Love to seek out unique bookstores when you travel? Add to your bookshop bucket list with the best bookstores in the world as chosen by professional travel bloggers (and bibliophiles).
When visiting a city steeped in history, you’re bound to come across more amazing bookstores than you can shake a stick at. One of the most famous of these literary attractions in Europe is Paris’s Shakespeare and Company.
The only fully English-language bookstore in the city, it seems a little incongruous — after all, who goes to Paris to speak or read English?! Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, and Joyce, just to name a few.
This bookstore’s original Left Bank incarnation helped nurture these Lost Generation authors as they came into their own, and is still known as a mecca for English-speaking authors seeking Parisian inspiration and support.
And now, in its post-war location and staffed by hopeful writers bartering shop work for ambiance, this place is nothing short of a booklover’s dream come true.
With everything from antique editions of timeless works to a bargain bin copy of IT to little €2 envelopes stashed with random, classic poems typed by the staff, the only thing about this place that you won’t love is the line to get inside!
Tucked away on a tiny, quiet side street in Venice in Libreria Acqua Alta, is a pokey, overfilled bookstore. It may be small and unassuming, but if you’ve been around on Instagram you’ve probably heard of it.
The bookstore became Insta-famous for two features: inside the store, they have a gondola filled with books, and outside the back of the shop they have a small patio with a staircase made from books leading to a great canal view.
It’s not surprising that Venice floods from time to time; it’s to be expected when your roads are made of water. Libreria Acqua Alta has solved the problem of ruined merchandise by keeping it up off the floor in the gondola and also in bathtubs and other waterproof bins. Pretty ingenious. And makes for a good photo op.
My favorite bookstore ever has to be Carturesti Carusel, one of the most Instagrammable spots in Bucharest, Romania.
This beautifully designed bookshop is not only a bookworm’s paradise, but also an Instagrammer’s dream. It is a very open space where the light is really bright and it reflects off the white three-level balconied shop. I love the splashes of color from the books on the shelves against the white background.
Lovely classical style columns and dreamy spiral staircases take you directly to the first-floor balcony, where you can browse books in both Romanian and English.
There is also a central staircase that takes you to the second level and to a sweet little bistro on the third floor. And why stop at books? There is also a gift and clothing store in the basement.
Bigger is not always better. If there’s hope for the survival of indie bookstores in the age of Amazon, it’s with lovingly curated shops like Proust offering hidden gems not found in large bookstore chains.
This prize-winning bookstore in the German city of Essen features a unique selection of books and music handpicked by its passionate and knowledgeable staff. Proust frequently hosts readings by internationally known authors as well as workshops and concerts.
A café with homemade cakes completes the cozy atmosphere. The shop even offers home delivery via bicycle or the tiny Proust-Mobil.
Source: Ingrid of Second-Half Travels. Follow me on Instagram!
Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon is one of the country’s (and world’s) best bookstores. It was founded in the late ’70s and has remained independently owned, making it the largest independent bookseller in the United States. The flagship location takes up an entire city block and boasts 68,000 square feet of retail space.
One’s first foray into Powell’s can be incredibly overwhelming with the numerous color-coded rooms and multiple floors. It is so large that there is even a handy store map at the information counter.
Powell’s combines new and used books throughout the store making the likelihood of you finding what you need (or didn’t need) higher. There is even a special room for their rare book collection on the top floor.
Ler Devagar is one of my favorite bookshops in Lisbon and in the world. The bookshop, which was originally based in the Bairro Alto, can be found at Lisbon’s uber-hipster LX Factory — just across the road from a café that claims to have the best chocolate cake in the world.
The premises were formerly a printing factory, and their new purpose as a bookshop just makes sense.
Ler Devagar has even retained the two antique printing presses, which help to cement the industrial vibe that this bookstore gives off.
Ler Devagar literally means “read slowly,” and that’s exactly what you’ll be inclined to do when you visit.
Although most of the books are in Portuguese, it’s easy to spend half an hour or even an hour in the smaller English book section without even realizing it. Don’t worry if you do: this is a very relaxed bookshop. There’s even a café where you can get a coffee or a glass of wine and mull over any potential purchases.
The most amazing bookstore I’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling into was the El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A marvelous nearly 100-year-old theater that has been converted into a multilevel bookstore, complete with a licensed cafe.
Even though all the books were in Spanish, it was an utter delight to be able to walk around the glamorous building and imagine the wonderful shows that once were on offer.
After strolling around the four levels of books it’s down to the center stage to experience a little bit of relaxation with a coffee or a wine. As you enjoy an afternoon treat it’s easy to drift away as you people-watch.
It’s hard not to imagine what it would have been like to have been an actor on this glorious stage, just waiting for that moment when the heavy red curtains are pulled back.
El Péndulo is an extraordinary chain of café-bookstores in Mexico City. Each location is uniquely gorgeous and features a huge selection of books, vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, and gifts.
A wonderful place for freelancers to work with free Wi-Fi or just to sit and chill with a coffee on the comfy sofas. The bookstores also double as performance spaces with regular live music, poetry readings, book presentations, and even stand-up comedy.
The Polanco location is visually stunning and features a delightful treetop terrace, but the La Condesa branch is my favorite. Located in a vibrant historic neighborhood near two lush parks, it has a special cozy vibe that invites you to linger for hours.
