I’ve realised that whenever I plan a trip, I like to include a visit to a charming usually second-hand bookshop. You know the ones. Those unpretentious neighbourhood gems, a little worn around the edges but oozing charm, ideally – but not essentially – tucked up a side-street. Oh, and definitely not a chain. Stepping foot inside one, I feel instantly transported and excited to discover my next life-changing read. Right now, seeing as we’re all looking for ways to travel whether that’s through art, books, music, I thought we could indulge in some virtual travelling to 18 charming bookshops around the world.
1. FAULKNER HOUSE BOOKS, New Orleans
Could there be a more charming bookshop front? Tucked along a breezy side street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, is Faulkner House Books. It’s set inside an 1837 townhouse where famous author, William Faulkner, once lived and wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay. Inside, it’s small but has a good selection of classic and modern novels, and books about New Orleans and local culture. There is also, a shrine-like section dedicated to books by Faulkner which are more expensive and the owner will let you look at, at your own risk!
Faulkner House Books, 624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116
2 Walden Books, London
This enchanting hidden neighbourhood gem in north London makes the perfect escape from the crazy crowds on nearby Camden High Street. Walden Books has been open since 1979, so it’s well-established, they even have a bookshop cat which is often asleep on the books outside. Inside, it’s a cosy treasure trove of used and rare books with prices ranging from 50p to £50. Apparently, the wisteria-covered shopfront is a reminder of author Henry Thoreau’s time he spent living in a cabin in the woods, which he wrote about in the book Walden, after which the shop is named.
Walden Books, 38 Harmood Street, London NW1 8DP
3 MYSTERY PIER BOOKS, Los Angeles
Is it a cottage? No, it’s a bookshop disguised as a cute cottage hidden down an alleyway off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood! Don’t be fooled by the humble facade, for Mystery Pier Books is home to some of the most expensive rare editions of signed copies of classic novels in history! Johnny Depp, Oprah Winfrey, Bette Midler, Bono, Martin Scorsese, Patti Smith and scores of other Hollywood celebs are among the names that own books from the shop. In fact, the shop is actually owned by a former English actor, Harvey Jason, who starred in The Gumball Rally, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and countless TV roles throughout the 70s and 80s.
Mystery Pier Books, 8826 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
4 ATLANTIS BOOKS, Santorini, Greece
Could Atlantis Books on the pretty – but sadly tourist-packed – Greek island of Santorini, be the bookshop with the best view in the world? This tiny treasure was started in 2004 by a group of friends from England, Cyprus and America, after a night drinking wine, and is still going strong. It’s worth checking out their Facebook page to see how they transformed it from a neglected old village house into magical place it is today.
Rather than page-turning holiday reads for your next sunbathing session, Atlantis stocks great literary works, modern classic fiction, poetry, philosophy, art books in a variety of languages. There’s also a good section on Greek interest.
Atlantis Books, Main Marble Road, TK. 84702 Oía, Santorini, Greece
5 ARMCHAIR BOOKS, Edinburgh, Scotland
I just want to climb inside these photos to wander and weave the aisles of Armchair Books. This family-run bookshop is the cosiest in Edinburgh crammed with an eye-popping selection of second-hand books at bargain prices. If you want to browse, you’ll need a good hour or two, but if you’re after something specific, the knowledgable staff can help you find ‘that blue book with the gold writing on the spine, possibly a drawing of an elephant or a tornado on the cover’ and are ready to answer questions about their favourite books or sections in the shop.
Armchair Books, 72-74 West Port, Edinburgh EH1 2LE
6 Heybeli Sahaf Antiquarian Books, Istanbul
This beautiful bookshop sells old photographs, reproductions of vintage postcards and plenty of secondhand books. Apart from the odd book in English, most are in Turkish but it’s worth a visit just to admire the handsome timber building adorned with art nouveau timber fretwork and jewel-coloured stained glass.
Heybeli Sahaf, Heybeliada, Lozan Zaferi Cd. No:57, 34973 Adalar/İstanbul
7 LIBERIA AQUA ALTA, Venice
“Cozy, offbeat bookstore featuring lots of vintage titles along with unique displays & resident cats,” reads its Google description. Inside is a full-sized gondola smack in the middle of the shop, overflowing with books. Head to the back and take a seat in front of the open doors; the canal at your feet, water gently splashing against the doorstep as you flick through a book.
Libraria Aqua Alta, Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176b, 30122 Venice
8 Barts Books, Ojai, California
Founded in 1964, Bart’s Books is a beautiful outdoor bookstore where you can hang out in the courtyard surrounded by a maze of bookshelves, play a game of chess in the shade or read a short story under the apple tree. Not just a desirable al fresco space, Bart’s Books’ art shows and weekly community events are a bit of a local tradition.
Bart’s Books, 302 West Matilija Street, Ojai, California 93023
9 The Little Bookshop, Beirut
“The Little Bookshop is a very tiny bookstore in Al Hamra, Beirut, where you’ll find the owner sitting comfortably in a corner and reading all day. He’s such an avid reader that he’s well aware of every single novel on his shelves. His book selection wasn’t so common and the titles were unique. (English books only).” – Nazli’s Bookshelf.
