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London is the perfect place for bookworms. There are many very interesting places where you can get your hands on books. Sadly, in cities as busy as London, people do not have much time to browse through bookshops and we tend to order our books online. I decided to put an end to it and to remind myself the magic of getting lost in the bookshelves, to discover books that I have never heard of before, to talk to people about them and then have a cup of coffee in nearby café to have a read through my new catches. Besides, I like the idea of supporting small businesses.
So, I took advantage of November’s autumn vibes and went on a quest to conduct what I called the ‘London’s Bookshops Tour’. I made a list of most interesting bookstores and libraries around the city and added few more that I passed by during past few years and promised myself to visit them ‘one day when I have time’. And this is what I have found:
Perhaps the most iconic bookshop is the bespoke Daunt Books which has been opened since 1912 on Marylebone High Street. It specializes in travel books, however, there is something for everyone. I appreciated the organization of the store. Each block of an oak gallery is dedicated to one country or region. On the top part of the shelf, you can find all the travel guides, dictionaries, and stories written by travelers. At the bottom, you can find novels, science fiction and history books related to that specific country. How amazing is that? If that would not impress you, the graceful skylight definitely will. It just makes this whole place so special. Additionally, they offer a service that they call ‘subscription’. You will be seen by their consultant who will then pick books that you might like. You will then receive a beautifully wrapped new book every month for a year and all that for a fair price of £160. You can find more details on their website.
As the most famous I considered the Notting Hill Bookshop in the heart of Notting Hill. The store opened in 1979 and originally specialized in travel books only. However, today they aim to satisfy the broader audience with wider stock. They concentrate on beautiful gift editions, irresistible pocket hardbacks, satin-bound classics and a wide range of golden gilt leather-bounds. The bookshops became famous after a release of the Notting Hill movie and its popularity attracts thousands of fans of the film coming from all over the world. It is quite a small place and it felt way too crowded for me to enjoy the shelf browsing. The whole concept felt a bit disorganized and the staff was not proactively assisting the customers. So unless you know what exactly you are looking for, you will be lost. Sadly, this store did not make it to the list of places I will be returning too. Although, just behind a corner, there is the Portobello Road Market where you can find few book stalls with some unique pieces. You can then finish off your trip to Notting Hill with delicious brunch in Dayrooms Café.
After a delicious Croissant with Smoked Salmon and unbelievable Hot Berries Cake I took off to explore some more bookshops and I found my no. 1! Nomad Books on lively Fulham Broadway became my favorite almost immediately. It is so welcoming, and the community vibes are very strong. They live for the Fulham’s community, even their window is decorated by a local artist. It is that kind of place where they know customers’ names and they know details about their lives. I felt such positive energy as soon as I entered. Wooden floors and comfy sofas create a homey atmosphere. Moreover, the friendliness of their smiley staff just makes you to want to move to Fulham and come to this place every day to have a cup of coffee and to chat about books with all these lovely people. They host regular events which I imagine must be great in such a lovely atmosphere. And it does not end there, their children section is a paradise for little people. They also offer a reading clinic service, which works on the same principle as Daunt’s ‘subscription’. This shop scored 10 out of 10 for me!
Another great place is Hatchards on Piccadilly, the oldest bookshop in the country. It was founded in 1797 and I must say that the historical vibe of that place embraces you as you browse through. It is huge, yet very well organized. Even though it was busy, I did not feel distracted. Not to mention, their stock is just beyond real and they also host regular literary events and book signings. Sadly, I later discovered that it is now a branch of Waterstones which clashes with my aim to support small family businesses.
The award for the best shop for travelers goes to Stanfords in Covent Garden. It is the world’s biggest map and travel bookshop which is in business for 160 years. You can look here for a collection of maps, atlases, globes, maritime charts, travel guides, and travel books, and travel themed games and puzzles. I was impressed by the design of the store – the floor is covered by a huge world map, there are hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling and some of the bookshelves are in a shape of a kayak. Impressive place! Plus, there is a very cute cake shop right next door. Two good reasons to make your way to Covent Garden.
