A good bookshop can be many different things – a haven from the world, a counter-cultural space, and a meeting point for friends, as well as somewhere, to, you know, buy books. It’s perhaps for this reason that despite the numerous death knells that have been called over the last 50 or so years, physical spaces to buy books and magazines are still thriving. So with independent publishers and bookshops on the rise, it’s time to celebrate our favourite independent bookshops across Europe.
There really are too many good bookshops to make a definitive list, but here are 9 personal favourites from the staff here at The London Magazine.
1) Shakespeare and Company – Paris, France
Located in an early 17th century building in the left bank opposite the Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Company is the quintessential bohemian bookshop. With its roots in a nearby shop with the same opened by American bookseller Sylvia Beach and publisher in 1919, Shakespeare & Company has existed on the Seine in its current guise since 1951, and has been kept open by an ever-revolving cast of tumbleweeds (volunteers who live in the shop) ever since.
Shakespeare & Co., 37 Rue de la Bucherie, Paris, France
2) Desperate Literature – Madrid, Spain
A relatively new addition to the Spanish capital, Desperate Literature was opened in 2014 by booksellers Terry Craven and Charlotte Delattre, with the idea of launching a multi-lingual bookshop that traded in new, used, and antique books to Madrid’s bibliophile population. While Desperate Literature’s handpicked selection of new and secondhand books is as good as anywhere on the continent, it’s selection of rare editions and esoteric literature is worth the trip to Spain alone. The bookshop also hosts regular events, and is a thriving part of Madrid’s literary and arts scene.
3) Livraria Lello & Irmão – Porto, Portugal
Trading literature since the 1880’s, Livraria Lello & Irmão is one of Portugal’s oldest bookshops. Set in the premises of a neo-gothic building featuring beautiful Art Nouveau architecture near the Praça dos Leões, the interior includes stunning carved wooden surfaces, a winding staircase, exquisite copper, glass bookshelves and delicate stained glass windows. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Livraria Lello & Irmão is consistently in the running for the most beautiful bookshop in the world. If you can drag your eyes away from the aesthetic of the store itself, you can browse the hundreds of Portuguese titles available, as well as the the vast range of English and French titles on offer.
Livraria Lello & Irmão, Rua das Carmelitas 144, Porto, Portugal
4) Atlantis Books – Santorini, Greece
When a group of travelling friends dreamed of opening a bookshop on top of a cliff on the previously bookshopless but very beautiful island of Santorini, few would have predicted that anything would have come from it. Not so for Atlantis Books, which opened in 2004, set amongst the beautiful white-washed buildings of the Greek island. With a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction in many different languages, the villa also organises literary evening events, theatre performances and open-air cinema viewings. Run by a friendly committee of artists and writers, it is truly a haven for book-lovers.
Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini, Greece
5) Barter Books – Alnwick, UK
Set up within the confines of a splendid Victorian railway station, Barter Books can make it’s claim to fame as the place where the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ trend began, a 1939 poster with the slogan on having been found there in 2000. As well as a vast array of books, the shop also has many other features: open fires in the winter, the Station Buffet serving good food and drink, a model railway, three 40-foot murals, numerous restored station features, a children’s room and a huge room lined with over forty glass cases containing many interesting antiquarian books. With all this and more, it’s certainly worth the visit.
Alnwick Station, Wagon Way Rd, Alnwick, NE66 2NP
6) Richard Booth’s Bookshop – Hay-on-Wye, UK
Among the many incredible bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, Richard Booth’s Bookshop stands out for the sheer vastness and range of its collection. Opened by its namesake some 30 years ago, Richard Booth was a visionary in driving the transformation of Hay into an international haven for book lovers, and it is still thriving today. Again selling all manner of books, both rare, second-hand and new, the bookshop also contains a cinema, a cafe, and hosts regular events and exhibitions. An absolute must for anyone visiting Hay.
44 Lion Street, Hereford, HR3 5AA, England
7) Libreria Acqua Alta – Venice, Italy
An eccentric and quirky bookshop, Libreria Acqua Alta is a paradise for any book lover. Piled up on antique shelves and disused furniture, the vast collection of titles available will keep you browsing for hours. Literally spilling from the antique shelves, the books cover the floors, walls, tables and chairs , as well as forming a functional staircase in the courtyard at the rear of the shop. Just be careful where you step as you wander through the labyrinth of rooms though, as you may bump into a gondola or two, packed with a vast array of literature for you to get stuck into to.
Libreria Acqua Atla, Sestiere Castello, 5176/B, Venice, Italy
8) Dominicanen – Maastricht, Netherlands
Set within a 700-year old former Dominican church, the aptly named Dominicanen will leave you awe-struck by the exquisite Gothic architecture, ornate frescoes, stone arches and dark vaults. Nestled amongst all this is the largest selection of English titles in the city, as well as many other amazing reads, arranged on beautiful multi-story black steel shelves and counters. Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, then why not sit back with a coffee in the accompanying cafe and enjoy your read, or marvel at the amazing space around you.
Dominicanen, Grote Staat 53, Maastricht, Netherlands
9) House of Books/Dom Knigi – St. Petersburg, Russia
Based in the Singer House, located at the intersection of the Nevsky Prospekt and the Griboyedov Canal, House of Books offers a stunning view of Kazan Cathedral. Operating from 1939, it remained functional through the Leningrad Blockade until November 1942, reopening again in 1948. Since then, it has built up a reputation as one of the largest bookshops in St. Petersburg, with over three floors of shelves offering a wide variety of genres and titles. Or, if you’re just looking for somewhere to take the weight off your feet, you can take a seat by the windows of the second floor Cafe Singer, and admire the breathtaking views of the Prospekt and the Cathedral.
House of Books, Nevsky Prospekt 28, St. Petersburg, Russia