For all the comparison between books and dinosaurs, most people I talk to still prefer to consume their literature the good, old fashioned way. And with beautiful bookshops like these around the world I think the future of our good pal, the book, is bright.
#1 Barter Books, Northumberland, UK
Arguably more magical than platform 9¾ this converted Victorian train station is stacked with more books than the Hogwarts’ library. With visitors swapping their old reads for store credit you’re sure to happen upon a treasure or two – just as the shop’s owners did when they uncovered one of the original Keep Calm and Carry On posters – hidden inside a box of books bought at auction. The wartime propaganda – never actually released to the public during WWII – has since become one of the most iconic symbols of the 21st century.
#2 Atlantis Books, Santorini, Greece
For book lovers, discovering this shop elicits the same excitement as if we’d happened upon the lost city itself. Tucked into the basement of a whitewashed house that clings to the island’s infamous caldera, Atlantis was founded by a group of friends from Cyprus, Europe and the US who wanted to create a haven for readers and writers. Hang around for a rooftop terrace reading just as the sun slips behind the jewel blue Mediterranean.
#3 Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France
Nearly as famous as its namesake, Shakespeare’s has seen countless writers pass through its doors, its chairs transforming into beds when night descends for artists in need of a place to stay. The original shop, run by Sylvia Beach was the meeting point for Hemingway’s ‘Lost Generation’ – but was closed by the Nazis in 1941. After the war, in 1951 George Whitman opened the present incarnation – now run by his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman. Every nook and cranny is bursting with books that seem to materialise from the very walls. Hang around for author readings – held most Monday evenings – before taking a stroll down the Seine to browse les bouquinistes – the unique bookstores that have hugged the banks of the river for hundreds of years.
#4 Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
This shop makes you feel as if you’ve taken a tumble down the rabbit hole with it’s lolling staircase that spills into the room like raspberry jelly. A track used to move the collection winds through the building, while books seem to float in the shelves warping around the walls. Just as beautiful are the stained glass skylight and gothic carvings of Portuguese literary figures that embellish the shelves. Channel the great writers of the past as you relax beneath the golden ceiling in the little coffee shop with a glass of port or a cigar – or both.
#5 Libreria Alta Acqua, Venice, Italy
This is a bookshop worth crossing – or rather wading through – oceans for. With its name literally translating to ‘bookshop of high water’ it’s a good thing the gondola shelves can float! Folded into the sinking city’s ramble of alleys and canals, the literary bazaar is stuffed full with treasures – from the stairway of old encyclopaedias to the friendly cats who curl up amongst hundreds of good reads hoping for a cuddle.
#6 Brazenhead Books, New York, USA
This bookstore is like the speakeasy of bookstores – its location is secret but *hint hint* the owner, Michael Seidenberg’s name is in the phonebook. When he could no longer afford store rent, Michael moved the shop into his house so he could continue doing his part to keep the second hand book trade alive – hence the secrecy. Try to get an invite to one of the saloons he hosts, staying up till the early hours perusing Michael’s collection with other likeminded bookworms.
#7 Bart’s Books, Ojai, USA
Yawning beneath the Californian sky, Bart’s holds the title for the largest indie outdoor bookstore. In 1964, founder, Richard Bartinsdale constructed bookcases along the sidewalk in the hopes passers by would help him downsize his overwhelming collection. Well, downsizing didn’t exactly work but something much more beautiful blossomed and now over one million titles call the bookstore home! Browse the collection – ranging from the thirty-five cent specials that line the street to rare, out of print first editions – before playing a game of chess while sipping lemonade beneath the big apple tree.
#8 El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
In this 1920’s theatre where tango legends of old danced the night away, bibliophiles of new can find enchantment in a bookstore that lives up to its grandiose name. The theatre, which still retains its sumptuous furnishings, breathes out books from frescoed ceiling to stage floor. Bookshelves carve into spectator balconies while theatre boxes have been transformed into lush reading rooms. Sip coffee and listen to live piano music between the velvet curtains of the stage café.
#9 Librairie Avant-Garde, Nanjing, China
In a disused government car park beneath a stadium – which was formerly a bomb shelter – you’ll find China’s most beautiful bookstore. While the shop doesn’t stack foreign language books it’s worth heading underground just to see this literary wonderland. With a beautiful selection of postcards, crafty wares, a café and comfy seating, it’s a great place to soak up the bookish Chinese atmosphere.
#10 Gertrude and Alice, Sydney, Australia
Melting ice cream, the smell of sunscreen and perfectly formed, turquoise waves rolling in across golden sand – they’re usually the images that come to mind when I think of Bondi Beach. So it seems surprising that it’s also home to one of Australia’s most charming bookshops. Named for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas there’s a whole lot of heart and a whole lot more books in this literary haven which doubles as a café. If you’re lucky you might even hear bells ringing when you reach for the same book as another sunburnt nosed bibliophile – just like Alice did when she met Gertrude.
Have you been to an amazing bookstore that you think should be added to this list? Share your stories and photos with us in the comments below.