Letting your interests guide your travels is always a good idea because it helps you personally engage with your destination. Beer lovers visit breweries and bars, foodies hunt down the best restaurants, and those of us who love to read seek out libraries and bookstores. Now, if that last one is you, the idea of finding the most beautiful bookstore in the world probably sounds like perfection. The world’s a big place though, so to help you narrow down where you’ll be jetting off to next, we’ve collected this phenomenal group of the best bookstores in the world. Plan accordingly bookworms.
1. El Péndulo, Mexico City, Mexico
Not content on creating one beautiful bookshop, the El Pendulo chain of bookstores in Mexico City has crafted several across the city. While we say bookstore, El Pendulo stores are an inviting combination of bookshop, cafe, and restaurant, giving you plenty of reasons to stick around. While the Zona Rosa, Roma, and Condesa locations are all pretty establishments, El Pendulo Polanco is typically regarded as the most attractive. All stores have a healthy balance of wooden furnishings and plant life, but it’s the layout of El Pendulo Polanco with its large atrium feel and narrow upper walkways, that makes this store especially impressive.
2. Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht, the Netherlands
If you’re looking for a bookshop in a beautiful setting, this 13th century church will be hard to beat. That is where you’ll find Boekhandel Dominicanen in the city of Maastricht. The historic Dominican church served a variety of purposes after closing its doors in the 18th century, but bookworms will certainly appreciate its latest role. Operating since 2006, the church now features three-storey bookshelves to go with the frescoes across its vaulted ceiling. Besides its range of books, the store also has a coffee shop over in the choir if you just want to sit and appreciate your surroundings.
3. Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
Those that don’t know the city of Bucharest may not realize that the Romanian capital has its moments of grandeur. One look at the Cărturești Carusel bookstore should fix that as this dazzling establishment is a must for any Bucharest itinerary. While relatively new, having only opened in 2015, Cărturești Carusel wasted no time captivating locals and visitors alike. Set inside a huge building, this bookstore features multiple carefully designed balconies which all look down over the wide-open central foyer. Its curved balconies, metal railings, and abundant windows all create a Belle Epoque masterpiece that helps support Bucharest’s claim as the “Paris of the East”. There’s even a teahouse up on the top floor to give you somewhere to sit and savor your surroundings.
4. Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
In recent years, the Livraria Lello in Porto has become incredibly popular with tourists to the city and it’s easy to see why. The interior of this 100-year-old bookstore is beyond enchanting thanks to the elaborate architecture and woodwork present throughout. You won’t mind lining up to pay a visit when you see the majestic curving stairway in the center of the store that leads to the mezzanine or the large skylight above. The store is even said to have inspired Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s design of Hogwarts. It’s definitely an attraction that needs to be on your Porto itinerary when you visit.
5. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, USA
A lead contender for best bookstore in Los Angeles is the whimsical Last Bookstore in Downtown. This independent bookstore is found inside a former bank, covering a massive 22,000 square feet that even includes the old bank vault. That scale and setup immediately makes this store attention-grabbing, but the Last Bookstore also has a creative flair that has made it instantly memorable since opening in 2005. These touches range from a section of hardbacks categorized by color, to a covered tunnel crafted from old books and a display with books literally flying off the shelves. All this means that you’ll not only find all manner of books here, including lots of used books, but also lots of fun corners and character within the store.
6. Arc N Book, Seoul, South Korea
It’s always impressive how one clever design concept can elevate an ordinary place into somewhere you absolutely can’t miss. That’s the case with Arc N Book in the Euljiro area of Seoul. Although a little overshadowed by the incredible Starfield Library, Arc N Book is a fun and memorable place in Seoul to go book shopping. The store’s overall decor is very Art Deco, with its entrance looking more like a classic cinema than a bookstore. Head on in and you’ll find quirky touches like a red phone box and a lamp post, but the pièce de résistance is its fantastic curved tunnel of books. In case you don’t read Korean, the store does sell English books as well.
7. Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, Wales
People who read books are fundamentally honest people, right? At least that’s the attitude of the Honesty Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye of Wales, which uses the honesty system for their store. Rather than dealing with staff, of which there are none, you simply take the books you want and slip your money into the collection box. Funds from the store go towards the restoration of Hay Castle. The small town of Hay-on-Wye actually has a thing for books, with over 40 bookstores among its population of roughly 1,500 people. But it’s the Honesty Bookshop that’s truly special, with shelves of books out in the open on the lower garden terrace of the castle. Can’t ask for better scenery than that!
