The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

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


Photo: diegoperez74/Flickr

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

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

Photo: Ronald Menti/Flickr

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 Out-of-date encyclopaedias have become steps and there are books in gondolas and bathtubs, in canoes and rowing boats (all very handy in the aptly named ‘Library of High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

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

Photo: Ryan Poole/Flickr

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

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

Photo: Rach/Flickr

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

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

®Cafebrería El Péndulo 2016

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

The 10 Best Bookshops in the WorldThis 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

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

10 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.

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48 thoughts on “The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

  1. I stumbled upon the Venice bookshop by accident, and it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever run into!!! Another book store you might want to look into is Bart’s Books in Ojai, California. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been in the entire world. It’s essentially a book park with a spattering of sheltering roofs over the books. There are also books for sale outside the building along the sidewalk – to buy them, just take the ones you want, and throw the money for them over the wall and into the store!! I’m going to get to the Milan library when I go in a few weeks. Great post!


    • Thanks so much. I can imagine stumbling upon the bookshop in Venice must have felt like entering an alternate universe! Bart’s Books sounds fab – definitely on my wishlist! Thank you so much for commenting and sharing.


  2. Thanks Clare – i just put you on my FB pagenext to Alex Frazier’s Feldenkrais page. You are very striking photos here. I hope you are all well…I can barely type from cold…snowing here. Chilly but pretty. xxAvril

    Avril O’ReillyChildren’s Book Author and illustrator Here is my new keepsake journal

    Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2016 09:52:15 +0000 To:


  3. OMG – I soooooooooooo need to go to the shop in Porto!

    You must visit Salt’s Mill in Bradford – it’s wonderful! Actually, it’s where I found The Beggar & the Hare. It’s one of these vast old Victorian textile mills – the largest industrial building in the world when it was built, no less. It now houses the UK’s only permanent Hockney collection (him being a local lad and all) and a HUGE bookshop – it takes up an entire floor! You get the impression that every book has been selected with real care – thoughtful & unusual choices along with the bestsellers. It’s bright and airy, there’s a fantastic little café, an exhibition on the history of the mill (built in 1853 by Titus Salt – what a name!), a fantastic ceramics gallery and, if you’re inspired by all the art, there’s another whole floor given over to purely art books and supplies. Oh how I love this place!

    Saltaire, the cute little village adjacent, was built by Titus Salt at the same time to house his workers and is full of eateries and little independent shops, so worth a look in, too.

    Bradford is one of the most deprived cities in the UK, so I think it’s worth taking the time to go there and pay into the local economy. I’m lucky that my sister lives just outside Holmfirth, which is about 20 miles away, so I get her to collect me from the station in Bradford when I visit and give myself enough time to spend at least a few hours in Saltaire. But you could plan a special daytrip that took in Saltaire in the morning and any amount of other, nearby attractions in the afternoon: If you’re tied to the train, there’s the National Media Museum in the city centre (although the V&A appear to asset-stripping their photography collection at the moment, which I don’t approve of), or if you’re driving, you could visit the Brontes’ parsonage at Haworth, which is less than 10 miles north west …


    • The Porto bookshop is definitely top of my list. I want to see it so badly I may have to plan a trip to Porto just because…

      My Yorkshire auntie raves about Saltaire and I have vivid memories of Hockney’s paintings of it at his exhibition at the RA a couple of years ago so I’m very keen to visit, particularly as Haworth is so close which I’m desperate to see. I love the sound of that bookshop!


  4. I love this! There’s nothing like relaxing and exploring at a book store, and there are too few these days. I especially would like to visit El Pendulo in Mexico City – the plants atop all the bookshelves, cascading down the magazines…. wonderful!


  5. It will be a dream to visit all these book shops! I am most interested in going to the Porto and Mexico City ones. I live in Los Angeles, so, I will try to visit The Last Bookstore.


    • Haha. Can you imagine trying to look for a specific book in the Libreria Acqua Alta?! I think in bookshops like that you’d have to enjoy just finding books as you wandered round. Thanks so much for commenting. #citytripping


  6. Oh Claire I love this post, I just love book and this post is book heaven. It would be my dream to have a wonderful book shop/ cafe, a chilled out environments with comfy sofas, cake and coffee x


  7. Great idea for a post Clare! I can’t believe I didn’t know about the one in Porto- we went there a couple of years ago and would have loved to go. They all look great…I just wish I still had the time to spend a day in a bookshop! Thanks for linking to#citytripping


  8. What a phenomenal list. I’ve just shared it on facebook, and scheduled a tweet about it. I was sorry not to see Alnwick’s Barter Books on the list though. You must give it a try some time!


  9. I’m visiting Buenos Aires this week and this library has been on my list! I can’t wait to see it.

    Anyways, Would love to see your posts in the Practical Mondays Link Up!! Pls do join in!

    (Sidenote: I’d stayed in a hostel that was converted from an old scottish church- it was so cool!)


  10. Wow, quite a bookstore here! So much charm and character, I would have never guessed a bookstore can look so intriguing. It probably attracts a lot of people who otherwise would not bother coming into one. I’m going to share this on my FB. This place is quite unique, thank you for sharing it and thank you for joining #TheWeeklyPostcard!


  11. What wonderful places! I haven’t really looked for bookstores in my travels, but now I know what I’m missing. Livraria Lello in Porto is amazing. I hope I can visit any of these one day. Thanks for enlightening me!


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