TWENTY FOUR BOOKSHOPS TO VISIT BEFORE YOU DIE
Even in this digital age, there’s still something extremely special about visiting a bookshop, smelling the ink on the pages of a new tome and feeling its physical weight in your hands. We’ve sought out the world’s most beautiful, historic and one-of-a-kind bookstores to visit on your travels.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France
Arguably one of the world’s most famous bookstores, Shakespeare and Company in Paris has lived through three incarnations since it was first opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919. It was in the store’s second location that Beach published James Joyce’s Ulysses, and where Joyce used to hang out with Ernest Hemingway, Julio Cortázar and others. The bookstore was closed during the occupation of the French capital as Beach refused to sell books to Nazis and was reopened in its current location in the late 1950s when Beach sold the name to another bookseller.
Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
Livraria Lello’s undulating staircases, intricate wooden carvings and stained-glass ceilings are just part of the appeal. Opened in 1906, the bookstore in Porto has reportedly served as inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling was a frequent customer in the early 1990s when she taught English in the city and it’s easy to see how the shop’s neo-Gothic architecture bears a striking resemblance to the school of witchcraft and wizardry.
Waterstones, Bradford, England, UK
You might not guess that this bookstore in Bradford, England is part of a nationwide chain. Located in a 19th-century Victorian Gothic building, this branch of Waterstones features grand polished stone pillars, an arched ceiling supported by wooden beams, Gothic windows and many other original features. The space was initially used for wool trading until the 1960s and you’ll get the best view as you head to the mezzanine floor which has a café.
Atlantis Books, Santorini, Greece
There’s a charming story behind this store in Santorini. In 2002, American philosophy undergrads Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise ran out of reading material when on vacation here and quickly realized there wasn’t a bookshop. They instantly decided to move to the Greek island, enlisted a couple of partners, constructed bookshelves from salvaged wood and soon enough opened Atlantis Books
Powell’s Books, Portland, Oregon, USA
Nicknamed the City of Books – it’s reportedly the largest independent bookstore in the world – Powell’s occupies a whole city block in Portland. The store is a family affair, founded in 1971 by Walter Powell. In 1979, Walter was joined by son Michael, who had previously been working in his own bookstore in Chicago. The store, which stocks around a million books, is now run by Michael’s daughter Miriam.
Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
Another unmissable attraction among the rest of Venice’s delights is the peculiar Libreria Acqua Alta. All the books at the quaint bookstore, founded in 2004 by Luigi Frizzo, are kept in bathtubs, rowboats, plastic bins and even a full-sized gondola right in the middle of the shop. It might look strange but it’s a necessary precaution to keep the books from getting damaged by Venice’s acqua alta (periodic high water).
Livraria Ler Devagar, Lisbon, Portugal
One of Lisbon’s most-loved bookshops, Ler Devagar literally translates to ‘read slowly’ and it’s very easily done at this relaxed spot. Located in an old printing factory, two antique printing presses and many of the original features salvaged during the conversion add to the industrial atmosphere. Although most books sold here are in Portuguese, there’s a small but enticing English language section and a charming café selling coffee, tea and wine to enjoy while you mull over any potential purchases.
Bart’s Books, Ojai, California, USA
The largest independently-owned outdoor bookstore in the US, Bart’s Books is loved by locals and tourists alike. Richard Bartinsdale founded the store in 1964 when his home became too small for his ever-growing book collection. Keen to share his finds, Richard built bookshelves along the sidewalk and left out his books out for perusing. The honor system has been replaced by a cash register, however, you can still buy 35-cent specials by dropping your coins in one of the coffee cans.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dubbed the bookshop capital of the world, Buenos Aires has more bookstores per capita than any other city – about 25 for every 100,000 people. The most famous is the striking El Ateneo Grand Splendid. It first opened in 1919 as a theater known for its tango performances and was converted into a cinema 10 years later. In 2000, the building was in danger of demolition but thankfully it was saved by editorial company Grupo Ilhsa who refurbished the theater, including its ceiling frescoes and original opera boxes, and opened it as a bookstore.
Daunt Books, London, England, UK
A Marylebone institution, this is just one of the six Daunt Books locations across London but it’s by far the most spectacular. Herringbone floors, a huge stained-glass window and a greenhouse-like skylight all ensure the Edwardian bookstore is an attraction in its own right. The shop has a particularly well-curated travel selection, with travel-themed fiction, poetry and travelogues sitting alongside guidebooks.
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht, Netherlands
This stunning 13th-century church has been through all sorts of adventures. A storage space used by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1794, it later became a warehouse and then was used to stash bikes until it reached its current incarnation as a bookshop in 2005. The beautifully restored building is an attraction in itself and the three-story bookshelf taking up the long, high nave is incredibly impressive. In the old altar space, you’ll find a small coffee shop with comfortable seating perfect for lingering here a moment longer.
Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
A top spot for book-lovers in Romania’s capital, the whitewashed Cărturești Carusel is located across three levels with stunning white columns, spiral staircases and plenty of natural light illuminating the gorgeous shop. You can browse a wide selection of books in both Romanian and English, shop for gifts and clothes in the basement or head up for a spot of lunch at the cute bistro on the third level.
