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19 Bookstores We Love Around the World

By AFAR Editors

Apr 10, 2020

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Hay-on-Wye Booksellers is housed in one of the town’s oldest buildings.

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Hay-on-Wye Booksellers is housed in one of the town’s oldest buildings.

In London, Paris, Porto, Santorini, and more, here’s where to find some of the best bookstores around the globe.

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Recognizing the transporting power of great stories, we decided to celebrate our love for many of their keepers: independent bookstores around the world. Some, like Livraria Lello in Portugal, are fantastically historic, while others, like BooksActually in Singapore, are contemporary bolt-holes. And while we may not be able to physically visit these stores for the foreseeable future, we’re supporting them by shopping online and tuning in to their programming across social media.

Hay-on-Wye Booksellers
Hay-on-Wye, Wales

The small, bookshop-filled Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye is a reader’s dream, especially during the annual summer literary festival (sadly canceled for this year), and Hay-on-Wye Booksellers is just one of many charming spots. Hours can be lost browsing new, secondhand, and antiquarian books behind its 15th-century black-and-white timbered front. —Tim Chester

Support it by: Ordering something from its selection at Abe Books.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly
Montreal, Canada

This magical shop will convert literary snobs who turn up their nose when they hear that you like graphic novels and comics. Drawn & Quarterly started by publishing a magazine showcasing some of the best cartoonists around—Kate Beaton, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, among others—and then began publishing books. In 2007, D&Q opened a small shop in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal to sell those books as well as books by other publishers, French, and English. The store is full of personality—the staff is eager to steer you to their favorites and to hear about your own. Down the block, La Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly can captivate kids, too (from pre-readers all the way up to dedicated YA hounds). —Ann Shields

Support it by: Shopping its extensive online store to get free shipping all over Canada. Its book clubs (Gay Reads, D+Q Cooks!, New Reads, and Teen Book Club) are still meeting on Facebook, and you’re invited to join the discussions.

BooksActually
Singapore

Let’s get this out of the way: BooksActually is not easy to find—but it is worth a trip. Off the main drag in Tiong Bahru, BooksActually stocks the world’s largest selection of Singapore literary publications. (It even operates its own publishing imprint, Map Paper Press.) Trinkets and tchotchkes, like stationery and hand-stitched notebooks, mean there’s a little something for everyone. —Katherine LaGrave

Support it by: Shopping the online store and ordering gifts for your stuck-at-home friends and family.

El Ateneo is widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires’s largest and most famous librería (bookstore) is El Ateneo Grand Splendid, housed in a palatial 1919 theater in the upscale Barrio Norte and widely known as one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops. The more than 100-year-old landmark building retained its ornate balconies, fresco-painted dome ceiling, and red velvet stage curtains when it reopened in 2000 as the flagship store for the Argentinian publishing house Grupo Ilhsa (which owns 40 bookshops). El Ateneo is packed with more than 180,000 books (in addition to thousands of movies and records)—and it’s often just as packed with people. —Sarah Buder

Support it by: Learning about its legacy through this radio feature.

Daunt Books
London

Daunt’s has a handful of locations across London, all worth a visit, but the Marylebone branch—in a former Edwardian bookshop—is particularly great. Set in a long, light-filled three-story space with oak balconies and a stained glass window, its choices are arranged by country. So whether you’re after a guidebook, nonfiction, or something escapist, you can really lose yourself in your chosen destination. —T.C.

Support it by: Buying a book or three, a subscription, or a bag.

Wayword & Wise
Mumbai, India

Wayword & Wise isn’t the bookstore you visit on vacation to pick up an English-language best seller. Here, you’ll stock up on beautifully designed, souvenir-worthy editions of classics, or book-nerd out with the owners and let them guide you through the packed shelves to must-read authors from countries around the world. —Maggie Fuller

Support it by: Peeking into the carefully curated collection on the Wayword & Wise Facebook page, where the owners regularly post recommendations.

Mr B’s Emporium
Bath, England

I’ve never set foot in this Bath bookstore, but by all accounts it’s a magical place. Instead, I was the lucky recipient of one of its reading subscriptions for Christmas, which involves filling out an online questionnaire about your tastes and habits, and then sitting back to receive a beautifully wrapped, hand-picked selection from one of its knowledgeable in-house “bibliotherapists.” —T.C.

Support it by: Signing up for the reading subscription or sending someone a voucher.

Livraria Lello bookstore in Porto is one of the world’s oldest bookstores.

Livraria Lello
Porto, Portugal 

A bookstore with ticketed entry? You may scoff, until you get inside: The neo-Gothic facade and art nouveau interior—stained glass ceiling, soaring shelves—and a crimson spiraling staircase (the inspiration for the moving staircases in the Harry Potter films) make Porto’s dramatic Livraria Lello a destination unto itself. Don’t forget to buy a book! —Laura Dannen Redman

Support it by: Purchasing the daily book selection at the “drive-thru” during COVID-19 social distancing.  