El Péndulo was a driving force behind the rebirth of La Condesa after the devastating Mexico City earthquake in 1985. The neighborhood was hit hard again by the September 2017 quake, but El Péndulo remains an enduring symbol of the resilient spirit of La Condesa’s residents.
Source: Ingrid of Second-Half Travels. Follow me on Instagram!
There is nothing Instagrammable about Palavra de Viajante, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful places to lose track of time in Lisbon.
The true appeal of this bookstore in the Portuguese capital is that it figuratively holds the whole world inside its four walls: from guides to memoirs, from souvenirs to maps, all that is travel-related can be found here in Portuguese, English, and French.
Looking for a specific travel book? You will probably find it here; if not, a quick chat with the owner will put you on the right track.
Unlike other bookstores, where books are organized by genre or author, inside Palavra de Viajante each nook or cluster of shelves corresponds to one continent. You can hop from one to the next in a split second and find that book for inspiration or the guide with practical tips you were looking for but had trouble finding elsewhere.
Nestled in a neighborhood shopping center a five-minute drive west of Kansas City’s iconic, Seville-inspired Country Club Plaza is Rainy Day Books. Vivien Jennings founded Rainy Day Books, Kansas City’s only surviving independent bookseller, in 1975 when Amazon was just a river in South America.
While Rainy Day Books doesn’t have the square footage you might expect from a massive bookstore chain, it does have a world-class author events calendar that brings more than 300 authors a year to Kansas City.
From debut novelists with great expectations to household names like Dan Brown, John Grisham, and Stephen King, the authors present their latest works and take questions from the sold-out crowd. When’s the last time a big chain or online bookstore offered you 90 minutes of in-person time with your favorite award-winning author? Exactly.
And if you happen to miss one of Rainy Day Books’ amazing author events, don’t fret. You can purchase select autographed books from their website or their store.
I stopped in on a chilly day and was surprised at how cozy it was. While small, its walls are lined from floor to ceiling with books. They even have the old rolling ladders!
I would estimate approximately 80 percent of their book selection is used and priced under $10. The owners choose their inventory meticulously, so everything looks brand new!
When I visited I had to restrain myself from purchasing an entire suitcase worth of books to take home with me. And something I love especially is the fact that they give back through their Pilsen Reads! program. They’ve given away over 1,700 books to 28 classrooms in their community. The owners place a lot of importance and meaning on the “community” part of “Pilsen Community Books.” I love and admire that commitment to doing good.
While you’re in the neighborhood, Pilsen itself is also worth exploring! The area is bright and vibrant, with colorful murals lining the streets. Originally it was a Czech community, but around the mid-20th century, it saw a rise in the Hispanic demographic.
Nowadays the Mexican influence is very obvious in the area. Thanks to the community’s diversity, you’ll find an array of vintage shops, coffee houses, panaderias, and restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine like tamales.
Pilsen is a special, unique place. While the bookstore and the neighborhood may be little off the beaten path of Chicago’s must-see attractions, it’s definitely worth a visit!
I have been to famous bookstores around the world and none of them compare to the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been to both locations and love both, but my personal favorite is the one in the Aspen Grove mall in Littleton, Colorado because it’s a lot larger, cozier, and has a wider variety of books.
I make a point to visit every time I’m in the Denver area. I go into the store planning on buying only one book and I come out with about 20 more. That’s a pretty good problem to have, if I may say.
Source: Brianna of Wondering & Wandering
House of Books in Saint Petersburg wasn’t initially constructed to be a bookshop. It was designed and built for Singer Sewing Machine Company as its Russian headquarters.
The company wanted to make it a skyscraper similar to the one they have in New York; however, in Saint Petersburg it was forbidden to build anything taller than the Winter Palace. Therefore, the architect needed to find a smart way to make the building stand out. And he did: The building has a beautiful glass tower topped with a globe. It is lovely — and subtle.
The building served the Singer Company initially but it’s been a bookshop for almost 100 years now. Shortly after the October Revolution in 1919, Petrograd State Publishing House took over the building, and it’s been serving as a bookshop with hardly any breaks since then.
Source: Dorota of Born Globals. Check out Dorota’s top things to see in Saint Petersburg, Russia!
City Lights is a San Francisco institution founded in 1953 as a bookstore and performance venue. This bookshop gave voice to the Beat movement, publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and spotlighting authors like Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Sixty-five years later, the store is still a touchstone for San Francisco’s ongoing counterculture.
The store still promotes ideas and creativity that sit squarely outside the mainstream with a poetry room and an eclectic assortment of staff pics. You can wander around the upstairs fiction section or the basement nonfiction area, buy a book, and then go up to the attic. There you’ll find the poetry room, a great reading space with lots of light and cushy chairs.
If you’re thirsty, you can take your new book next door to the Vesuvio bar. The saloon was established in 1948 and was the chief watering hole for Neal Cassady, Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac, and other Beats. After your beer, go and seek out other counterculture spots in San Francisco to experience the true personality of the city.
Note: This post on best bookshops in the world was originally published on the travel blog Wondering & Wandering, which sadly is no more. With the owner’s permission, I’ve completely revamped and republished the content.
Ingrid took early retirement from software engineering at 43 to pursue her passions for language learning and travel. Her goal is to learn a new language to fluency every two years. Currently, she speaks English, German, and Spanish, and is learning Portuguese.