Hey friends! Today, I have a really exciting post for your guys. I collaborated with several other amazing travel bloggers (and book lovers) and compiled a list of the best bookstores in the world! This is an extremely comprehensive guide and all of these places are worth adding to your itinerary. Do you have a bookstore that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below!
- 1 Shakespeare & Company – Paris, France
- 2 Libreria Acqua Alta – Venice, Italy
- 3 Tattered Cover – Denver, Colorado
- 4 Powell’s City of Books – Portland, Oregon
- 5 Carturesti Carusel – Bucharest, Romania
- 6 Ler Devagar – Lisbon, Portugal
- 7 El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Buenos Aires, Argentina
- 8 El Péndulo – Mexico City, Mexico
- 9 Palavra de Viajante – Lisbon, Portugal
- 10 Rainy Day Books – Kansas City, Missouri
- 11 Pilsen Community Books – Chicago, Illinois
- 12 Red Emma’s – Baltimore, Maryland
- 13 House of Books in Saint Petersburg, Russia
- 14 City Lights – San Francisco, California
- 15 Like This Post? Pin It!
The Best Bookstores In The World
Shakespeare & Company – Paris, France
When visiting a city steeped in history, you’re bound to come across more amazing bookstores than you can shake a stick at. One of the most famous of these literary attractions in Europe is Paris’s Shakespeare & Company. The only fully English language bookstore in the city, it seems a little incongruous – after all, who goes to Paris to speak or read English?! Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, and Joyce, just to name a few. This bookstore’s original Left Bank incarnation helped nurture these Lost Generation authors as they came into their own, and is still known as a Mecca for English-speaking authors looking for Parisian inspiration and support.
And now, in its post-War location and staffed by hopeful writers bartering shop work for ambiance, this place is nothing short of a book lover’s dream come true. With everything from antique editions of timeless works to a bargain bin copy of IT to little €2 envelopes stashed with random, classic poems typed by the staff, the only thing about this place that you WON’T love is the line to get inside!
These travel bloggers share what their favorite bookstores are, all around the world. Click To Tweet
Libreria Acqua Alta – Venice, Italy
Tucked away on a tiny, quiet side street in Venice in Libreria Acqua Alta, is a pokey, overfilled bookstore. It may be small and unassuming but if you’ve been around on Instagram you’ve probably heard of it. The bookstore became Insta-famous for two features: inside the store, they have a gondola filled with books and outside the back of the shop they have a small patio with a staircase made from books leading to a great canal view.
It’s not surprising that Venice floods from time to time. It’s to be expected when your roads are made of water. Libreria Acqua Alta has solved the problem of ruined by keeping their merchandise up off the floor in the gondola and also in bathtubs and other waterproof bins. Pretty ingenious. And makes for a good photo op.
Tattered Cover – Denver, Colorado
I have been to bookstores near and far and none of them compare to the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been to both locations and love both locations, but my personal favorite is the one in the Aspen Grove mall in Littleton, Colorado because it’s a lot larger, cozier, and has a wider variety of books. I make a point to visit everytime I’m in the Denver area. I go into the store planning on buying only one book and I come out with about twenty more. That’s a pretty good problem to have, if I may say.
Powell’s City of Books – Portland, Oregon
Powell’s City of Books in Portland Oregon is one of the country’s (and worlds) best bookstores. It was founded in the late 70’s and has remained independently owned since, making it the largest independent bookseller in the United States. The flagship location takes up an entire city block and boasts 68,000 sq feet of retail space. One’s first foray into Powell’s can be incredibly overwhelming with the numerous color-coded rooms and multiple floors. It is so large that they even have a handy map of the store at the information counter. Powell’s combines new and used books throughout the store making the likely hood of you finding what you need (or didn’t need) higher. If rare books are your thing there is even a special room that you can check out their rare book collection in on the top floor. If you are a book lover Powell’s City of Books must be on your list of stores to visit as there truly is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
Carturesti Carusel – Bucharest, Romania
My favorite bookstore ever has to be Carturesti Carusel, one of the most instagrammable spots in Bucharest, Romania.
This beautifully-designed bookshop is not only a bookworm’s paradise, but it is an Instagrammer’s dream. It is a very open space where the light is really bright and it reflects off the white 3-level balconied shop. I love the splashes of color from the books on the shelves against the white background. The lovely classical style columns and dreamy spiral staircases take you directly to the first-floor balcony, where you can browse books in both Romanian and English. There is also a central staircase that takes you to the second level and to a sweet little bistro on the third floor. And why stop at books? There is also a gift and clothing store in the basement.
Ler Devagar – Lisbon, Portugal
El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Buenos Aires, Argentina
The most amazing bookstore I’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling into was the El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A marvelous nearly 100-year-old theatre that has been converted into a multi-level bookstore and complete with a licensed cafe. Even though all the books were in Spanish it was an utter delight to be able to walk around the glamorous building and imagine the wonderful shows that would have once been on offer.
