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Best Bookshops Around The World

Wherever we are in the world, one activity that will always be a hit with my family is exploring bookshops.  Zoe and I are both simple bookworms and as soon as we arrive in a bookstore, I will pick something up and be looking for a seat and a coffee.  By this time Zoe will already be sitting on the floor with an open book, which inspire wanderlust next to some shelf of stories. Meanwhile Nick and Tania will be exploring illustrated books, comics and art books.  We always go in saying we are just browsing but we leave with an armful to take with us. From Kinokunia in Dubai, to the charity shops of Shrewsbury, where we have our home in the UK, the location doesn’t really matter.  You will find us there. We will be browsing, reading, and loving the feel and smell of paper.

We recently discovered we are tsundokists.  Yes I made that word up, but the phenomenon of tsundoku (Japanese: 積ん読) has been described by that name in Japan since 1879.  So how did we qualify as tsundokists? We buy more books than we read, and they pile up. I have a feeling we are not alone . . . How about you?

On a recent visit to Venice with kids we found ourselves in Libreria Acqua Alta and I had the idea of researching some of the best bookstores around the world, both those where we have been, and those which we should put on our bucketlist.  If you have any favourites I haven’t mentioned, please do leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

Best bookstores around the world 

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

In a tiny cul-de-sac in Venice we found a sign asking us to leave dogs outside the shop.  The sign said that the proprietor likes dogs but his cats have a different viewpoint.  

We had arrived (without dogs) at the doorway of Libreria Acqua Alta. This unique bookshop may be the only one on earth which uses a full sized Venetian gondola as a book stand.  Not just a gondola, either, but we find ourselves inside the long narrow store squeezing past several other small boats. Each is heaving below a crazy mass of new and second hand books.  I have heard that the inspiration for this is so that the books will be protected in case of flooding, but I doubt that would work in practice. In any case many more books line the walls on normal shelves and countertops too.

This store is a crazy branching tunnel system piled high on every side with books, pamphlets, cards, posters more books, and of course overseen by cats.  Press on past the gondola to the back yard, and its walls are lined with books arranged as a stairway. Apparently these are old volumes damaged in previous flooding.  Climb to the top for a view over the wall to one of Venice’s waterways. Over on the other side another Gondola is moored and accessible through a different doorway from another one of the shop’s tunnels.  You can sit in this one for a selfie, if you can find your way to it past the people crowding the narrow passageways of the shop.

This enchanting library was launched about 10 years ago by Luigi Frizzo who still owns and runs the shop. It has clearly grown over the years into a rambling labour of love, and attracts both tourists and locals.  At least 40% of the books are second hand and include collections of art books, travel books, vintage Italian comics, books on cinema, food, sport, music and of course books on Venice.

Google map location 

Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France

Shakespeare and Company is unique in a very different way.   Founded in 1951 by George Whitman, an eccentric American. Shakespeare and Company was established as an English language literary hub in the heart of Paris.   It is not only that however, as a motto over an inner door states:“be kind to all strangers lest they are angels in disguise”. So Whitman chose to assist writers searching for a place to stay while in Paris. He would invite them in as personal guests to stay in his bookshop. 

Paris best bookshop

Over six decades later, the bookshop is now under the management of Sylvia, Whitman’s daughter. But the tradition still leaves on, with over forty thousand people having slept in the bookshop over the years. Shakespeare and Company is the only bookstore that operates fully in English in the city. Thus, it attracts not only English speaking clients but also English speaking authors who find themselves in Paris for whatever reason.

The bookshop was originally named “Mistral” but was renamed Shakespeare and Company on the Bard’s 400th anniversary in honour of an earlier establishment in Paris which had been frequented by famous early twentieth century writers.

Not only a modern bookstore, Shakespeare and Company has impressive collections of literature including antiques, first editions, classic poems, and beautiful illustrated historic works.

For Google, map direction click here

El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina 

Characterized by its flamboyant style, El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina is one bookstore you should visit wearing your best outfit. 

The bookstore was initially a theater before being bought in 2000 by Grupo Ilhsa at the time when it was facing demolition. Thereafter, it was refurbished and turned into a beautiful bookshop that draws a million visitors annually. 

This marvelous bookstore was formed from an old theatre. The interior design retains ornate theater boxes, frescoed ceiling, exclusive round balconies, plush red stage curtains and detailed trimmings. It all makes for a stunning setting. 

Even though most of the books are in Spanish, it’s a great pleasure to tour around this glamorous bookstore exploring the various sections. With four tiers of galleries containing about 120,000 books, you can hardly get bored. Finally, you can complete your visit with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine literally at center stage while you take a the final view of this jewel of a bookstore.  

