I have an inherent love for bookshops. When books began to get digitalized, I was excited about the change. I tried to read comics on my iPad and was impressed with the idea of flipping through each panel rather than just the page. However, the “ease” of reading books on digital devices lost its favour. Last year my daughter insisted – as 9-year-old kids often do – that she wanted a Kindle for her birthday. 3 months after the purchase it lies in the back of an almirah somewhere. We’re both back to reading books the old-fashioned way and thus visits to bookshops have become a recurring excursion.
The other change that has come up is the dominating presence of online bookstores which do provide a simple and often cheap way of acquiring books but continue to be less personal.
In an attempt to keep the joy of reading alive and in the process appreciate the magic of bookstores that provide us with a beautiful sanctuary away from the maddening world, I’ve gone back to visit more independent bookshops. I still do visit the chains every now and then as some of them truly stand out, but when possible, prefer to do my research and find something small and unique instead.
On my blog – where you are right now – you are likely to find some bookstores that I choose to cover in-depth, but I felt it necessary to list the ones that might not get a chance in the spotlight but nevertheless deserve to.
Here is a growing collection of bookstores and libraries from around the world…
Hidden library – Sakya Monastery, Tibet – “The small Tibetan village of Sakya, located about halfway between Lhasa and Kathmandu, is dominated by the eponymous red and grey monastery. When I entered the monastery, a monk smiled at me and gestured for me to follow him. When we got to the back wall, he drew out a large key and unlocked a hidden door that I hadn’t noticed. Inside was a narrow room that ran the length of the back wall. It was pitch black, so it was only by his flashlight that I could see rows and rows of traditional Tibetan books stacked from floor to ceiling. They have been there for centuries, hidden away from raiders and rarely seen. A real treat.” – Photo and Words by James at Travel Collecting
Minosegi Konyvek – Budapest, Hungry – “One of the coolest bookshops that I’ve seen was on my recent trip to Budapest. We stumbled across this cart set up in a courtyard as we explored the city. There are actually 9 of these shops set up around Budapest that sell affordable books to residents of the city. The bookshops are a result of an initiative called “Moving Books” which was made in order to promote reading. Moving Books also takes donations of used books that they can sell for a low price. This lets people get rid of finished books while putting the book in the hands of a new reader! It seems like a great way to promote reading and I hope to see something like this in my city soon!” – Words and Photo by Chad Root from Adventure Filled Life
Garden District Bookshop – New Orleans, USA – “Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans is one of the city’s most popular independent bookstores. The bookstore is a tourist attraction in itself and visitors stop by to browse for local books and signed first editions while they tour the grand old antebellum mansions of Garden District and the above ground cemeteries.
The bookshop is inside the historic building called the Rink. The store is airy, has lots of sunlight streaming through and beautifully arranged – all exciting for book lovers like me. I always make it a point to stop, look around and shop at the bookstore whenever I’m spending some time in New Orleans. The store has a wide variety of local authors and books dedicated to Louisiana culture. It also holds a lot of book readings with celebrated authors.
They also have a cool children’s section with interesting titles such as the Cajun Cinderella, Three Little Cajun Pigs, and the Cajun Cornbread Boy. Also, all the books in the baby and toddler section are kept within hand’s reach of the little ones. My son loves to sit there and read books until I have to literally drag him out!” – Words and Photo by Ketki Sharangpani
Idlewild – New York City, USA – “Idlewild specializes in all things travel. It is crammed full of guidebooks, travel stories, dictionaries and maps and you can easily spend several hours here, travelling around the world without leaving New York. You can take lessons in French, Spanish, Italian and German in one of the two classrooms at the back of the store.” – Photo and Words by James at Travel Collecting
Mobile Library – Tel Aviv, Israel – “For several years now, the Tel Aviv municipality has been bringing the library to its residents and visitors with a “mobile library” adjacent to one of its most popular beaches. You’ll find books in a range of languages, with borrowing based on the honour system and no strict deadlines or late fees. The program is so popular that it has taken root in other parts of Israel as well, promoting literacy by improving access and removing cost as a barrier. Find more Israel travel inspiration here.” – Words and Photo by The Family Voyage
