There’s nothing like moseying around a cool bookstore. For those who prefer paper pages over Kindles, we’ve rounded up the world’s coolest independent bookstores.
With an extensive history dating back to its opening as a performing arts theater in 1848, Livraria Lello is a prize-winning literature house known for being one of the world’s prettiest bookstores. The preserved 1906 building features distinguished Neo-Gothic interiors, elegant stained-glass windows, grand staircases, and custom-wood carved bridges on the second floor connecting you from one side of the bookstore to the other.
City Lights Bookstore — known for being the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore — is a landmark publishing house in San Francisco. Just a short walk from Embarcadero, Coit Tower, and North Beach, the three-floor store resides on a sunlit corner of Columbus Avenue. Since its opening in 1953, it has served as a literary watering hole for bookworms and writers alike.
History comes alive at this iconic, classically styled anglophone bookshop in Paris. An homage to how writers, poets, artists, and intellectuals were invited to sleep among the shop’s bookshelves by original-owner George Whitman — who named these literature-loving guests “Tumbleweeds” — visitors today are encouraged to browse the historical autobiographies over a cup of coffee.
Sitting right on a canal that floods annually, Libreria Acqua Alta strategically places its books in old-age Venetian gondola boats, bathtubs, and other alternative furnishings in the shop to protect them from water damage. Climb the book-lined staircase to reach the unorthodox bookstore’s charming Italian-style interior.
Set in an old-fashioned milking house built in 1822, Baldwin’s Book Barn commemorates early American settlement history in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The family-run bookstore hosts cozy reading nooks, antique stone walls, and a wood-burning stove that transports you back in time.
Specializing in 1970s Africana literature, Clarke’s Bookshop has long been a sanctuary for free-thinking bookworms. This quaint bookstore lives in one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town and is embellished with hardwood floors, along with traditional bookshelves.
Named the most beautiful bookstore in the world by National Geographic in 2019, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is an opulent bookstore with over 180,000 literary works (primarily in Spanish). Occupying the interior of a former theater, the fresco-painted dome ceiling, red show curtains, and mellow lighting are a time capsule to the days when Argentina’s most-talented tango dancers performed there.
Founded in 1970 by Michael Powell in Chicago, Powell’s Books grew so successful that his father, Walter Powell, decided to open his own bookstore in a former car dealership building on Northwest Burnside Street in his hometown of Portland. The shop’s unique bookselling tactic sees its shelves stocked with everything under the sun: multi-genre, new, old, hardcover, and paperback books. Now a third-generation family-run business, Powell’s Books is a Portland staple.
Daunt Books holds multiple locations throughout the United Kingdom, but its haunt in London’s Marylebone neighborhood might be its most delightful. Design-wise, dark hardwood railings line the building’s staircase and emerald green fixtures appear ubiquitously from corner to corner.