There are so many amazing, unique, charming, breathtaking, inspiring, and otherwise simply fantastic bookstores in and around the world, which I sort of knew but really came to understand while I started putting this list together. Honestly, I probably could’ve kept adding to this list, but originally it was only going to ten so I’ve already gone way overboard.
Anyway, I was going to post this yesterday, but I kept wanting to add more stores (and plus my website crashed so I had to fix that), so I finally had to stop myself so I could get this post up.
The most memorable bookstore on this list for me personally is Atlantis Books in Santorini. I didn’t know it existed at the time, and I simply wandered into it while exploring the island on foot. I was completely filled with wonderment by this delightful and beautiful store, and for a long time I foolishly thought it was a hidden gem that only I knew about. Much later I found out it was world famous and felt quite silly. Anyway, if you ever get a chance to go, it’s a must-see.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France
Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, Italy
Hay-on-Wye, Wales (A Bookstore Town)
BooksActually in Singapore
The Strand in New York City
City Lights Books in San Francisco
Word On The Water in London, England
Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, Scotland
Cafebreria El Pendulo (Polanco) in Mexico City, Mexico
The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles
Book and Bed (A Bookstore / Hostel Chain) in Tokyo, Japan
Munroe’s Books in Victoria, Canada
Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, The Netherlands
Atlantis Books in Oía, Santorini, Greece
Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal
Bart’s Books in Ojai, California
Used Book Cafe chez Merci in Le Marais, Paris
Ginza Tsutaya Book Store in Tokyo, Japan
Type Books in Toronto, Canada
Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee
Cook & Book in Brussels, Belgium
Carturesti Carusel in Bucharest, Romania
Waterstone’s Piccadilly in London, England
Albertine Books in the French Embassy in New York City
El Ateneo is a bookstore built in 1919 in a building that once housed a theater, turned cinema, turned bookstore. From its dramatic red velvet-draped stage to its painted ceiling, it’s a sight to be seen for book lovers and travelers alike.
Shakespeare and Co. in France is one of the most famous bookstores out there. (There’s also a handful of Shakespeare and Cos in New York, but they are unaffiliated.) It’s known mostly for its storied history, association with literary figures and its important role among independent bookstores. Visiting it is somewhat of a rite of passage for book lovers at this point, but it’s a lovely bookstore.
Libreria Acqua Alta is located in Venice, a city that regularly floods. It might seem like a questionable location for a bookstore, but the romanticism of Venice mixed with the romanticism of bookstores is an attraction too alluring to resist. With the gondolas rowing by gently outside and the waves lapping softly around you, you’ll surely want to see this unique bookstore.
Hay-on-Wye is pretty much a book lover’s dream town. It’s an idyllic medieval city located in Wales and is known primarily from the many small indoor and outdoor bookstores that line its streets. It has a population of less than two thousand people, but over 20 or so bookstores. It’s a city that seems like something out of a book lover’s fever dream, but it’s real!
The Hay Festival, a ten-day book festival, is held there in early June and attracts bibliophiles from all over. So if you’re looking for a time to visit, that’s something to look forward to!
BooksActually is a cute bookstore in Singapore that’s also responsible for a handful of book vending machines around town. How awesome is that?
Oh, the Strand. I remember my first pilgrimage here, and that anticipation of seeing a bookstore I’d heard so much about. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic store, but I think I prefer slightly smaller and more personal bookstores. That said, I later moved to New York for a few years, and the whole time I never had any problem finding any title I was looking for here, so even if it weren’t super famous, it’d be well worth a visit.
City Lights is another famed bookstore that tends to make these types of lists. As a Bay Area person, I feel obligated to include it, though my favorite stores around here are still a bit smaller than this one. But I’m really fond of City Lights, too. It’s a store with tons of books but still manages to feel cozy, interesting and personal in its way. It’s a great place to disappear in for a few hours.
Word On The Water is a bookstore located on a 1920’s Dutch barge parked in the waters of Regents Canal in King’s Cross, London. Enjoy it’s woodburning fire in the winter or the jazz bands that play on board in the summer.
