Even in an age of one-click online purchases and ebooks there’s still nothing to compare with taking your first steps into a newly discovered bookshop, exploring shelf after shelf, scanning spines and hunting for your next obsessive read.
In the run-up to Christmas we’re celebrating the unique atmosphere and knowledge of independent bookshops. These are 24 of our favourites from around the world – let us know yours in the comments below or by using the hashtag #LoveBookshops.
We’ve also put together a Twitter list of most of the bookshops which you can check out here.
1. Actes Sud
Established in 1983 on the banks of the river Rhône, the Actes Sud Bookstore displays 40,000 titles and regularly organises readings, debates and exhibitions.
“Great range of original French titles and others translated into French. The bookshop is in a complex with a cinema, restaurant and hammam – all-round pleasure.” Kate Griffin, Associate Programme Director
2. Athenaeum Boekhandel
One of Holland’s largest independent bookstores, founded in 1966, stocking a wide range of literary and academic titles from around the world.
“When we opened our doors in 1966 the bookstore was one-third the size of what it is now. In an apartment above our store we host a writer-in-residency, where there’s almost always an international writer working on their next title – from 4 December American author Nell Zink will be working and living upstairs.”
3. Atlantis Books
Created in 2004 on the Greek island of Santorini by four young men, two women and a van named Danny, Atlantis Books has since hosted food and film festivals and many readings on the terrace overlooking the Sea of Crete.
“The bookshop feels like home now and we’re still laughing about how our children will run it someday. As Will says, it’s as easy as that. As you. As that.”
4. Barter Books
In April 1991 Mary Manley decided to open a secondhand bookshop – one that would be based on the swap system – located in Alnwick’s magnificent old Victorian railway station. Barter Books has grown into what the New Statesman magazine calls ‘The British Library of secondhand bookshops’.
“Northumberland still feels like a well-known secret, as does Barter Books. It’s a cavernous space inside an old Victorian railway station and is every bit as exciting to visit as the region’s medieval castles.” Simon Jones, Digital Marketing Manager
Situated in a historic market town, Book-ish makes a point of combining books with great coffee, cake and even a glass of wine alongside an active programme of literature events.
“The bookshop I love would be Book-ish in Crickhowell, who were also involved in creating the first Fair Tax Town!” Flo Reynolds, Programme Assistant
Booksa is driven by a mission to bring literature to everyday life, placing literary works in a wider context and encouraging people to recognise reading as an intelligent, thrilling activity.
“It’s a long time since I visited, but I remember it as an intimate space where Croatian and international writers can meet each other and their enthusiastic readership.” Kate Griffin, Associate Programme Director
A legendary independent bookshop run by Kenny Leck, with a fantastic selection from around Asia, a series of book vending machines across Singapore and Math Paper Press, which specialises in new voices from the region. Also home to three cats – Cake, Pico and Lemon – who are the real bosses of the shop.
8. Brazen Head Bookshop
Burnham Market, UK
Established in 1998 in an old house in Burnham Market, near Horatio Nelson’s birthplace, the Brazen Head is full of nooks and crannies and has a loyal following of dedicated collectors.
“You could easily get lost in the Brazen Head bookshop. A labyrinth of small rooms filled to the brim with second-hand and antiquarian books specialising in art, poetry and fiction as well as children’s classics.” Alison McFarlane, Executive Director
9. Broese Booksellers
Established in 1974, Broese has a varied selection of new and second-hand Dutch and foreign language literature, in addition to science, children’s books, history, art and more.
“By itself justifies their new City of Literature status. It stocks books in loads of different languages as well as the complete collection of Miffy books. They used to wrap your book in this lovely blue paper folded in a particular way to make a stripe down the middle. I bought many books I didn’t need there just because I loved the way they wrapped them up!” Alice Kent, Communications Director
Sydney’s leading independent bookshop with over 40 years of experience and its own literature magazine, Gleaner.
Opened in 1945, this not-for-profit specialises in books, zines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics, with the claim of stocking the largest range of radical newsletters, newspapers and magazines of any shop in Britain.
12. McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers
New York, USA
Opened in 2004, McNally Jackson has almost daily events, features an Espresso Book Machine for printing self-published and public domain books and specialises in Spanish-American writers. Purported to have been David Bowie’s favourite bookshop.
