I love a good bookshop. The kind where you can spend ages browsing the shelves and then curl up in an armchair with a pile of interesting looking reads before deciding which to buy. I’ll always find an excuse to pop into a bookshop when I’m travelling.
But some bookshops are worth the journey alone. Some bookshops are so beautiful or unusual that they have become destinations in their own right. These are the bookshops in gothic churches and theatres, the bookshops where the books are piled into gondolas and the bookshops where you can climb into the shelves or sleep in the beds.
Here are the ten bookshops in the world that I’ll make a special trip for. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section which you would add to the list.
Livraria Lello in Porto
This stunning bookshop in Portugal has the most extraordinary curvaceous staircase which twists and turns its way to the upper floor. It’s no wonder that it is said to have inspired J.K.Rowling when she was writing about the grand staircase at Hogwarts – Harry Potter’s creator used to come here when she was working as an English teacher in Porto.
The art nouveau bookshop has stained-glass ceilings, beautiful wooden walls and glass enclosed bookcases on the top floors. The coffee shop even serves port and cigars.
Livraria Lello, Rua das Carmelitas 144, Porto.
Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice
Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe this bookshop overlooking one of Venice’s many canals, just a few steps from St. Mark’s Square. It is decorated with mannequins, gondola poles, oars – and the owner’s four cats. Books cover every possible surface of the rambling rooms. Out-of-date encyclopaedias have become steps and there are books in gondolas and bathtubs, in canoes and rowing boats (all very handy in the aptly named ‘Library of High Water’ because when Venice floods, the books are protected from the water).
Libreria Acqua Alta, Calle Santa Maria Formosa, Venice.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires
This bookshop in Argentina more than lives up to its name. Originally a theatre which opened in 1919 and hosted many of the great tango legends, it’s now one of the world’s most splendid bookshops with its spectacular domed ceiling and ornate balconies. All the original parts of the theatre have been used to stunning effect: the theatre boxes have become reading rooms and the stage complete with red curtains has been turned into a café where you can hear live piano music.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Avenida Santa Fe 1860, Barrio Recoleta, Buenos Aires.
Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht
One of the world’s grandest places to buy books has to be this 13th-century former Dominican church in the Netherlands. The new and second-hand books share space with vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, stained-glass windows and decorative frescoes. The cafe is in the choir stalls and the gothic architecture has been enhanced with a modern three-storey bookshelf complete with walkways, staircases and elevators.
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Dominicanenkerkstraat 1, Maastricht.
The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles
California’s largest used and new bookshop is in a downtown LA loft with marble pillars, exuberant red and gold walls and magnifying glasses and darts boards dangling from the ceilings. And there are books everywhere. Books hanging like art installations along the tops of the walls, books piled in arches above your head as you walk down the corridor, books layered like bricks to create window frames. Some of the books are shelved by colour so you pass shelves of red and yellow or blue and green. The effect is that of a surreal fantasy. Crazy yet utterly wonderful.
The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring Street, Los Angeles.
Shakespeare and Company in Paris
In the 1920s this was the meeting place for writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce and aspiring writers are still welcome to sleep in the beds among the bookshelves on the condition that they read a book a day.
The English-language bookshop beside the Seine, just across from Notre Dame, is still a sanctuary for bookworms. You’ll get pleasantly lost among the myriad nooks and crannies downstairs. Make your way up the winding stairs to find more books lining the pleasant reading rooms stuffed with sofas and cushions, a piano and the odd cat sleeping on one of the beds.
Shakespeare and Company, 37, rue de la Bûcherie, Paris.
El Pendulo, Mexico City
You’ll find plants growing throughout this bookshop in Mexico City and winding staircases leading up to balconies filled with books and armchairs. In the bar, you can listen to stand-up comedy, live music and poetry readings and at weekends, breakfast is accompanied by live classical music.
El Pendulo, Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco, Mexico City.
Daunt Books, London
This is a dream of a bookshop for those of us with constant wanderlust. All the books, whether fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography, novels or travel guides, are arranged by country so you can wander from destination to destination as you browse the shelves.
The Edwardian premises of the Marylebone branch were built as a bookshop in 1910 and boast a long oak gallery, with a stunning arched window, skylights and William Morris prints.
Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street, London.
Corso Como, Milan
This bookshop is as stylish as the books it sells. The books on art, design, fashion and photography adorn beautiful glass tables in the inner courtyard of a traditional Milanese palazzo. The bookshop is part of a complex with an art gallery, design and fashion store and a garden café filled with flowers.
10 Corso Como, 10, Corso Como, Milan.
Poplar Kids Republic, Beijing
Climbing into the bookshelves is positively encouraged at this children’s bookshop in China. The playground-inspired shop specialises in children’s picture books and children can curl up in the reading cubby holes in the shelves.
It’s a child’s imagination run riot, with an explosion of colour in every shade of the rainbow. A ribbon of rainbow colours lead up the stairs, curve around the bookshelves and twist in shapes from the ceiling.
Poplar Kids Republic, 39 E 3rd Ring Road Middle, Beijing.