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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 soon lost its charm. 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 regular excursion.
The other change that has come up is the dominating presence of online bookstores, which provide a simple and often cheap way of acquiring books. However, they cannot be any less personal. Furthermore, some of the best libraries and bookshops from around the world are proof that the physical often beats the digital, as most die-hard book lovers treasure the feel and smell of the books over the convenience of the eReader.
I’ve gone back to visiting more independent bookshops to keep the joy of reading alive and appreciate the magic of bookstores, which are beautiful sanctuaries away from the maddening world. I still stop by the chains every now and then as some of them truly stand out. Still, whenever possible, I prefer to do my research and find something small and unique instead.
While I have covered some bookstores in more detail on the blog, I felt it necessary to list the ones that might not get a chance in the spotlight but nevertheless deserve to.
Therefore, here is a growing collection of libraries and bookstores from around the world…
Cambridge Book Depot
Mussoorie, India – Located on The Mall Road in Mussoorie, a popular hill station in Uttarakhand, also known as the “Queen of the Hills,” Cambridge Book Depot is your quintessential bookshop packed to the brim with towering stacks of books in every direction. Besides selling a variety of novels across various genres, Cambridge is particularly popular for hosting Ruskin Bond, one of India’s most beloved authors, every week for an hour. Fans of the author typically line up outside to have a quick chat with him and get his books signed.
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
Budapest, Hungry – “One of the coolest bookshops that I’ve seen was on my recent trip to Budapest. As we explored the city, we stumbled across this cart set up in a courtyard. There are actually nine of these shops set up around Budapest that sell affordable books to city residents. The bookshops result from an initiative called “Moving Books,” which was made 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. At the same time, they tour the grand old antebellum mansions of the 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 is 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 the hand 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.
New York City, USA – “Idlewild specializes in all things travel. It is crammed full of guidebooks, travel stories, dictionaries, and maps. You can easily spend several hours here, traveling around the world without leaving New York. You can also take French, Spanish, Italian, and German lessons in one of the two classrooms at the back of the store.” – Photo and Words by James at Travel Collecting.
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 various languages, borrowing based on the honor 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.
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. The third floor has a wonderful coffeehouse to enjoy a good book and a hot drink. They have books in many languages, so there’s something for everyone.” – Words and Photos by Olivia Rutt of My Wandering Voyage.
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 with 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.
Brussels, Belgium – “This marvelous 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 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 planning to visit England, don’t stop only in 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 historic fishing village on the shores of Lake Michigan in the United States, an old, retired couple runs a charming little bookstore from inside their home. Good Old Books doesn’t just sell any type of book, however. The cozy shop features rare, used books, and many collections lining the shelves date back to the early 1800s. You’ll find signed, first-edition copies of Pulitzer Prize novels and 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.
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 numerous times. 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, allowing you to have a brief look inside this infamous library.” – Photo and Words by Laura Hartley.
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. However, the library’s most famous treasure 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.
Birmingham, UK – “The library’s architecture might have divided people into two groups of those who love it and those who don’t. Still, the fact remains that it adds to the cultural aspect of the city and leaves a positive impression on everyone who visits or uses 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 possible, including some rare finds. Other additions include gallery space for displays and a BFI Mediatheque.”
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.
Gurgaon, India – A quaint little bookshop inside a mall in the city that houses some relatively hard-to-find and unique books. It is curated uniquely and often avoids the more commonly famous authors and titles, although it has a bunch of classics and even sells early editions of many books.
UK and France – I came across Sarah and her Book Barge when it was moored on a canal in Birmingham, UK. Besides the apparent novelty of being a bookstore on water, there’s a certain charm to being in the small shop that sways gently as one browses along with a magnificent collection. I remember Sarah recommending “Diary of a Nobody” to me, which remains one of my favorite reads.
A quick glance at the website shows the Book Barge’s present status – “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.”
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.”
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 the 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 center.
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 highly knowledgeable, so 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.
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 an excellent glass frontage, and even has a large selection of “secondhand books” at a fixed price of CHF 5- each.
The staff is inviting, and they even gave me a lovely catalog 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.
Birmingham, UK – Even though Waterstones is a chain, it has a certain vibe that makes it different. The staff, for one, is eager to help, recommend, talk, and be there when and if you need them.
Now, Birmingham 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 favorites Ryu Murakami. I often spent 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 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 plan to keep this page updated with more bookstores when I visit them. But, I want this to be more than just about me. If you know of any 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