Best Book Stores In The World
“It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.” Agatha Christie
I love traveling. Some things I don’t mind skipping out on. Base jumping is always a pass. Art and Architecture is always in. I wish I had more time for fashion. But there are few things more tragic than knowing I strolled through the streets of a far off city and walked right past a book attraction I may never get the chance to see again. This collection of bookstores includes many I have seen and some that got away. I write this blog with a hint of regret as I am moving and once again I have to narrow down my collection of books.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France
This independent bookstore on Paris’s left bank was originally founded in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, and became a popular gathering space for famous writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. It might seem strange for an English-language bookstore to have such an important place in the history of literary Paris, but many notable English-speaking writers gathered in the City of Light during the 1920s to work on their craft. These writers and artists became known as the ‘Lost Generation’ and Shakespeare and Co was at the center of their world. In the 1920s, this was not only a bookstore, but also a lending library. Another reason Shakespeare and Co is so well-known in literary circles is for its famous sleeping facilities. There are over 10 beds in the bookstore that have offered a place of rest to young writers since the 1950s. The present-day bookshop isn’t the original shop which was shut down by the Nazis during the French Occupation in World War II. It was reopened at its current address in 1951. In 1981 the owners daughter, named Sylvia after Sylvia Beach, runs the bookshop and is a wealth of knowledge about the history of the building and the writers that have passed through this famous door.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Teatro Grand Splendid was built in 1919 as a theatre for top-tier tango concerts. What a wonderful name for a theatre. Tango legends such as Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo, and Ignacio Corsini performed here. In 1929, the theater underwent its first transformation to become a cinema, with the distinction of being the first in Buenos Aires to show sound film. Its latest transformation is the El Ateneo bookstore. The painted ceiling, detailed balconies, and stage are all intact. The private boxes are now small reading rooms. The stage is a café. The shelves fit perfectly around the theater’s original shape. The book collection is pretty standard and mostly in Spanish. It is an amazing place to buy a book or have a coffee on the famous stage.
Livrario Lello, Porto, Portugal
Once upon a time Livraria Lello was an old beautiful book store. The Lello book store was built in 1906 in Porto, Portugal by the Lello Brothers (Antonio and Jose). Their book store is one of the most ornate book stores in the world, mixing Neo-Gothic and Art Deco elements. Carved wood ceilings, a stain-glass roof, an undulating, opulent red staircase, and even a built-in wheel-barrow on rails for moving the store’s 120,000 books all make the Lello seem like a bookstore out of some fantasy-world. One day some lady named J.K. Rowling lived in Porto while working on her first book. You might have heard of it- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Livraria Lello is reputed to have inspired parts of Hogwarts. Since then, it has been inundated with Potter fans from around the world wanting to catch a glimpse and selfie of the bookstore’s interior.
Cook And Book, Brussels, Belgium
A unique restaurant that is also a bookstore… Or a bookstore that’s also a restaurant? The huge bookstore is located on the outskirts of the city. There are different bookstore entrances divided by themes. In the literature themed bookstore, the books are hanging from the ceiling and most of the books for purchase are in French. The cucina themed section has cooks behind the lunch bar and books filled in the salad bar. There are nine different bookstores and two restaurants. Be careful when hunger hits you while you’re caught in the middle of a good book reading. Bringing a book to the table while eating means that you’ll have to pay for the books and whatever else you consumed at the table.
Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
This bookstore is close to St. Mark’s Square and opened in 2004. The name translates to “bookstore of high water” due to the store being plagued by Venice’s rising waters, which regularly flood the floors of the shop each winter. To combat the issue, the bookstore’s owner, Luigi Frizzo, piled all of the books into waterproof bins, bathtubs, canoes, and even gondolas in order to protect the literature. Books are everywhere possible and seem to have taken control of the space.
Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht, The Netherlands
This location of the Selexyz chain of bookshops occupies a thirteenth century Dominican church. The glorious interior is massive and includes an eating area.To maintain the integrity of the space, the architects built vertically, which means the three-story bookstore is not only impressively imposing, but also outfitted with neat walkways, staircases and elevators. A Frescoed vaulted ceilings soar over the book browsing activity.
Carturesti Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
Literally translated as the “Carousel of Light” in English, Cărturești Carusel is situated in a restored 19th-century building in the very heart of Bucharest’s Old Town. It has six floors, over ten thousand books and a bistro on the top floor. Built in the 19th Century by the Chrissoveloni family, the impressive columns and spiral staircases were once the headquarters for their banking dynasty. A few decades later, it was transformed into a general store. In the 1990s the structure had become unstable and the building was abandoned. It was later restored and opened as a bookstore.
Barter Books, Ainwick, UK
Barter Books in Alnwick is the most magical place for book lovers. It was opened by Mary Manley in 1991 and is now one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Europe. The store is situated inside a Victorian railway station which is a beautiful building with so much character. Those with a particular interest in the station’s history and architecture can take a walking tour. There are books everywhere and comfortable chairs, sofas, fires and even a train running on tracks above your head. Amazing quotes join bookcase to bookcase and there are beautiful murals to enjoy.
Livraria Da Vila, Sao Paulo, Brazil
The front door of Livraria de Vila is made of revolving bookcases. Once you get inside, you’ll notice books on every surface – on shelves from floor to ceiling, on nooks and crannies, and even on shelves carved into holes between each floor. In fact, this bookstore seems to be made of books.
City Lights,San Francisco, USA
As a reader, City Lights is one of my favorite bookstores. It is heavily associated with the Beat movement and its writers – Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and store co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The big story behind the store is the obscenity trial surrounding Ginsberg’s Howl And Other Poems, which City Lights published and sold in 1956. I wasn’t a huge fan of the poem but it was deemed obscene and the poem went on trial. Lawyers were interrogating academics over the literary merit of a graphic work. City Lights grew to occupy all three floors of the building with an outstanding selection of world literature, poetry, and progressive nonfiction that is as significant today as it was in the ‘50s. City Lights gives us a physical reminder that ideas and words will always be challenged because they are powerful. Of course I bought a copy of Howl.