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California, USA
Opened in 2005 as a stand against declining print sales, The Last Bookstore is 10,000 square feet of painstakingly organized books by genre and even subgenre, with whole rooms dedicated to LA-centric literature, science fiction and fantasy. The bookstore has several unique features, including a tunnel of books, an installation of books flying off the shelves, and a crime and mystery section in a former vault complete with intimidating vault doors.
Hatchards, London, England, UK
London’s oldest bookseller, Hatchards has been around since 1797 when John Hatchard opened his business on one of London’s most famous streets, Piccadilly. It’s been the recipient of three royal warrants (a mark of recognition issued to tradespeople who have supplied goods and services to the royal family) and has a reputation for attracting high-profile authors. The moss green exterior with two curved wooden-frame bay windows is unmissable.
Cafebrería El Péndulo, Mexico City, Mexico
A popular place among Mexico City’s freelancers, the bookshop-café chain combines a cozy coffee shop vibe with a large selection of books, vinyl records and gifts. Plants are dotted around Cafebrería El Péndulo, giving it a tropical, botanical feel. The bookstores often double up as event or performance spaces, and host live music, poetry readings, book presentations and stand-up comedy.
Les Bouquinistes, Paris, France
Although not a bookshop as such, stretches of the banks of the Seine in Paris are lined with booksellers’ stalls. Known as bouquinistes, they tend to sell used and antique books as well as paintings and gifts. This tradition began around the 16th century and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Some people describe the Seine as being the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves.
Akateeminen Kirjakauppa, Helsinki, Finland
Located in central Helsinki, the stunning bookstore is a masterpiece designed by Alvar Aalto, one of the most important architects within the Scandinavian modernist movement. The white marble and blond wood interior is illuminated by the glass skylights, while the soft colors are counteracted with sharp and unusual lines. The shop has more than 450,000 volumes in both Finnish and English, and is a popular stop along the route to and from the nearby Designmuseo (Design Museum).
Brattle Book Shop, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
One of America’s largest and oldest antique bookstores, Brattle Book Shop has been going since 1825. Wedged between two towering red brick buildings, the family-owned shop stocks more than 250,000 books, postcards, maps and prints spanning multiple genres, decades and countries. Its three levels are already filled floor-to-ceiling with titles so the shop has taken advantage of the adjacent parking space and created an open-air sale lot. Books from the shelves here cost as little as $3 (£2.48).
Leakey’s Bookshop, Inverness, Scotland, UK
Like something out of a fantasy film, Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands is every bit as quaint and beautiful as you’d expect. The bookshop has found home in an old Gaelic church and is a treasure trove for used, rare and antique books and prints. With a wood-burning stove, a bookshelf-clad choir area and even fresh local goose eggs for sale, Leakey’s has buckets of charm.
House of Books, Saint Petersburg, Russia
When the Singer sewing machine company decided to build their Russian headquarters in Saint Petersburg, they had envisaged a Manhattan-like skyscraper but the city’s planning laws forbade buildings taller than the Winter Palace. Instead, they put all their effort into intricate decoration like the unmissable glass tower topped with a globe. The Petrograd State Publishing House took it over after the October Revolution in 1919 and turned it into a bookshop.
Librairie Avant-Garde, Nanjing, China
What do you do when you get your hands on an abandoned underground parking lot? Convert it into a bookshop, of course. Opened in 2004, the Librairie Avant-Garde, which was also previously a bomb shelter, has become a cultural icon of Nanjing in China and thanks to its proximity to Nanjing University, has been dubbed its second library. The on-site reading tables and open-plan seating can accommodate around 300 people so has become a popular haunt for the local students who come here to study, socialize and read.
Word on the Water, London, England, UK
You’ll find all sorts of peculiar barges traversing London’s Regent’s Canal but Word on the Water has to be among the most unusual. Moored amid the office-heavy landscape of King’s Cross, the vessel houses an assortment of contemporary fiction and non-fiction as well as children’s literature. Open for nearly a decade, the 1920s Dutch barge previously had to change location every couple of weeks due to canal regulations but now the boat has been granted a permanent berth thanks to a successful campaign led by its many supporters.
Strand Bookstore, New York City, New York, USA
Located on what used to be New York’s Book Row – a collection of 48 bookstores crammed into a five-block stretch of what was then Fourth Avenue – Strand Bookstore was founded by Lithuanian immigrant Benjamin Bass in 1927. Now the only shop still in operation, Strand Bookstore is famous for its 18 miles (29km) of books, comprising an enormous selection of new, used and rare books. There’s also a ‘books by the foot’ sale and a quiz, invented by Bass, that prospective employees have to ace to even dream of getting a job here.
Zhongshuge Bookstore, Chongqing, China
Known for their mind-bending, spaceship-like interiors, the Zhongshuge Bookstore chain has branches in cities across China. Founded by a former teacher Jin Hao, the shops feature staircase mazes, mirrored ceilings and peculiarly shaped bookshelves that are made to resemble an imaginary world you might find in a work of fiction. Pictured is the outpost in Chongqing.