“There are so many bookshops to visit and fall in love with in New York, and while the Strand Bookstore is the go-to favourite for most, I was really struck by McNally Jackson. I love the colourful layout, the books hanging from the ceiling, the busy cafe and the sheer number of events and community activities!” Steph McKenna, Communications Officer
13. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights
A bright, labyrinthine space where you never know what you might encounter next, from claw-foot bath book displays to toilets illustrated by Chris Riddell. It opened in 2006 and has already twice been named the UK’s best independent bookshop and in 2015 The Guardian named Mr B’s one of the ten best bookshops in the world.
14. Randy’s Book Xchange
Quang Nam, Vietnam
Run by Randy Slocum, the Book Xchange is open most of the day – unless Randy has a pressing dinner invitation to attend.
15. Sam Read Bookseller
This year Sam Read’s celebrated 130 years selling books in the beautiful, gingerbread-infused village of Grasmere. In 2006, Sam Read’s was the winner of the Times/Independent Alliance Competition for Best UK Independent Bookshop with customers including EM Forster and Ian McKellen.
“I remember a lovely little bookshop when I was on holiday in Grasmere in the Lake District – Sam Read Bookseller. I spent more than I meant to – very impressed with the way that they provided such a wide variety of books, wonderfully displayed in such a little shop.” David Barrass, Head of Finance
16. Seagull Books
A small publishing company with a large reputation and dedication to education, creativity and social development of young people and the community.
“A shop, a publisher, a hub, a community – a generator of international, regional and local exchange and reading that has a global influence.” Chris Gribble, Chief Executive
17. College Street
“Not a shop but a street, which is completely crammed with second-hand book stalls, mostly selling coursebooks for students at President University, but I did find a nice collection of essays on film by Satyajat Ray there and – bizarrely – some sort of manifesto on the Arts and Crafts movement by William Morris. There is also a wonderful coffee shop which persists, even now, in selling Nescafe whitened with condensed milk – perversely delicious.” Sarah Bower, General Manager
18. The Book Hive
A beautiful three-storey building housing a unique collection of books in a quirky and stylish setting. The Book Hive opened in October 2009 and was named The Daily Telegraph’s Best Small Bookshop in Britain in 2011. It has since been a regional finalist in The Bookseller Best Bookshop Award and first in the East in The Independent’s Top 50 Bookshops in the UK.
“Eclectic, thoughtful, and tempting – a must for book lovers visiting Norwich!” Margaret Atwood, patron of the National Centre for Writing
19. The Bookworm
Book lovers, old China hands, newcomers, students and business travelers alike unite at The Bookworm. Mixing a bookshop, library, bar, restaurant and events space, it’s go-to venue for visiting authors is committed to being a platform for the positive exchange of ideas and free expression.
“Work, write, read, eat, take part in a festival – meet people you actually know in one of the world’s largest cities…it all happens at The Bookworm.” Chris Gribble, Chief Executive
20. The Globe Bookstore and Cafe
Prague, Czech Republic
Founded in 1993, The Globe is expat Prague’s literary epicenter and provides a unique meeting place for artists, writers, students and travelers. The café regularly hosts literary readings, movies, live music and other events; while the bookstore offers a wide selection of approximately 10,000 hand-picked titles.
21. Tiny Book Store
Possibly the smallest bookshop on this list, the Tiny Book Store lives up to its name and provides children with a 10% discount and a gift of an old penny – as long as they buy the book themselves. You can even pick up a free book – if you’re able to find it hidden on the shelves.
22. Topping & Company Booksellers
A vibrant, independent haven for bibliophiles, set in the shadow of the magnificent Ely Cathedral with over 45,000 titles and knowledgeable, passionate booksellers. Complimentary pots of fresh tea and coffee are always on offer for browsers of the hand-crafted shelves. A lively, all-year-round events programme provides readers and authors with the opportunity to meet and chat.
“I know that someone has thought about every book on every shelf – and every shelf and flat space is JAMMED with books. They make their shop a place people want to be – not just where they want to shop.” Chris Gribble, Chief Executive
23. Voltaire & Rousseau Bookshop
Opened in Otago Lane in 1972 and still serves customers who’ve been with them from that first year. The name attracts a lot of French and foreign literature in addition to Scottish, but any and all subjects are welcome. Customers have included A.L. Kennedy, Bernard McLaventy, Tom Leonard, Barry Humphries, Dennis Healey, Pat Kane, Rev. Ian Paisley and Margaret Atwood.
“A hidden gem – if you’re looking for towering piles of books, it’s the place to go. It’s also next door to my favourite tea-shop ever, Tchai Ovna.” Vicki Maitland, Programme Assistant
24. Word on the Water
A 100-year-old Dutch barge on the Thames, which for the last decade has been selling quality second-hand and new books.
Tell us about your favourite indie bookshop in the comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #LoveBookshops.