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Bookstores Around The World: My Top 10

For today's post I am basically going to share my top 10 bookstores around the world. These are all based on pictures, so they are simply my top ten because of how they look. These are in order from my number 1 to 10.


1. Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, Italy

This Venice bookstore has resigned itself to constant flooding by keeping its books in bathtubs and boats. The self-proclaimed “most beautiful bookstore in the world” is composed of a number of over-stuffed rooms stacked wall-to-wall with books, magazines, maps, and other ephemera. Due to Venice’s constant flooding, however, these picturesque piles are all placed inside bathtubs, waterproof bins, and in one room a full-size gondola. The name itself even means “Book Store of High Water.” When the local waterways rise to fill the store, the water can rise inches off the floor, which would destroy any other collection. The store’s whimsically cramped atmosphere is even reflected in their “fire escape,” which is simply a door leading directly out into a canal. To really complete the look, the store has become home to more than one stray cat, who are also able to escape the rising tides by hanging out atop the stacks.


2. Hatchard's in London, England

Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop, having been established in 1797 by John Hatchard. Hatchards has been a landmark on one of the finest and most famous streets in the world, Piccadilly, since Georgian times, occupying the current building, number 187, for over two centuries. Its customers have been the literary, political, artistic and social lions of their day and, since its inception, a link has been forged between the fine booksellers of Hatchards and the royal households of Britain and Europe, as demonstrated by the three royal warrants it currently holds. Eight generations of customers and booksellers have come and gone since the shop first opened its doors. Many things have changed but the essence of the place remains the same and is unchangeable. Hatchards is a unique British institution.

In 2014, Hatchards opened a new shop in St. Pancras International, right next door to Fortnum and Mason, continuing a relationship that has lasted over two centuries.


3. Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal

The origins of Livraria Lello take us back to 1881, when the brothers José and António Lello opened in Porto an establishment dedicated to the commerce and edition of books. José Lello, a man of culture, reading enthusiast, book and music lover, dreamed of becoming a bookseller, which came true in 1881. Several years later, his brother, António Lello, also came into this bookseller business. At this time Lello brothers move the business to Rua do Almada, unaware that the building that would take its name until the next millennium was only a few blocks away. It’s only in 1894 that José Lello buys Chardron Bookshop with all its exclusive archive. Chardron Bookshop had already made its name in the hands of the French Ernesto Chardron, having published the first editions of iconic works such as those of Eça de Queirós or Camilo Castelo Branco. On the January 13th of 1906 is inaugurated the Livraria Lello’s building as we know it today, shaped by the magnificent vision of engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves. The inauguration takes place in an environment full of significant political figures, artists, respected bourgeois and city merchants, among which stand out the writer Guerra Junqueiro, the director of O Comércio, Bento Carqueja, the writer Júlio Brandão and Aurélio Paz dos Reis, the pioneer of cinema in Portugal. A remarkable growth in Oporto tourism during the last years increased, consequently, Livraria Lello’s tourism, this growth led to a new business model of the bookshop visits with the introduction of vouchers, which value can be deductible in books. However, this new business model didn’t deviate Livraria Lello from its true essence: a bookshop of the world in Oporto, open to every literature enthusiasts. In 2016 and 2017, Livraria Lello embraced the challenge of the building’s refurbishment with the purpose of protecting the bookshop’s heritage, renovating its interior and restoring the façade and stained glass.


4. El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina

With each incarnation since its inception in 1919—first as a performing arts theater, then as a cinema, and now a bookstore—the Grand Splendid has proven itself befitting of its majestic title.

Having retained its original frescoed ceilings, ornate theater boxes, elegant rounded balconies, detailed trimmings, and plush red stage curtains, the interior of the building remains as stunning today as when it was first envisioned by architects Peró and Torres Armengol. In its glory days, the Teatro Grand Splendid hosted such tango legends as Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro, Roberto Firpo, and Ignacio Corsini. Building proprietor Max Glucksman was a leading figure in the world of tango in his own right, as owner of the influential Nacional-Odeon record label. In 1929, the theater underwent its first transformation to become a cinema, with the distinction of being the first in Buenos Aires to show sound film. Glucksman’s love of tango carried over to the new cinema, with live tango orchestration accompanying the silent films projections. Architect Fernando Manzone oversaw the building’s most recent conversion into the El Ateneo bookstore and music shop, to the tune of AR $3 million. Just prior to the leasing of the building to Grupo Ilhsa in 2000, the Grand Splendid was under threat of demolition due to a poor economy. Though some lament the loss of a beloved cinema, it is now thanks to the Grupo Ilhsa—which owns 40 bookshops, including the flagship Grand Splendid location—that visitors can still revel in this wondrous monument of a bygone era. While the selection of books on offer is standard chain store fare and mostly in Spanish, bibliophiles will find the staggeringly opulent display of books to be reason enough to pay El Ateneo Grand Splendid a visit. To fully bask in the splendor, one can also indulge in coffee and live piano music on the very stage where the Argentinean stars of tango once performed.


5. Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France

Shakespeare and Company is the name of two independent English-language bookstores that have existed on Paris's Left Bank. The first was opened by Sylvia Beach, an American, on 19 November 1919, at 8 rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises at 12 rue de l'Odéon in the 6th arrondissement in 1922. During the 1920s, Beach's shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. It closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened. The second bookstore is situated at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th arrondissement, and is still in operation today. Opened in 1951 by American George Whitman, it was originally called "Le Mistral," but was renamed to "Shakespeare and Company" in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach's store and on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. Today, it continues to serve as a purveyor of new and second-hand books, as an antiquarian bookseller, and as a free reading library open to the public. Additionally, the shop houses aspiring writers and artists in exchange for their helping out around the bookstore. Since the shop opened in 1951, more than 30,000 people have slept in the beds found tucked between bookshelves. The shop's motto, "Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise," is written above the entrance to the reading library.

Unfortunately like other small businesses this bookstore is really struggling with covid. They do have a website though that you can buy the books from now.


6. Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht, the Netherlands

Since the autumn of 2006, you will find the special bookshop Dominicanen (formerly Selexyz Dominicanen and Polare Maastricht) in the centuries-old Dominican church in Maastricht. Two hundred years ago, the church lost its sacred function, and since then it served for many years as a snake house, bicycle shed and carnival temple. Many people from Maastricht have special memories here, such as the 'first kiss'. You can still feel this rich history in this beautiful location. Bookstore Dominicanen has a wide and deep range of public books, music and books for professionals. But also for the non-book lover, this is a place that you must visit when you are in Maastricht. You can enjoy a delicious cappuccino or lunch at the former priest choir of the Dominican church, provided by the famous Blanche Dael Coffeelovers (the Maastricht city roaster). The Dominican bookshop also serves as a cultural stage. Lectures, debates and music performances take place regularly and there is room for exhibition. A walk through the Dominican Church is an experience in itself, it is not called the most beautiful bookstore in the world for nothing!


7. Leakey's Bookshop in Inverness, Scotland

Leakey's Bookshop was established in 1979 and has been housed for the last 20 years in the old Gaelic Church (1793). It is Scotland's largest secondhand bookshop with 100,000 selected volumes. We have been actively buying books throughout the Highlands for well over 30 years buying that has been immensely exciting and fruitful. There is a comfortable seating area. The wood burning fire that heats the shop has filled many customers with amazement and some with dread. If you come to Inverness, Leakey's will be one of the highlights of your visit.


8. Carturesti Carusel in Bucharest, Romania

Cărturești Carusel is a bookstore on Lipscani 55 Street in the old town of Bucharest, Romania. It belongs to the Romanian bookstore chain Cărturești. The building that currently houses the bookstore was built at the beginning of the 20th century by the Chrissoveloni bankers family. During the first few decades of its existence the building housed the Chrissoveloni Bank headquarters, and afterwards it became a general store. At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s the building fell into decay, up until 2015 when a five year long rehabilitation, strengthening and conversion project was complete. Some sources claim that the bookstore name Cărturești Carusel means "Carousel of Light", but it is not the case. Cărturești does not mean "light". It is the name of the bookstore chain, and probably related to the words carte (meaning "book") and cărturar (meaning "learned man" or "scholar").


9. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe & Bar in New York, USA

For over a decade, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe & Bar has established itself as a New York downtown institution and tourist destination. All of our stock is donated, and we are staffed almost entirely by volunteers, so 100% of our profits go to fund Housing Works' lifesaving services. There are free and low-cost events many nights of the week, an exceptional range of books, movies, and music, and a fully stocked cafe & bar. We pride ourselves in being a great place to visit, meet friends, relax, read, write, and shop!


10. Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece

It’s crazy charming and atmospheric – basically a cave that’s crammed from top to bottom with books. They sell mostly English-language books, with some classics in modern (or even ancient) Greek, as well as a fantastic kids’ selection. Definitely stop in for a visit if you’re in Oia, and be sure to support the store and buy something – the cashier will stamp your book with their famous logo if you ask. It’s located down a short-but-steep flight of stairs on the main footpath that runs through town, and pretty much marks the end of the Fira to Oia hike. The owners and staff are smart and helpful, and love to help customers find a great book (or a good gyro) – so feel free to start a conversation. The shop is on your left as you’re walking west (towards the sunset), but because it’s small, it’s easy to miss – just ask any store owner, “Bookstore?” and they’ll point you in the right direction.


This post would not be complete if I didn't include my absolute favorite bookstore in my city as well.

1.5 Books & Company in Prince George, British Columbia

Books and Company is known as “Prince George’s living room.” It is a place to hang out, relax, sip a steaming cup of java and indulge in a good book. While many who visit for the first time come for its books, Books and Company is more than a bookstore. It’s an event venue, a meeting spot and a place to philosophize. Books and Company is all about sharing culture and taking the time to learn about one another. It encourages collaboration, discussion and pursuing knowledge and understanding. Books and Company host regular events to spark learning and mutual understanding, including guest speakers and appearances by personalities, musicians and authors as well as a regular Friday night mic gathering. The on-site Cafe Voltaire serves up a variety of specialty coffees (including sustainably and ethically harvested beans), snacks and light meals.


Do you have a favorite bookstore? What is your favorite of those listed above?


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