While the bookshop does not have any social media platform, Google lists the shop as currently open. “Though there are no set hours, usually between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., you will find owner Adib Rahhal sitting behind his desk. Most likely, he will be in conversation with someone about literature… Step off Jeanne D’Arc street and listen for the jazz”. More info.
The Little Bookshop, Makdisi Building, Basra Street,، Beirut, Lebanon
10 Word on the Water, London
London has no shortage of bookshops you can easily spend hours peacefully browsing, but there’s one – with a twist – that melts my heart a little more each time I go back to London. You’ll find Word on the Water near King’s Cross station, floating on the Regent’s Canal towpath, just around the corner from the British Library, behind the Lighterman Pub. You’ll know you’re close when you hear the gentle sound of music floating in the air along the towpath… Find out more here.
11 THE ABBEY BOOKSHOP, Paris
Tucked in the bohemian Latin Quarter of Paris is this neighbourhood gem, an off-the-beaten path, little-known alternative to the tourist-crammed Shakespeare & Co which is only a few blocks away. This is equally as nostalgic and charming, set in a historic 18th-century former Hotel Dubuisson, with its picturesque façade, sculptural decoration and carved doors. It’s owned by a Canadian man, and stocks an incredible choice of new, used and rare books. There’s also a courtyard café.
The Abbey Bookshop, 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris
12 BOOKS ACTUALLY, Singapore
This cheerful independent bookshop is hidden away in the old Singaporean housing estate of Tiong Bahru. The owner, Kenny, really knows his stuff and personally selects every title sold in his shop and set up his own publishing house for up-and-coming Singaporean authors. He also stocks an interesting selection of vintage knick-knacks.
Books Actually, 44 Upper Weld Road, Singapore 207401
13 BARTER BOOKS, England
Set inside an old Victorian train station in Northumberland is this giant nostalgic treasure trove of a bookshop nicknamed ‘the British Library of second-hand books’. It’s also unique in that you don’t buy books, you swap books instead. It also has a very special story to tell: one of the most recognisable posters in the world, the wartime catchphrase Keep Calm and Carry On, was actually lost in history until 2000 when it was re-discovered inside a dusty old box at this charming second-hand bookshop in North England. Discover the story and the bookshop in this video.
Barter Books, Alnwick Station, Northumberland NE66 2NP England
14 BRATTLE BOOKS, Boston
Brattle Books opened in 1825 (!) which makes it one of America’s oldest bookshops. They buy and sell good used and rare books and not surprisingly with their time in business, have gained numerous regulars over the years, one of which has been coming in every day for over 50 years. Apparently on the days he can’t come in, he calls to let them know!
They also have an incredible outdoor area which is open all year-round -weather dependent of course.
Brattle Books, 9 West St, Boston, MA 02111
15 Biblioteca Privata Itinerante ‘Pietro Tramonte’, Palermo, Sicily
I almost forgot to include this unusual outdoor bookshop we discovered on our trip to Sicily (along with these gems). Only people in the know visit this outdoor bookshop in Palermo, so out the way of the main tourist area, you wouldn’t know it was there unless a local told you about it. Lucky for us, we got a tip off and made the trip, and weren’t disappointed. It’s owned by a man called Pietro Tramonte who started it up to keep the retirement blues away. Apparently it’s the largest al fresco “bookstore” in the world. Thousands of volumes line the streets and can be picked up or exchanged through a barter system.
Piazza Monte S. Rosalia, 18/19 (angolo Via Gagini, 64) 90133 Palermo
16 ARGOSY BOOKS, New York
Opened in 1925, this is New York’s oldest bookstore, with enough antiquarian and out-of-print items to fill its six-floor building in midtown Manhattan and a large warehouse in Brooklyn.
They specialise in Americana, modern first editions, autographs, art, nd the history of science & medicine but pretty much have books in all all other fields of interest. The best part? It has a vintage lift (elevator) which if you ride to the second floor, you’ll find an entire level devoted to beautiful antique maps and prints, which I would be at risk of never leaving.
It also features in a scene in Hitchcock’s famous film, Vertigo.
Argosy Books, 116 Eat 59th Street, New York
17 BOULEVARD BOOKS, Hastings, England
The charming Boulevard Bookshop in Hastings’ old town hides a spicy weekend secret, when it becomes the setting for a secret Thai restaurant.
Boulevard Books Thai Cafe, 32 George Street, Hastings East Sussex TN34 3NA
18 Britain’s red telephone box libraries
Since 2008, about 2,500 old red phone boxes around the UK have been bought from British Telecom by local communities for just £1. They’ve been turned into all kinds of mini ventures from museums, coffee shops, and miniature libraries, like this one I spotted village hopping one Sunday through a little place called East Chiltington about 30 minutes drive from Brighton. Like most phone box libraries, it operates on an honesty system, in that you can either borrow a book or exchange.