There’s something about browsing endless shelves of books for the perfect one, then finding a quiet corner and spending hours reading and immersing yourself in someone else’s world. Bookstores have a timeless appeal that cannot be replicated in online shopping and e-books. Here are ten of the best bookstores around the world that are worthy destinations themselves.
1. Shakespeare & Company, Paris
This teal-green-front bohemian bookshop facing the River Seine celebrates its 100thanniversary this year. Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare & Company in 1919 as a bookstore selling English-language books and in 1951, George Whitman took over the proprietorship. It’s now run by his daughter, Sylvia Whitman. The shop, which was a favourite haunt of the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Allen Ginsberg, was the first to publish the entirety of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Literary buffs can also apply to be a “Tumbleweed” which involves bunking in the bookstore in exchange for work.
2. The Strand, New York City
The iconic Strand bookstore by Union Square is large but cosy, boasting over 18 miles of books and quiet hideouts such as the third-floor Rare Book Room where readers can flip through out-of-print editions of famous books. The Strand has been run by the same family since it opened in 1927 and the atmosphere remains warm and familial. The children’s section hosts storytelling four times a week and the resident dog Ginzo is the perfect reading buddy.
3. City Lights Books, San Francisco
Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and professor Peter D. Martin founded City Lights Books, named after the Charlie Chaplin movie, in 1953 with the idea of democratising bookstores and making them more welcoming to young, aspiring writers. The lovely three-storey salmon-façade shop is the first all-paperback bookstore in the United States. City Lights Books remains true to its liberal leanings and specialises in books on literature, arts and progressive politics.
4. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires
This Buenos Aires bookstore certainly lives up to its regal name. Built in 1919 as a performing arts theatre, it was later converted into a cinema before becoming the present-day bookstore. Books are mostly in Spanish but it’s a delightful place to pass time. It’s possible to spend hours marvelling at the theatre’s original, well-preserved frescoed ceiling and ornate gold carvings on balconies and pillars. Once done perusing, have a cappuccino on the former theatre stage, behind grand red curtains.
5. Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice
Books are stacked in bathtubs, canoes and gondolas in this quirky Venetian bookstore near St. Mark’s Square. Its name means “bookstore of high water” and this unusual layout isn’t just for aesthetic reasons – it’s to prevent books from getting wet during floods. Books range from vintage titles and travelogues about Venice to comic books and cookbooks. Grab a few and walk out to the courtyard and ascend a flight of steps made of old encyclopaedias for a beautiful view of the canal below.
This Maastricht, Netherlands bookstore’s own story is as intriguing as a plot in an action-packed novel. Selexyz Dominicanen was built in 1294 as a Gothic church and in 1794 it was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte. The French emperor used the church equipment and personnel during the Flanders Campaign. In 2005, it was restored as a modern bookstore though elements from its storied past, including the tall arched ceilings and ornate walls remain.
7. Livraria Lello, Porto
It’s said that when J.K. Rowling lived in Porto, Portugal in the early ’90s, she frequented Livraria Lello and the legendary bookshop thus became the inspiration for Hogwarts in her Harry Potter series. Built in 1906, much of the original design is intact – an Art Nouveau façade shield a gorgeous Neo-gothic interior with zig-zagging crimson staircases, intricately carved wood panels and a colourful stained-glass roof. The bookstore has become so popular that it now charges an entrance fee.
8. Atlantis Books, Santorini
Atlantis Books was opened by two college students vacationing in Greece in the early 2000s and it certainly has a laid-back, breezy atmosphere. The bookstore is housed in one of Santorini’s many whitewashed buildings cut in a cliff and overlooking the Aegean Sea. Inside, the shelves stock bestsellers, first editions and English-language literature on Greek culture and history. Stay for sunset readings on the bookstore’s sea-view terrace.
9. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
Its website spells it out: “What are you waiting for? We won’t be here forever”. But The Last Bookstore seems resolutely here to stay. This LA literary mainstay opened in 2005 in a downtown loft, before moving into its current location in an abandoned bank. There’s an impressive selection of vintage books as well as records set against the bank’s original marble pillars. Unwanted old books are re-sculpted into spiralling arches that lead to the bank’s vault which is named the “Horror Vault” and makes for a great reading nook.
10. Hatchards, London
Hatchards boasts the title of London’s oldest bookshop and has remained in the same building, on 187 Piccadilly, since it opened in 1797. The bookstore holds three Royal Warrants from the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles. Though the exterior is a stately Georgian building, the inside is humble with Waterstones-style black shelves displaying books on the royal family and Winston Churchill. It also stocks first editions of Margaret Atwood, DH Lawrence and Iris Murdoch. In 2014, Hatchards opened a second shop in St. Pancras International.