There are two stores, which I would categorize as the most unique and interesting. One of them is Gay’s the world in Bloomsbury, which is the only specifically lesbian and gay bookstore in the United Kingdom with very strong community vibe. Besides regular literary events, the shop also holds discussion groups. All their stock is LGBT themed and you can find some interesting read over there. The second place is Word on the water in Regent’s Canal Towpath. An old boat has been transformed into a floating bookshop. It used to travel along Regent’s Canal, but it’s now taken up permanent residence by Granary Square in King’s Cross. A really enchanting place that worth a visit.
There are a few places where you can get your hands on the second-hand books. Oh, don’t you love when your mind wonders about a story behind the second-hand book? Who owned it? How did he get it? Where did it travel to? If you are a fan of pre-owned books, then Skoob Books in Bloomsbury is your place. It is a temple for used academic books with a selection of 55,000 uncatalogued works to rummage through. They are priced at half or less of what they would cost if bought new.
Quinto and Francis Edwards at Charing Cross Road also offers secondhand books, plus antiquarian, collectible hardbacks and rare books. If you are in the area you can also pop into Any Amount of Books for rare, hard to find and antiquarian editions. Both of these shops have a strange mysterious atmosphere, exactly the one you would expect from the antiquarian place. While being in the Charing Cross area, I also wanted to visit the Goldsboro Books, which is in a stunning Victorian building in Cecil Street. They sell first editions and signed books. Unfortunately, I came out of their opening hours and so I could only look through the window. In the end, I was happy I came here because it led to the discovery of a bookstore right next door which I had no idea about!
The Watkins Books – the most surprising place of them all. Maybe it was because I did not plan to go there, maybe it was actually the place itself, but I loved it the most. It was so different and relaxed. Its main focus is on titles about the mind, body, and soul. The whole place has a kind of Buddha-vibe. Later I found out that Watkins is the oldest and largest esoteric bookshop. It is perfect for anyone who is looking for a place with romantic and mystical charm.
From the largest to the tiniest. Wildy & Sons Law Books in Fleet Street is located in what is probably the tiniest building I have ever seen.
There are also other ways how to get yourself a nice book to read. One option is a charity shop. You can find some good picks there for low prices. Although, you cannot expect a great selection in their stock.
An exciting option is also a library visit. The British Library is a must visit for every reader in London. Located a short walk from King’s Cross station, it is the largest national library in the world by a number of items cataloged. It is estimated to contain 150–200 million+ items from many countries. It also hosts interesting exhibitions.
I had an unique opportunity to visit the House of Commons Library that is not usually accessible to the public. It opened its door only for one week earlier this year for guided tours. It was an amazing experience and if you get a chance, I recommend paying a visit to this place. You may find interesting that the most borrowed book in this place is ‘How Parliament Works’. Well, that explains a lot…
There are some places that I did not have time to visit but planned to do so soon. The Primrose Hill Books in Camden Town seems like a good place to pop into. An 18-century building in Chiswick is home to the Foster Books, which sells first editions, fine bindings, and antiquarian volumes. Persephone Books in Bloomsbury is a bookseller as well as publisher of out-of-print female writers with timeless covers and period endpapers. And finally, the London Review Bookshop (also in Bloomsbury) is a famed bookstore hosting high-profile readings and includes a bijou tea room. I cannot wait to visit these places. If you know about any interesting bookshop in London (or nearby), please let me know in the comment section below.
All in all, I consider my bookshops tour successful. I found many interesting places and got myself a few new books which I am eager to read over upcoming Christmas break. I am happy to report that none of the stores I have visited was empty. It was nice to see how many people still appreciate the service and the magic provided by bookstores which simply cannot be substituted by e-shops. You can get yourself a little taste of my visits through my Instagram Stories Highlights and next time when you want to get yourself a book, try to visit your local bookshop. Let me know how it went 😊.