If you're a reader like me, London is the perfect city. Step inside London's literary wonderland and discover 11 bookstores you'll want to visit again and again.
London is a reader’s dream – and a shopper’s dream as well. However, how many bookstores are in London is a bit of a mystery. While one map claims there are 112 independent bookshops in this British capital, my personal experience says there are endless hidden gems when you add in the quaint second hand stores. Put the non-independent stores, regional chains, global powerhouses, and the kiosks dotting train stations and museums on the list and I suspect the number of book-selling venues easily surpasses a thousand. That’s great news if you’re a reader like me!
These are eleven shops that are especially meaningful to me and the spots that I recommend to people again and again.
London Review Bookshop (Bloomsbury)
Nestled in Bloomsbury, the London Review Bookshop, an extension of the literary periodical, is a cozy haven with a penchant for classic and new fiction. Without a doubt, it is not only my favourite bookstore in London but it is now my favourite in all the world (don’t worry, Paris’ Shakespeare and Co is a close second). It feels like every single book in the shop has been carefully selected and I always discover something entirely new to me which I had never considered before but suddenly have to have. The shop also operates an absolutely delightful cake shop which offers hot drinks, homemade desserts, treats like coconut yogurt with rhubarb compote and granola, and savory fare including a soup and a stew of the day and a sandwich or two.
Did I mention I love this bookshop? I love it.
Arthur Probsthain (Bloomsbury)
Operating for over a century, Arthur Probsthain is a family-run treasure trove which specializes in global culture, focusing on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Their onsite tea room, Tea and Tattle, serves afternoon tea complete with scones and cakes and is also an excellent stop for an affordable lunch.
Book Mongers (Brixton)
Founded by the American Patrick Kelly, Book Mongers is celebrated for its cramped yet well-organized shelves. Keep an eye out for Popeye, the scrappy resident shop cat, and be sure to ask about “Popeye’s Picks” when browsing the books.
Foyles (Charing Cross)
A historic icon, Foyles is the world's first purpose-built bookstore, and spans four floors and offers an extensive range of subjects, along with gifts, stationery, music, and magazines. With more than four miles of shelves, a cafe, auditorium, and gallery, Foyles is a multi-level sanctuary in the heart of London. You could easily get lost in here for hours but it’s also wonderful to pop in for just ten minutes or so when you’re at nearby Trafalgar Square just to absorb the amazing atmosphere. It took me more than twenty years of visiting London before I made my first visit. Don’t make my mistake!
Established in 1797, by John Hatchard, a publisher and anti-slavery campaigner, this is the United Kingdom's oldest surviving bookshop. Shopping at Hatchards is an elegant and refined experience with just a hint of whimsy. Head up to the second-floor children’s section to see for yourself. Don't miss the annual Christmas Customer Evening, where authors mingle with shoppers, adding a festive touch to the ambiance.
Waterstones Piccadilly (Piccadilly)
Admittedly, Waterstones Piccadilly is about as far from a cozy independent bookstore as you’ll find. Waterstones is a major chain, and its Piccadilly location is reputed to be Europe’s largest bookstore. Located in central London, it offers a vast array of titles and amenities, making it the perfect retreat when seeking refuge from the rain.
Books for Cooks (Notting Hill)
True to its name, Books for Cooks specializes in culinary arts titles, offering a sensory experience that extends to a tiny test kitchen. The shop sells thousands of titles, from classic cookbooks to biographies. At their connected test kitchen, they put their inventory to the test. You can even have lunch there! No wonder they’re nicknamed ‘the best-smelling shop in the world.’ (I love their Instagram account!)
The Notting Hill Bookshop (Notting Hill)
Made famous by the 1999 film Notting Hill, this iconic bookstore, with its bright blue sign, has expanded beyond travel books to encompass general-interest titles. The Notting Hill Bookshop also sells magnets with quotes from its namesake movie, which I have seen about a hundred times and it never gets old for me. Sadly, I’ve never seen any Hugh Grant-lookalikes during my visits.
Word On The Water (King’s Cross)
If you’re going to make time for just one London bookstore, Word On The Water should be it. Actually, forget the word “bookstore”. This is a book BARGE, as new and used books are sold on a 100+-year-old Dutch barge moored on Regent’s Canal. It’s quirky, fun, and has bonafide literary chops, hosting musical performances and poetry slams.
Stanfords (Covent Garden)
Established in 1853, Stanfords stands as one of the world's premier travel bookstores, offering a treasure trove of travel guides, maps, literary adventures, gifts, and essential travel gear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cool travel related gifts in one place before and the map collection is truly amazing. The company’s former customers include Florence Nightingale and Captain Robert Scott (and me! I bought a map of Durban the last time I was there.)
Alice Through The Looking Glass (Covent Garden)
Alice Through The Looking Glass may be the most special of London’s unique interest booksellers. As the name suggests, it’s home to all things Alice, from pricey first editions to modern novelties, plus a mini-museum. Located on Cecil Court, it's part of "Bookseller’s Row," making it an ideal destination for browsing rare titles and childhood classics like Harry Potter.
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