For Google Map direction click here

Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, New York City USA

At one given time, Barnes & Noble owned the indisputable title of the Largest Bookstore in the world. At 105, 5th Avenue NY, the shop  covered over 150 thousand square feet with over 12 miles of shelving earning it a position in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

However, we will never know if it would still be holding that title by now, as the bookshop was closed back in 2014. Among the features that it offered include Games and Toys, Greeting Cards, Free Wi-Fi, and large collection of academic, law and Medical textbooks. 

Despite the closure of 5th avenue mega-size Barnes & Noble bookstore, there are still about 5 branches that are still open. This gives you the opportunity to experience this great bookstore services even though they are not as large as it was at its 5th Avenue peak.

The remaining Barnes & Noble bookstores include 

  • Barnes & Noble bookstore Eastchester, New York
  • Barnes & Noble bookstore Springfield, New Jersey
  • Barnes & Noble bookstore the Grove at Farmer’s Market, Los Angeles, California
  • Barnes & Noble bookstore Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota
  • Barnes & Noble bookstore Union Square, NYC, New York

For Google Map direction click here

Powell’s Books, Portland, Oregon

Powell Bookstore is termed a city of Books for a reason. With 68 thousand square feet of space, it has a large collection of used and new books. But that’s not all, the bookshop occupies an entire city block, making Powell’s the largest privately owned bookshop in the country and one of the world’s largest bookstore. 

photo credit – POWELL’S CITY OF BOOKS

Stepping into Powell’s for the first time is quite overwhelming, with its incredible size and the countless number of book collections you will hardly know where to start. But don’t worry, at the store information counter, you will get a store map that will be handy in locating what you are looking for. 

Apart from the the size of the store and the book collections that include old and new editions, additionally, for those searching for rare books, there is a special room on the top floor. 

According to Miriam Sontz, the store CEO, there are over a million books in the store. But size is not their target; they pride themselves more on the quality of choice as their main aim and accomplishment. 

For Google Map direction click here

 

Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore (Chonqing, China)

Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore design takes bookshops to a whole other level. This bookstore interior has been designed to captivate anyone, whether a book lover or not. A visit to this bookshop may take longer than expected, and it’s not because of searching for what to read. Allow time for admiring the mesmerizing interior design, whether the overhead reflection or the fascinating staircase.

Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore

The design is functional too.  It provides quiet spots exclusively for adults to get away, and a children’s book collection and reading spot. The kids section has been crafted with colorful designs; drawings and unique child-friendly shelve designs.  Of course there is also there is also opportunity to relax with a cup of coffee or tea as you read your selection of books. 

For Google Map direction click here

Livraria Lello Porto, Porto, Portugal 

Just a couple of minutes from the centre of beautiful Porto, is this most magnificent bookstore. The elegance and the variety of book collections have constantly made this bookshop appear among the world’s top bookstores list. 

Dating from 1906, the neo-gothic and art nouveau design by Xavier Esteves draws visitors from all over the world.  Set out about a curving art nouveau stair, the decorative bookshelves are integrated into the stunning interiors, and then are further embellished with bronze statuettes of literary figures from Portuguese history. 

The store offers a variety of book collections, with the majority being in Portuguese but also in French and English. Upstairs, you are provided with a quiet reading space as well as the opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  

Due to an increasing number of visitors who come to see the interior only, the bookstore is now charging an entry fee. However, if you purchase a book, you are exempted from the entry fee. 

For Google Map direction click here

Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, Holland 

Do you worship books? Then Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht should top in your bucket list. This seven hundred-year-old building was once a church before being transformed into a storage facility by Napoleon in 1794. 

Later when he deserted the place, it was turned into a warehouse, and a couple of hundred years later, in 2005 it was transformed into a bookshop. The design was by Merkx plus Girod Architects.  The bookshop has been the subject of some controversy owing to the use of a church commerce and perhaps because of this there are religious design elements integrated into the interior.

After restoration into a bookshop, Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen not only attracts book lovers but also those who come to appreciate the architecture of the building. The new interior includes a three-storey tower of black steel integrating structure and book shelving in a modern vision.

But that’s not all, the premises also houses a fashionable café. You can enjoy a coffee or tea to enjoy your favorite book as well as admiring the building. 

For Google Map direction click here 

 

Cafeteria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico 

Cafeteria El Pendulo is a beauty hidden in plain sight. Situated in a trendy and pretty city neighborhood, the bookshop entrance is somehow hidden with a narrow archway.  The interior of the bookstore includes spiral stairs and arched windows and incorporates both natural and artificial foliage. With floor to ceiling book arrangements, the bookstore may be reminiscent of Hogwarts library. 

photo credit https://www.facebook.com/Cafebreria.el.Pendulo

Apart from the design of the bookshop, the selection of books ranges from old and classic or recently published. On these shelves you will find books in both Spanish and English. Expect to find modern culture coffee table books, TV series specials, pop culture, and movies among other collectibles. 