It’s got a spiral staircase, a wood-burning stove and lots and lots of books. What more could you ask for? The building is a converted church and along with the overflowing books, it’s got a kind of storybook vibe.
Cafebreria is a chain of cafe-slash-bookstores in Mexico City. If you’re looking for the two-story one with the dramatic staircase that usually ends up in pictures around the internet, it’s the Polanco location.
The Last Bookstore you may have seem pictures of without realizing they’re all from the same place because there are so much bookart at this store. It’s a fun and creative space, built in a space that once was a bank — they’ve even got the vault to prove it, though it now houses more books of course.
Book and Bed is a bookstore-styled concept hostel in Tokyo. They’ve got a bunch of locations around the city where you can stay for cheap and sleep in beds hidden behind the bookshelves. The accommodations are sparse, but it’s inexpensive and there’s plenty of reading material. Note that the books are not actually for sale. I debated whether or not to count this one as a bookstore, but figured it was interesting enough to toss in.
I’m not sure it’s somewhere I’d want to stay for a long stretch, but it seems like it would be a fun place to check out for a night if you’re in Tokyo on a budget!
Alice Munroe founded Monre’s Books over 50 years ago, along with her husband. The building was once a bank, but now it’s an iconic bookstore in Victoria.
Selexyz Dominicanen, in the historic town of Maastricht, is a former Gothic church that was built over 700 years ago. Napoleon once used the building as a storage space when he invaded the Netherlands. It was turned into a bookstore in 2005.
Atlantis Books will always be my favorite of this list (if you read the intro, I explain why there). There’s a very thorough article about the founding of Atantis Books by two idealistic young Americans (and the difficulties of doing so) which is a pretty interesting read if you’ve ever dreamed of anything like this.
Livraria Lello in Porto is a bookstore that’s been running since 1906, over a century ago. It’s a neo-gothic building with Art Deco detailing and a dazzling stained-glass skylight. Note that there’s a 5 euro entrance fee to enter the bookstore.
There’s rumors that this bookstore inspired some J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter architecture, but it seems this is mostly musing by random people. So far as I know, it hasn’t been confirmed by Rowling.
Bart’s Books is a large outdoor bookstore located in Ojai (near Los Angeles, California). It sells used books and relies on the honor system on off hours.
The Used Book Cafe is a bookstore-slash-cafe attached to Merci, a fashionable clothing and home goods store.
Located in a huge shopping center in Tokyo, the Tsutaya Book Store is an oasis of books and culture, featuring exhibitions and art.
Type Books has a few locations in Toronto and has somehow managed to open new stores over the past ten years while other indies keep shuttering. It offers community activities and features local artists and has lovingly designed shop window displays. Gotta love bookstores who are keeping the indie spirit alive and well.
Parnassus Books is owned by author Ann Patchett (whose latest book The Dutch House came out a few weeks ago, I liked it). In true community independent bookstore fashion, it offers things like children’s activities, signed books, book club gatherings and the like. It’s named after Mount Parnassus, which in Greek Mythology is the home of literature, learning, music and etcetera.
Ann Patchett also published a cute pamphlet called The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore for National Independent Bookstore day a while back, which is a nice keepsake if you like independent bookstores or Ann Patchett. It’s an adaptation of an article she wrote for the Atlantic.
Cook & Book in Brussels features a variety of concept spaces (nine, actually) decorated in different styles for you to read, browse and enjoy. It’s also a restaurant as well as a bookstore and has a music section to boot. Definitely worth taking a look at.
It’s beautiful and huge, housed in a 19th century building with gracefully curling bannisters and a dramatic five-floor staircase.
Waterstone’s Piccadilly is formerly Foyles Bookstore and is generally billed as the largest bookstore in Europe.
Albertine is a bookstore located in the French Embassy with a focus on French books (though it sells both French and English language books). I was hesitant to include another New York City bookstore on this list, but its ceiling is absolutely breathtaking and worth seeing. Plus, I’m guessing most people would never have a reason to visit the French Embassy otherwise, so it’s worth taking a visit.
That’s the list! Anything you feel is missing? Drop me a line, below!