I love bookshops, but I love quirky independent bookshops more which is why I devised a section of my Bucket List is devised for the most magical independent bookshops of the world I want to visit. When procrastination led me to the discovery of the quirkiest shops of the world, I knew I visiting them join the list of things to do before I die. These magical independent bookshops range from China to Argentina, and Paris so it might take a while to get these all ticked off your bucket list!
Here are the most magical independent bookshops from around the world which have earned a spot on my Bucket List.
Magical Independent Bookstores To Visit Before You Die:
The Last Bookstore, California
I have a soft spot for The Last Bookstore seeing as it was the first book shop I saw and thought “Holy shit I have to go there!”.
The building was once a bank, which is why the ceiling feels like it’s a mile high and it has strong marble pillars. The old bank aesthetic is what gives the place it’s charm.
It doesn’t just have books but vinyl too. They buy and sell both new and second-hand books. There are also so many art installations to view while you’re there. I love to buy secondhand books for environmental reasons, but I buy new when there’s an author I really want to support. In fact, most of their books are actually secondhand, and everything upstairs is only $1! You need to devote a few hours to this place, as the fiction is intentionally uncategorized so you can find an unexpected gem!
The Bookworm, Beijing
The Bookworm is a place that provides two of my favourite things: books and food. It functions as a bookshop, library, bar, restaurant, and event space. My favourite foods actually is Chinese food so I’d be in heaven, however, they also offer Western dishes too. It has everything you need for a magical night!
They even host their own literary festival every March, and have been doing so since 2006! They also run and engage in literary projects and journals. This isn’t just a store that sells books, they really do love literature!
Liberia Acqua Alta, Venice
La Liberia Acqua Alta is beautiful, as everything in Venice is. It’s got books in a gondola, in bathtubs, pretty much in everything!
If you were wondering how books can survive Venice floods, the water damaged ones are upcycled! The books that function as their iconic book staircase were all damaged and given a new purpose. Acqua Alta means “high water” in Italian, so they knew what they were in for.
It looks a little chaotic, but I think that’s what gives it it’s charm.
Shakespeare & Company, Paris
Shakespeare and Company opened its doors in 1951! In his own words, founder George Whitman said:
I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations.
I have a soft spot for Shakespeare and Company too as it was one of the first magical independent bookstores I discovered! It also reminds me of Beauty and the Beast. Originally named Le Mistral, the name was changed in 1964 to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. Personally, I think Shakespeare & Co has more of a ring to it.
They also own the cafe attached to the bookstore, simply called the Shakespeare and Company cafe. They offer a selection of lunch options, sweet treats, and divine Parisian coffee. I’m a big fan of the fact that more of the food on the menu is vegetarian, and they also offer vegan options.
Edit: In 2018 I got to see Shakespeare & Co, read all about it here.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires
El Grand Ateneo Splendid used to be a theatre and now it’s a book shop. Once the Grand Splendid theatre, tens of thousands of books now occupy the 1,000 seater venue. They’ve even left the original Grand Splendid sign outside, and just added: “El Ateneo” – which is where it gets its name! Customers can also sit in the original theatre boxes if they’d like to delve into their new favourite books.
There’s even a café on the stage where you can sit down and start reading. They also have a live pianist and acoustic sessions often which can be heard throughout the entire book store. I’ve heard the cafe is pricy, but this is a once-in-life-time experience. Nothing is better than a good book and some coffee, so personally, I’d fork out for it.
Barts Books, California
Bart’s Books has humble beginnings as bookshelves on the side of the street where Richard Bartinsale would sell his excess books. It now stands as the largest independent outdoor book store in the US. Bart’s Books sell rare books at a variety of prices, largely secondhand. It began operating all the way back in 1964! They still use the original honour system for some books, which meant, leaving payment in a can based on what you feel the book is worth. They have some rare first editions of old books, so I wouldn’t skimp out here just because you can!
Word On The Water, London
I love books, the ocean, and anything piratey-s so Word On The Water is a dream come true! This little quirky independent bookshop sits on a canal, in a boat! Although it’s small, they fit a lot in and you’ll still get lost wondering through the shelves. They sell both new and old books!
It’s right by King’s Cross station so you can visit while you’re doing some Harry Potter stuff. While you’re in London you might also like these bookish things to do, and the Sherlock Holmes attractions.
The Bottom Line
Independent bookshops are so important and I think we should all support them when the opportunity arises. Not only do independent bookstores support local communities and economies, but they’re what gives a city it’s character. I wouldn’t say that big chain bookstores are “evil”, I love all bookstores! However, there’s something inherently more special and unique about independent book stores, like these, which is why they deserve love and support.
Some of these places like The Last Bookstore and Bart’s Books sell secondhand too, which is better for the environment. I wouldn’t say don’t buy new books, because otherwise, it’s difficult to support authors who rely on sales to keep making a living writing – and even, to be able to keep publishing. However, when it’s a big established writer, I don’t feel so bad buying secondhand. It’s all about finding a balance. I never throw a book out anyway so they don’t go to waste!
I love the short film The Last Book Shop, but I don’t want it to come to life!
Have you ever been to any of these magical independent bookshops? What’s on your bucket list?