In addition to the bookstore, Cafebreria El Pendulo also offers cafeteria services. Here you can get breakfast, lunch or even snacks to satisfy your appetite. Come on Thursdays and Saturdays for live music in the afternoon. And check weekends events including special book presentations.

Cafebreria El Pendulo Google Map location

 

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California

The Last Bookstore is the largest bookshop in California covering over 20,000 square feet of space. The bookshop trades in both new and old books.  

The bookshop is known for its gravity-defying book displays. On a visit to the mezzanine level you will encounter books suspended in air while defying the force of gravity. 

But that’s not all, there are also tunnels created from book arrangements, tens of thousands of second hand books in hidden rooms plus sculptures and free-standing mobile displays.

As well as new and used books, the Last Bookstore offers vinyl records and both original and poster art.

For Google Map direction click here

 

Cook and Book – Brussels, Belgium 

As a special treat for foodie readers, Cook and Book comprises both a bookstore and restaurant.  The bookstore offers a great shopping experience in an area as large as a supermarket. 

cook and book
photo credit Cook and Book

The store is split up into sections each with its own “flavour” forgive the pun! 

For example one of the sections contains English books only. The design of the room is in the form of an old school British library. Other sections include lifestyle books, graphic novels, travel books, cookbooks, children’s literature, general fiction, music, and fine art.

Therefore whether your choice for visiting Cook and Book bookstore is to get a unique shopping experience or a taste of a delicious meal, it’s a great spot with no regrets. 

For Google Map direction click here

 

Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City – Singapore

Kinokuniya is a well-renowned bookshop chain from Japan with branches in the USA, throughout the Far East, and in Australia and the UAE too.  Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City is not only the biggest Kinokuniya in the world but the biggest bookshop in Singapore and South East Asia. We loved browsing through the books in there while visiting Singapore with kids

When we lived in Dubai we used to visit the branch in Dubai Mall (in the shadow of Burj Khalifa) regularly and loved its range, especially of art books, so when we were visiting Singapore it was natural for us to pay a visit to the branch there which is known as the largest bookstore in Asia. 

Nick and the girls were especially fascinated by the great comics section, not just Japanese and Manga, but American comics and illustrated books too. However whatever you want, I guess they have it.  I spent ages browsing travel writing.

kids travel books - kids looking at the books

Scattered around the store are small pop up boutiques selling Japanese and international stationery and models, which adds an interesting slant, but overall it is just a lovely light space.  The featured books always seem a good selection for us, the environment is comfortable to browse, and it’s easy to find what you want with computer points everywhere.

This store and its sister branches conspire shamelessly to feed our tsundoku inclinations on every visit.

For Google Map direction click here

 

Waterstones Piccadilly, London UK

Claiming to be the biggest bookstore not only in London but in the whole of Europe,  Waterstones is a paradise for book lovers. With 6 floors and over 8 miles of bookshelves, Waterstones attentive staff will always help you browse your subject and find any specific titles you are searching for.

Waterstones Piccadilly

The shop boasts a children’s section accounting for over two-thirds of the space on the second floor. And Importantly for us it includes two food and coffee outlets, the the Waterstone Piccadilly bar and food place on the 5th floor and a cafe on the first floor too.

Bookstores that offer us coffee before we buy always get our vote and end up selling us more.  Why doesn’t everyone do this?

For Google Map direction click here

Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, Wales

Hay is a tiny South Welsh border town on the edge of the Black Mountains in the beautiful Wye Valley.  It seems to be almost entirely dedicated to books and coffee shops. Hay hosts the UK’s most renowned literary festival every summer where you can attend seminars and talks by the famous authors of the moment, and there are literary events throughout the year there too.

photo credit Wikimedia

Even in Hay, the Honesty Bookshop, is truly a fascinating and unique bookshop. Unlike the town’s other forty bookstores, this one is in the open air and without staff.  Just browse the shelves, and when you find something that interests you drop a pound in the box. All money goes to the restoration of Hay Castle.

For Google, Maps direction click here

 

Best bookstores around the world – Conclusion

That’s our roundup of some of the world’s biggest, best and most unusual.  But you’ll find us in the smallest worst and absolutely ordinary ones too.  We have e-book readers, and iPads, we even use audiobooks – especially when on the road, but for us, nothing beats the look and feel of real printed books and the joy of visiting the vast variety of places where they are sold.

Bookstores around the world – Pin it for Later

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We have researched facts stated here as far as practicable but please check anything critical before committing your time and money. We do not claim any special knowledge or expertise, and we are not consultants for our readers.

Ania James

photographer, traveller, mother of twin girls, wife, worldschooler, rulebreaker

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