Penninn Eymundsson – Reykjavik, Iceland – “Like many places in Reykjavik, Iceland, Penninn Eymundsson is hip and modern, but still has the comforting feel of a good bookstore. The bookstore is Iceland’s oldest, with many locations around the Nordic country. This particular store is in the heart of old Reykjavik. On the third floor has a wonderful coffeehouse to enjoy a good book and a hot drink. They have books here in many languages, so there’s something for everyone.” – Words and Photos by Olivia Rutt of My Wandering Voyage
Atlantis Books – Oia, Greece – “Tucked into one of the meandering streets of Oia, Santorini, Greece is a little shop called Atlantis Books. If you aren’t looking for it, it is easy to walk right past it. With a golden facade and steps that lead into the shop, it’s almost like sneaking away from the world to escape into a good book. The two rooms are stacked floor to ceiling in books of every language. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see a cat snoozing in a little nook. Despite its small nature, the bookstore is famous and recently took the top spot in National Geographic’s top 10 bookstores in the world.” – Words and Photos by Olivia Rutt of My Wandering Voyage
Tropismes Libraires – Brussels, Belgium – “This marvellous bookshop is one of the hidden gems in Brussels that you’ll never find if you don’t know where to look. One of the many shops in the Gallery Saint-Hubert houses the old bookstore Tropismes Libraires. The place is gorgeous, with a beautiful high ceiling made in golden worked wood and mirrors that create an optical effect of spaciousness. The collection contains mainly French books, including many children’s books.” – Words and Photo by Sophie of Bitten by the Bug
Liberia Acqua Alta – Venice, Italy – “Liberia Acqua Alta is a strange bookshop hidden away in Venice. First of all, you can enter this bookshop by boat! Moreover, you should not be surprised if you find a gondola in the middle of the bookshop or a skull between the books. Nevertheless, this bookshop is very charming with many books about Venice, and about other genres.” – Words and Photo by Sanne van den Berg of Veni Vidi
John Rylands Library – Manchester, UK – “If you are a Harry Potter fan and you are planning to visit England, don’t stop only to London. Manchester, in fact, is just a couple of hours away by train, and there you will find one of the most amazing libraries ever! The John Rylands Library is located on Deansgate and was opened to the public in 1900. The founder, Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, decided to build this amazing place in memory of her deceased husband, John Rylands. As soon as you step inside you’ll get that Potter-feel: they don’t call this library the “real life Hogwarts” for nothing! The entrance to the John Rylands library is free: you should absolutely add it to your Manchester self guided tour! ” – Photo and Words by Danila Caputo
Good Old Books – Michigan, USA – “In a historical fishing village on the shores of Lake Michigan in the United States, an old, retired couple runs a charming little bookstore from the inside of their home. Good Old Books doesn’t just sell any type of book, however. The cozy shop features rare, used books, and many of the collections lining the shelves date back to the early 1800s. You’ll find signed, first-edition copies of Pulitzer Prize novels as well as a 1902 first U.S. edition printing of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Priced at $675, it’s the most expensive novel in the entire store. If you’re lucky, owner George Ball may even show you the magic of a fore-edge painted book. Novels that carry these hidden paintings show no sign of any artwork when the book is fully closed, but when you fan the pages, a beautifully painted masterpiece emerges.” – Words and Photo by Jillian Michelle of Adventure Dragon
Duke Humfrey’s Library at Oxford University – Oxford, UK – “Duke Humfrey’s Library may be more familiar to you as “The Harry Potter Library”. It is part of the Bodleian library at Oxford University in England and was used as a Harry Potter filming location on numerous occasions. As the books in this section are very old, the room is usually kept pretty dark and they don’t allow you to bring water or even pens in! This library is not open to the public but there are a select number of Bodleian Library tours each day, which will allow you to have a brief look inside this infamous library.” – Photo and Words by Laura Hartley
The Old Library at Trinity College – Dublin, Ireland – “The Old Library at Trinity College is a must-see on any visit to Dublin. Built in 1732, The Long Room is stacked all the way to the barrel ceiling with over 2,000 books. It’s home to a rare original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic as well as a 15th-century Irish harp, the official emblem of Ireland. The Library’s most famous treasure, however, is The Book of Kells – a beautiful illuminated manuscript created by monks during the Dark Ages.” – Photos and Words by Laura Goyer of The Culinary Travel Guide.
Library of Birmingham – Birmingham, UK – “The library’s architecture might have divided people into two groups of those who love it and those who don’t, but the fact remains that it adds to the cultural aspect of the city and leaves a positive impression on everyone who comes to visit or use it.
