Is there anything more exciting than paying a visit to an independent bookshop?

In the run up to our Desmond Elliott Prize 2021 shortlist announcement we’ve spent a lot of time in conversation with some amazing independent bookshops and booksellers across the UK and Ireland. These are beautiful locations with passionate, informed staff who offer great tailored book recommendations to their visitors. Below is a hand-pick of some of our favourites.

Got a favourite bookshop that isn’t on our list? Send your recommendations with us on Twitter or Instagram!

The Book Hive (Norwich)

The Book Hive is a place that celebrates the beauty of printed material – as well as the pleasures of whimsical, alternative curation. Stock is displayed in a way that maximises the impact of book design, with a strong emphasis on booksellers’ picks for a unique browsing experience. The shop hosts regular events, including a weekly quiet reading hour called Page Against the Machine, author signings, launches and other book-related goings on. The top floor hosts private work booths, available for rent by writers and creatives. Margaret Atwood finished her novel The Heart Goes Last in one of them. Website / Twitter / Instagram

Books Paper Scissors (Belfast)

Books Paper Scissors opened in June 2017, in the leafy area of South Belfast near the university, parks and museum. They curate a selection of the latest and greatest fiction and non-fiction, so that their customers always have their fingers on the pulse of what’s new. The shop also stocks lots of Irish interest titles, travel, poetry, and they have a dedicated children’s room with something for everyone from newborn right up to YA. They run a bookclub, have an online shop, and also sell some beautiful cards, high quality journals, stationery and pens alongside the books. Website / Twitter / Instagram

Burley Fisher Books (London)

Burley Fisher Books is an independent bookstore based in Haggerston, London, bringing you the best in books, coffee and chat since 2016. Their booksellers loves hand-selling and are passionate about indie fiction, non-fiction and poetry: the shop also has a zine collection, a selection of brand-new indie fiction and poetry subscriptions. During lockdown, the bookshop has been running a programme of online events, and you can listen in to their Isolation Station podcast. As if that wasn’t enough, Burley Fisher has a growing secondhand bookstore with an online catalogue coming soon! Website / Twitter / Instagram
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Five Leaves (Nottingham)

Five Leaves is an independent – and radical – bookshop in its eighth year, based in Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. They’ve always specialised in diversity in their stock and in their events. They usually hold about a hundred events a year, and still do though they are currently online.

Five Leaves started as a small publishing firm in 1995, and still publish though most of their energy goes into running the bookshop. The shop’s priority areas include poetry, Black Lives, LGBT, feminism – and they restarted Feminist Book Fortnight a few years ago, involving 60 independent bookshops in Britain, Ireland and Italy. Five Leaves is a Living Wage Employer. Website / Twitter / Instagram

Forum Books (Northumberland)

Forum Books is an award-winning independent bookshop in a beautiful listed chapel right, in the heart of Corbridge, Northumberland AND the bound is newly open on Park View, Whitley Bay! Eclectic, original and endlessly enthusiastic about the printed word, they stock a hand-picked eye-popping range of books. Plus they’re staffed by bibliophiles happy to talk books. In short , Forum Books love book as much as you do! Website / Twitter / Instagram

Golden Hare Books (Edinburgh)

Golden Hare Books are a knowledgeable team of self-confessed reading addicts who have been selling beautiful books since 2012. The charming independent bookshop is situated in Edinburgh‘s Stockbridge, where you can find an ever-changing collection of fiction and non-fiction for readers of all ages. They also offer our famous PostBooks reading subscription, as well as Golden Hare Friends memberships that offer loads of benefits (including an amazing 10% discount on all purchases). Website / Twitter / Instagram

The Mainstreet Trading Company (St Boswells)

Based in the beautiful Scottish Borders village of St Boswells, The Mainstreet Trading Company is a destination bookshop, café, deli and homeware shop. Books are at the heart of the business, with over 7,000 titles in stock and a particular focus on children’s books. Mainstreet has won several prizes over the years, including Independent Bookshop of the Year, Children’s Bookseller of the Year and Britain’s Best Small Shop. Website / Twitter / Instagram

Maldon Books (Essex)

Maldon Books is an independent bookshop found in the heart of the historical town of Maldon, Essex. They’re a fairly new addition to the town, having only opened their doors in December 2019. Like most bookshops, Maldon has been wading their way through the trials and tribulations of 2020, and they’re thrilled to finally be open again. Maldon Books is a small shop, bursting with books for both children and adults. They’ve also got a resident tiger and giraffe! Don’t believe us? Go and see for yourself! Website / Twitter / Instagram

Pages of Hackney (London)

Opened in 2008, Pages of Hackney is a small award-winning bookshop on the Lower Clapton Road. They sell an eclectic mix of books in the areas of literary fiction, politics, feminism, essays and life writing as well as philosophy, psychology, nature writing, music and children’s books. Pages’ priority is to be a friendly, welcoming community bookshop that feels accessible and inclusive: they want each customer to feel that the bookshop is for them and they do their best to give customers individually as much time and thought as they can. It’s also important to them to support the issues and authors they believe in and to give a platform to marginalised voices in publishing. Website / Twitter / Instagram

Portobello Bookshop (Edinburgh)

The Portobello Bookshop is an independent bookshop by the seaside in Portobello, Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature, and open since July 2019. They offer books from a range of genres and subjects – from contemporary fiction to poetry, current affairs, nature writing, art & design titles and children’s books – and stock a selection of greeting cards and stationery as well as magazines and board games. They also have an online shop with an extensive catalogue of books, including signed editions, and hold a varied programme of events. The bookshop itself is a warm, inviting and welcoming space, and all their stock is curated by a passionate team of booksellers. Website / Twitter / Instagram