8. Atlantis Books, Santorini, Greece
The Greek island of Santorini is famous for its iconic whitewashed homes which cascade down to the water. But one of its many other attractions is the Atlantis Books store in the town of Oia. Sitting along the main street through this popular coastal town, Atlantis Books is a little treasure trove of books that just keep going and going. From the street you’ll journey down into the store, where books fill every crevice of this cave-like cycladic house, even spilling out onto the rooftop patio. Due to all the tourists that pass through, and its American owners, the store offers new and used books in a range of languages. It’s basically “the” bookstore of Oia so finding it isn’t hard.
9. Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
A beloved fixture of Venice is the Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop hidden among the canals of the Castello district. What makes this establishment so special is how it addressed a truly Venetitian problem – flooding. Venice is prone to flooding which would normally be devastating to a bookstore. To combat this, Libreria Acqua Alta uses gondolas, bathtubs and towering stacks to keep its collection of vintage books, postcards, maps, and magazines. The store makes a strong impression right away with walls of books outside its entrance and there’s even a makeshift staircase of ruined books to a little terrace with nice canal views. It’s really everything you could want from a bookstore in Venice.
10. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
When it comes to outright splendor, it’s hard to find a grander bookstore than the El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. Set inside the spacious disused Gran Splendid theater and cinema, this Argentinian bookstore is an absolute showstopper. All the details from the store’s past have been kept preserved, from the red stage curtains to the theater boxes and special auditorium lighting. Opened in 2000, El Ateneo Grand Splendid actually saved the building from demolition and created a truly epic bookstore in the process. Inside, there are over 120,000 books to peruse, comfy chairs to sit in, and even a cafe/bar on a stage with a piano for live music.
11. Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France
The idea of sleeping in a bookstore is surely a dream to many book-lovers, but in Shakespeare and Company on Paris’s Left Bank it actually has happened quite a lot over the years. When this English-language bookshop opened in 1951 it originally went by the name “Le Mistral”. However, that changed in 1964 when it was renamed Shakespeare and Company as an homage to the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, and to a local bookstore of the same name that was forced to close during the war in 1941. The older store was once a haven for aspiring writers like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, something its successor has embraced by allowing aspiring writers, actors and artists to sleep within the actual store. It’s story and ethos, combined with its bohemian ambience, make it one-of-a-kind.
12. City Lights, San Francisco, USA
For one of the best bookstores in San Francisco you need only look to City Lights in North Beach. This local icon has been in business since 1963 and is perhaps most famous for its role in publishing the controversial (at the time) “Howl and Other Poems” by Allen Ginsberg. City Lights was the first all-paperback bookstore in the US and has long had a focus on world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. As such it’s easy to see why it was recognized as an official historic landmark in 2001. From the outside the store may seem relatively unassuming, but inside you’ll find three floors with one room after another full to the brim with books, including an impressive rare book collection.
13. Hatchards, London, UK
While there are several historic bookshops on this list, none can quite compete with Hatchards of London. Their book store in Piccadilly dates back to 1797, making it the oldest in London, and one of the oldest in the entire country. For two centuries Hatchards has been a go-to for all walks of life, including the British Royal Family on occasion. It bears quite a distinguished shopfront with flags flying, and the royal coat of arms over the door. Inside, you’ll find five storeys of books on display, with everything neat and in order. It’s the smaller details here that you need to look out for, like old photographs of the store and a portrait of its founder John Hatchard.
14. Strand Bookstore, New York City, USA
Widely considered to be the best bookstore in New York City, Strand Bookstore should be a definite stop for any bibliophile visiting New York. Since opening in 1927, this store has become famous in Manhattan for its slogan that it boasts “18 miles of books”, although it’s said to actually be more like 23 miles these days. Rather tragically, this independent bookstore is the last of nearly 50 stores that earned this part of NYC the name “Book Row”. While maybe not conventionally beautiful, the endless rows of bookshelves inside Strand Bookstore are sure to light up the eyes of avid readers. The most impressive room here is the Strand’s Rare Book room, where the walls are lined with leather-bound books and fairy lights are strung up overhead. It makes an excellent quiet reading room when not being used for events and functions.
15. Powell’s Books, Portland, USA
There are large bookstores and then there is Powell’s Books of Portland. This immense independent bookstore actually occupies an entire city block which was an old car dealership before the store’s founding in 1971. Today it proudly claims to be the largest store of its kind in the world. So, if a sea of books is your idea of the best bookstore in the United States, then Powell’s City of Books is where it’s at. To simply make sense of a store with over a million different titles, the store is divided into nine color-coded rooms and more than 3,500 sections. No matter what you’re looking for, chances are you’ll find it here if you look long enough.
That just about sums up the world’s best and most beautiful bookstores out there. We’re sure that reading through the list you’ll quickly move some of these cities to the top of your travel plans.