As an “outsider” you can still go up to the two viewing stations that give panoramic views of the city or read a book inside. For members, it’s a treasure trove of every kind of book possibly available including some rare finds. Other additions include gallery space for displays and a BFI Mediatheque.”
Metropolitan Szabo Ervin Library – Budapest, Hungry – “I came across the Metropolitan Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest thanks to Instagram. It is every reader’s dream! Named after a Hungarian Librarian and social scientist, the library is situated in the heart of the city. There are no charges to visit this gorgeous baroque paradise.” – Photo and Words by Ishita Sood.
Chapter 101 – Gurgaon, India – A quaint little bookshop inside a mall in the city that houses some rather hard to find and unique books. It is curated especially and often avoids the more commonly popular authors and titles, although it has a bunch of classics, and even sells early editions of many books.
The Book Barge – UK and France – I came across Sarah and her Book Barge when it was moored on a canal in Birmingham, UK. Besides the obvious novelty of being a bookstore on water, there’s a certain charm to being in the petite shop that sways gently as one browses along a magnificent collection. I remember Sarah recommending “Diary of a Nobody” to me, which remains one of my favourite reads till date.
A quick glance at the website and this is the present status of the Book Barge – “The Book Barge launched in 2009 as an independent bookshop on a 60′ narrowboat plying the British waterways. Now based in Burgundy, France, it will be reopening in 2019 and also available for hire as a reading and writing retreat.”
Book Stalls at Indian Railway Stations – India – “You’ll find them, some small, some big, on most important stations across the system. There, among stacks of bestsellers are some “railway classics” like Surendar Mohan Pathak, Champak, and cult magazines that report murder, mystery, and the supernatural albeit in a non-fictional setting – whether you believe these sensational stories or not is completely up to you.”
Unkown – Lausanne, Switzerland – A missed opportunity as I never went inside this bookshop but the stacks of books by the window caught my eye as I roamed the streets of Lausanne in search of a place to eat.
At the time of writing, I am in process of using Social Media to get more information about this place. So far all I know is that it may have become a cryotherapy/message centre.
Nostalgia & Comics – Birmingham, UK – The one place in Birmingham that I visit on each and every trip to the “Second City of England”. Not only does this independent comic bookstore have boxes full of new and old comics but also rows full of action figures and other related knick-knacks.
The staff is extremely knowledgeable, to the extent that sometimes I’m almost terrified to ask them a question thinking it might be amateurish. But, they are welcoming and always helpful, so this is just my anxiety acting up.
The other day I was reading about it on the web and found out that it opened in 1977 making it the “second oldest” comic bookshop in England.
Books Books Books – Lausanne, Switzerland – The one store that I had looked up before visiting the city as it sells English language books. It’s more of a large room, with a nice glass frontage, and even has a large selection of “secondhand books” at a fixed price of CHF 5,- each.
The staff is inviting and the even gave me a lovely catalogue for the Penguin Black Collection for free along with my purchase. Moreover, if you enjoy street-art, there is a large mural en route to the shop that makes for a pretty cool photo-op.
Waterstones – Birmingham, UK – Even though Waterstones is a chain, it has a certain vibe to it that makes it different. The staff for one is eager to help, recommend, talk, and just be there when and if you need them.
has had two Waterstones close to each other for many years. It was the other building (not pictured) that I actually loved to visit. It was where I discovered many-a-new authors including one of my favourites Ryu Murakami. I would often spend hours browsing in the grand building, picking up books and keeping them back down, trying to stay within my budget and airline weight limit. Unfortunately, that outlet closed down a few years back, but what resulted was even more spectacular.
The “other” Waterstones was refurbished into a 6-floor dream house for every book lover. Now it has a coffee shop and of course, floors full of all kinds of books you can think of and even book related knick-knacks – I make it a point to leave my credit card home before visiting.
I am presently in two minds on how to organize this page. A part of me wants to break it down based on countries, but the book lover that resides in a small corner of my soul wants you to read about all the bookshops and thus the random order. Let me know what you think.
The idea is to keep this page updated with more bookstores as and when I visit them. But, I want this to be more than just about me. If you know of and like an independent bookstore, and are willing to write a short note about it along with a photo, then shoot me a message and I’ll add it to the list along with a link to one of your social media handles. Thanks