After strolling around the four levels of books it’s down to the center stage to experience a little bit of relaxation with a coffee or a wine. As you enjoy an afternoon treat it’s easy to drift away as you people watch. It’s hard not to imagine what it would have been like to have been an actor on this glorious stage. Just waiting for that moment when the heavy red curtains are pulled back.
El Péndulo – Mexico City, Mexico
Palavra de Viajante – Lisbon, Portugal
There is nothing Instagrammable about Palavra de Viajante but I think it’s one of the most beautiful places to lose track of time in Lisbon. The true appeal of this bookstore in the Portuguese capital is that it (literally) holds the whole world inside its four walls – from guides to memoirs, from souvenirs to maps, all that is travel-related can be found here in Portuguese, English, and French. Looking for a specific travel book? You will probably find it here. If not, a quick chat with the owner will put you on the right track.
Unlike other bookstores, where books are organized by genre or by author, inside Palavra de Viajante each nook or cluster of shelves corresponds to one continent. You can hop from one to the next in a split second and find that book for inspiration or the guide with practical tips you were looking for but were having trouble finding elsewhere.
Rainy Day Books – Kansas City, Missouri
Pilsen Community Books – Chicago, Illinois
Pilsen Community Books is an absolute dream! Tucked away in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, this place is the quintessential bookstore. I stopped in on a chilly day and was surprised at how cozy it was. While small, its walls are lined from floor to ceiling with books. They even have the old rolling ladders! I would estimate approximately 80% of their book selection is used and priced under $10. The owners choose their inventory meticulously, so everything looks brand new! When I visited I had to restrain myself from purchasing an entire suitcase worth of books to take home with me. And something I love especially is the fact that they give back through their Pilsen Reads! program. They’ve given away over 1,700 books to 28 classrooms in their community. The owners place a lot of importance and meaning in the “community” part of “Pilsen Community Books.” I love and admire that commitment to doing good.
While you’re in the neighborhood, Pilsen itself is also worth exploring! The area is bright and vibrant, with colorful murals lining the streets. Originally it was a Czech diaspora, but sometime around the mid 20th century, it saw a rise in the Hispanic demographic. Nowadays the Mexican influence is very obvious in the area. Thanks to the community’s diversity, you’ll find an array of vintage shops, coffee houses, panaderias, and restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine like tamales. Pilsen is a special, unique place. While the bookstore and the neighborhood may be little off the beaten path of Chicago’s must-see attractions, it’s definitely worth a visit!
Red Emma’s – Baltimore, Maryland
I really love Red Emma’s in Baltimore, Maryland, though it is definitely not your typical bookstore! Red Emma’s is a radical bookstore (as well as a community space, coffee shop, and vegetarian/vegan café). A radical bookstore, for the folks who are unfamiliar, features books whose subject matter tackles the root causes of systemic injustices and oppressions throughout the word. Thus, in Red Emma’s you find a large selection of books related to feminism, gender studies, queerness, race, class, environmental justice, and so much more. It’s a great place to go to brush up on your social justice knowledge. Also, Red Emma’s contains many books related to social movements and organizing within Baltimore itself. Some of my favorite picks from Red Emma’s are Excluded by Julia Serano, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and The Battle For Justice In Palestine by Ali Abunimah.
House of Books in Saint Petersburg, Russia
House of Books in Saint Petersburg wasn’t initially constructed to be a bookshop. It was designed and built for Singer Sewing Machine Company as its Russian headquarters. The company wanted to make it a skyscraper similar to the one they have in New York – however, in Saint Petersburg it was forbidden to build anything taller than the Winter Palace. Therefore, the architect needed to find a smart way to make the building stand out. And he did – the building has a beautiful glass tower topped with a globe. It is beautiful – and subtle.
The building served the Singer Company initially but it’s been a bookshop for almost 100 years now. Short after October Revolution in 1919 Petrograd State Publishing House received the building and it’s been serving as a bookshop with hardly any breaks since then.
City Lights – San Francisco, California
City Lights is a San Francisco institution founded in 1953 as a bookstore and performance venue. They gave voice to the Beat movement, publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and spotlighting authors like Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs. 64 years later, the store is still a touchstone for San Francisco’s ongoing counterculture.
The store still promotes ideas and creativity that sit squarely outside of the mainstream with a poetry room and an eclectic assortment of staff pics. You can wander around the upstairs fiction section or the basement nonfiction area, buy a book and then go up to the attic. There you’ll find the poetry room which is a great reading space with lots of light and cushy chairs.
If you’re thirsty…you can take your new book next door to the Vesuvio bar. The saloon was established in 1948 and was the chief watering hole for Neal Cassady, Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac and other Beats. After your beer, go and seek out other counter-culture spots in San Francisco and you’ll get to experience the true personality of the city.
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