The Folio Society
London, England

The London-based Folio Society produces singularly beautiful editions of well-known classics (think The Sound & The Fury with differently colored text for each narrative strain, Steppenwolf with the infamous pamphlet inserted inside the main book, or the works of Jane Austen with custom illustrations). They’re not cheap, but they’re the ultimate in shelfie street cred; the arrival of each new catalog is a highly anticipated moment for me. —T.C.

Support it by: Treating yourself to a couple of books for delivery.

Shibuya Publishing and Booksellers
Tokyo, Japan

Part of the appeal of this hip store in Oku-Shibuya is browsing new and used books by theme—you always end up finding something you’ve never heard of. Though most titles are in Japanese, there’s a fair selection in English, and the graphic tees and tote bags need no translation. —K.L.G.

Support it by: Browsing the catalog and ordering what you can online. 

Dead Souls
Dunedin, New Zealand

Named after a novel by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls sells secondhand books from its small shop in the second-largest city of New Zealand’s South Island. Despite its limited square footage, it keeps 20,000 books in stock, which means you’ll encounter walls and walls of books, piled literally from ceiling to floor whenever you walk in. —Ciera Velarde

Support it by: Browsing the collection online and following it on social media.

Atlantis opened in Santorini in 2004.

Atlantis Books
Santorini, Greece

Crammed to the ceiling with books, this dreamy store in Santorini feels like the library of an eclectic ship captain, thanks to the woodwork and assortment of knickknacks. The shop, with books in Greek, English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Italian, specializes in classic fiction and nonfiction, but in a nod to Greek history, you’ll also find selections on philosophy, art, and poetry. —K.L.G.

Support it by: Following the store on social media and visiting when it (hopefully) reopens in the summer.

The Book Lounge
Cape Town, South Africa

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“What a cozy, friendly place” reads . . . every review of the Book Lounge, ever. Cape Town’s beloved independent bookstore delivers on its promise of great coffee, passionate staff (they’re doing the sweetest storybook readings on Instagram, good for kids and adults who want to smile), and fantastic books. But it also serves as a spot for candid conversations on challenging topics, like power and patriarchy in South Africa, keeping dialogue alive and well. —L.D.R.

Support it by: Ordering from the online store. 

Stanfords
London, England

If you’re a map geek, or any way cartographically inclined, this Covent Garden shop is a delight. Wall maps, small maps, maps on shirts, cups, and bags, books on the history of maps—it’s all here. I’ve not visited the latest location since it moved, but the whole floor was a giant map in the last place. It does a fine line in globes, too. —T.C.

Support it by: Buying all the maps online.

Bookmark
Prince Edward Island, Canada

Opened in 1972, Bookmark has been Charlottetown’s independent bookstore of note for more than four decades. The locally owned spot is a favorite for its book selection, of course, but also for its strong sense of community—everyone who shops here is a friend. If you’re not sure what you want to read next, check the bookseller bios on the website, find the person who shares your interests, and go with their personalized suggestions. —Natalie Beauregard

Support it by: Placing an order by phone, email, or via the website for delivery, or buy a gift certificate and it’ll donate 10 percent of its value to the Upper Room Food Bank.

Look for Shakespeare and Company’s resident cat among the stacks.

Shakespeare & Company
Paris, France

Miles of heaving shelves, hidden corners to rest in with a new tome, and a resident cat make this Left Bank landmark an essential Paris stop. A hub for influential thinkers since it opened in the 1950s, it’s also hosted thousands of “tumbleweeds,” resident writers who stay under its roof in return for reading a book a day and helping out in the shop. —T.C.

Support it by: An online order or its Year of Reading subscription.

Bücherbogen
Berlin, Germany

Before you begin browsing, give yourself at least 10 minutes to walk around Bücherbogen and marvel at the space: Housed beneath S-Bahn train tracks at Savignyplatz, the store has arched brick ceilings, cool lighting, and a red hallway. With floor-to-ceiling racks full of books on art, design, photography, film, and architecture, the specialized bookstore is exceedingly well-stocked. —K.L.G.

Support it by: Visiting during very limited hours or ordering from its online shop.

Bleak House Books
Hong Kong 

Specializing in new and used English language books, Bleak House Books offers the largest selection of vintage paperbacks in Hong Kong. The two owners (an ex-lawyer and a historian) personally curate the shelves with a conscious effort to support local authors. In addition to books, you’ll also find vintage comics and sheet music among the shelves. —C.V.

Support it by: Following it on social media.

Boekhandel Dominicanen
Maastricht, Netherlands

Boekhandel Dominicanen is housed in a 13th-century Gothic monastery church in Maastricht, near the southeastern border with Belgium. The striking independent bookstore, which opened in 2014, still maintains the stained glass windows, stone-vaulted ceilings, and elaborate wall paintings, both frescoes and seccoes, that originally decorated the more than 700-year-old church. Boekhandel Dominicanen’s collection includes thousands of new and secondhand books in Dutch and English, plus a music department with CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records. The former church’s priest choir now hosts a small bookshop café, Coffeelovers, where you can order a mean cup of Dutch coffee. —S.B.

Support it by: Checking out its social media accounts for live readings with authors. 

>> Next: 26 Independent Bookstores We Love in the U.S.

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