz about equals his thirst for beer and whisky.
Guide books say: Och aye! Bagpipes, tartan and ancient castles.
Crime fiction says: Och no! Rebus pursues murderers, gangsters and bent politicians through Edinburgh’s back alleyways and dark staircases to locations ranging from rundown housing projects to the Scottish parliament -- with plenty of booze stops along the way. The guided Rebus tour does it best.
Crime scene: The Oxford Bar, 8 Young St.; +44 (0)131 539 7119. Real life regulars at Rebus’s favorite watering hole crop up in author Ian Rankin’s novels.
Exhibit D: Paris
The detective: Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, a scruffy daydreamer who wouldn’t last cinq minutes in most police forces. But quelle surprise, his eccentric methods get results.
Guide books say: Ah Paris! City of romance, of style, of architecture, of je ne sais quoi.
Crime fiction says: Ah Paris! City of pestilence, superstition and medieval grudges.
Author Fred Vargas conjures a French capital of introspective and untidy communities populated by amiable weirdoes.
It’s a far cry from the boutique-filled boulevards. This is a grubbier, more vital world and, as Vargas’s florid plots unfurl, no less filled with je ne sais quoi.
Crime scene: Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Av. Gambetta. Built to re-accommodate Paris black death victims, this tangled graveyard is classic Adamsberg territory.
Exhibit E: Oslo, Norway
The detective: Inspector Harry Hole, a brilliant sleuth whose maverick methods, alcoholism and troubled love life leave him constantly teetering between promotion and dismissal.
Crime fiction says: There aren’t really any mean streets in Oslo -- Hole’s home address on Sofies Gate is in the city’s leafy Hanshaugen district -- so Nesbø adds grit via his hero’s frequent trips to bars such as the Underwater pub (so gritty it hosts regular opera nights).
Crime scene: Restaurant Schrøder, Waldemar Thranes Gate 8; +47 22 60 51 83. A stodge-serving Norwegian eatery frequented by Hole when he’s barred elsewhere.
Exhibit H: Marseille, France
The detective: Fabio Montale, a boozy and lovelorn cop hungry for justice and hungrier for Mediterranean cuisine.
Guide books say: Explore the Old Port, stroll along La Canebière avenue, lose yourself in the exotic Panier district.
Crime fiction says: Writer Jean-Claude Izzo captures the smells and tastes of Marseille, but imbues Montale with his own ambivalence toward the city.
In his trio of crime novels, Izzo spends half his time hymning about France’s second city and the rest despairing about its evils. As he bluntly puts it: “Marseille isn't a city for tourists. There's nothing to see.”
Crime scene: Chez Loury, 3 Rue Fortia; +33( 0)4 9133 0973. Also a keen food writer, Izzo sings the praises of this classic Provençal restaurant.
Exhibit I: Ystad, Sweden
The detective: We’re back in Sweden, this time in the southern Skåne peninsula where insomniac Inspector Kurt Wallander defies his own shambolic lifestyle to catch criminals.
Guide books say: The charming town of Ystad is surrounded by pretty fields, splendid castles and golf courses. Zzzzzzz.
Crime fiction says: Writer Henning Menkell sees only stark, windswept countryside where bodies wash up on deserted beaches and teenagers are butchered in woodland glades.
Crime scene: Hotel Continental, Hamngatan 13; +46 411 137 00. Where Wallander eats numerous lonely dinners for one.
Exhibit F: Cape Town
The detective: Inspector Benny Griessel, a brilliant sleuth whose maverick methods, alcoholism ... you know the rest.
Guide books say: With Table mountain, the V&A waterfront and vineyards, Cape Town is South Africa’s jewel.
Crime fiction says: Cape Town suffers from the same corruption, poverty and apartheid hangovers as the rest of South Africa, and has the body count to prove it. But writer Deon Meyer’s dusty city is far more exciting than the yawn-inducing destination portrayed in travel brochures.
Crime scene: Carlucci’s Deli, 22 Upper Orange Street; +27 (0)21 465 0795. A sandwich bar that is the hub of the action in Meyer’s page-turning “Thirteen Days.”
Exhibit G: Shanghai
The detective: Chief Inspector Chen Cao, the opposite of Hole and Grissel. He’s a poetry-loving gumshoe who thrives within the rigid structures of China’s Communist Party.
Guide books say: Gaze in awe at ultra-rich Shanghai’s rapidly expanding skyscape.
Crime fiction says: Gaze with respect at disappearing ways of life and those who fall victim when money, power and politics collide.
Crime scene: Laobanzhai restaurant, 600 Fuzhou Road; +86 21 6322 3668. Author Qiu Xiaolong’s favorite.