When it comes to bookshops, London is a bibliophile’s dream come true. Despite trends over the last 20 years for big bookshops and online sales, the capital city remains chock-full of independent booksellers and specialist retailers. So, whether you’re looking for the latest best seller, a rare first edition or a book about a niche subject, you’re likely to find it in London.
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to the appearance of a bookshop, looks can be important. Sure, a dusty hole-in-the-wall shop might be full of character and out-of-print treasures. But a book store with a stunning interior design and pristine shelves stretching high up the walls can also be a joy to peruse.
- Daunt Books – An Edwardian bookshop on Marylebone High Street, Daunt Books is one of the prettiest bookshops in London. Spread over two floors of towering oak shelving, the shop has a glass roof for plenty of natural lighting. Plus, books are uniquely arranged by country, offering an unusual browsing experience.
- Lutyens & Rubinstein – This bookshop and literary agency in Notting Hill is relatively new to the London bookshop scene, having only opened in 2009. But it has quickly made a name for itself, thanks to its stylish ambience and wonderful selection of books. Being only a small shop, L&R must be selective in which books it stocks and when it first opened, the owners surveyed everyone they know to find out which books should be on the shelves – that means that every tome is there because somebody loved it.
- London Review Bookshop – Located in Bloomsbury, this bookshop was opened in 2003. It aims to provide a lovely setting where book lovers can meet, talk, enjoy hot drinks and cake and browse titles. With more than 20,000 tomes in its bright and inviting shop, options range from world literature, contemporary fiction and poetry through to history, politics, philosophy, cookery and children’s books.
- Hatchards – Established in 1797, this shop on Piccadilly holds the distinction of being the oldest bookshop in the UK. It has a lovely Georgian front, sells books spanning a variety of genres and holds three royal warrants.
If you’re looking for something specific, London offers an array of bookshops that cater to a very specific set of interests.
- Collectibles – Situated in the West End, Goldsboro Books is the perfect spot for book collectors who like signed first editions. The shop also works with publishers to create exclusive limited editions and it also offers an array of out-of-print books.
- Travel – Opened in 1853, Stanford’s flagship shop in Covent Garden stocks the world’s largest selection of travel books and maps – and it has served some very prestigious customers in the past, including Captain Scott, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Florence Nightingale.
- Food – Books for Cooks in Notting Hill offers a great selection of recipe books, food guides and other culinary books. The shop has a test cafe at the back, where recipes are put to the test, and it also offers cookery classes in the demonstration kitchen upstairs.
- Female writers – Specialising in books by female writers from the 20th century, Persephone books is a great place to find something new by a writer who may have been overlooked in the past. Plus, all of its books are beautiful to look at, with their elegant grey covers, designer endpapers and matching bookmarks.
- Art – In Shoreditch, you’ll find Artwords. This shop specialises in books about contemporary visual arts and culture, covering subjects like fashion, graphic design, architecture, photography, fine art and theory.
- Photography – Claire de Rouen is just off Charing Cross Road and it offers a vast selection of photobooks, as well as magazines and other publications relating to photography and other types of art.
- Science fiction and fantasy – The Forbidden Planet Megastore on Shaftesbury Avenue offers a huge selection of sci-fi, fantasy and cult books, as well as comic books, table-top games, memorabilia and collectibles. Author talks, gaming demonstrations and book signings are held regularly.
- LGBT – Opened in 1979, Gay’s the Word in Bloomsbury stocks a variety of books from authors in the LGBT community. The titles range from profound to frivolous and from liberating to indulgent and the book seller has always aimed to help spread ideas and provide support and, as well as selling books, it holds regular events like book clubs and author talks.
Whether you’re looking for a bargain or very rare books, there are plenty of second-hand shops in the capital.
- Skoob Books – Situated in a basement in Bloomsbury, this 2,000 square-foot second-hand bookshop is crammed full of titles, with books squeezed onto shelves and stacked high on the floor. It’s widely considered one of the best used bookshops in London and it’s a great place if you’re looking for a bargain.
- Any Amount of Books – Located near Leicester Square, this shop buys and sells a wide range of books ranging from cheap paperbacks through to antiquarian books for many thousands of pounds. Browsing the shelves here, you’re sure to find plenty of treasures and the shop also specialises in high-quality leather bound books for decorating.
- Judd – Spread across two floors, this shop near Russell Square opened in 1992 and offers a variety of used and low-cost academic books. It also offers a number of books about London, local history, architecture and travel.
- Book Mongers – This bookshop in Brixton has been buying and selling second-hand books for the past 20 years. As well as its eclectic selection of titles, the shop also offers a welcoming atmosphere and its resident dog adds to the homely environment.
- Book and Comic Exchange – Located in Notting Hill, this is an essential destination for book lovers. The space is packed with books of every genre, as well as old and vintage comics and magazines. There’s also literally a bargain basement where hundreds of items are available for under a pound.
- Worlds End Bookshop – This bookshop in Chelsea offers a variety of second-hand and antiquarian books. Established more than 25 years ago, it specialises in architecture, modern art and fashion and also plenty of more general titles to choose from.
- Southbank Book Market – Situated under the Waterloo Bridge on the south bank, this is one of the few outdoor book markets in the UK. Thanks to the shelter provided by the bridge, it’s open daily, rain or shine and offers a huge selection of books to choose from.
While the smaller bookshops have their allure, the city also has a couple of truly massive booksellers. But be careful – it’s easy to lose yourself in the stacks and spend a whole day browsing the shelves, especially with so many tomes to choose from.
- Foyles – The Foyles flagship shop in Charing Cross Road is famous for its range of more than 200,000 books spread over 6.5 km of shelves. This massive bookstore sells a diverse selection of books including fiction, poetry and children’s books as well as reference and education books.
- Waterstones Piccadilly – This big-chain bookshop has outlets across the UK, so it’s likely you’ve been in one before. However, it’s certainly worth paying a visit to the one on Piccadilly, since it’s Europe’s largest bookshop. Spanning eight floors, with more than 13 km of shelving, this isn’t your ordinary high street bookshop. Plus, the cafe on the fifth floor offers a great view.