I love bookshops, but I love quirky independent bookshops more, which is why a section of my bucket list is devised for the most magical independent bookshops in the world I want to visit. When procrastination led me to discover the quirkiest shops in the world, 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 bucket list book shops you must visit in your lifetime.
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, so the ceiling feels like it’s a mile high and has strong marble pillars. The old bank aesthetic is what gives the place its 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 ones when there’s an author I want to support. Most of their books are secondhand, and everything upstairs is only $1! You need to devote a few hours to this place, as the fiction is intentionally uncategorized so that 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 food 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 literary festival every March and have done so since 2006! They also run and engage in literary projects and journals. This isn’t just a store that sells books; they love literature!
Liberia Acqua Alta, Venice
La Liberia Acqua Alta is beautiful, as everything in Venice is. It’s got books in a gondola, bathtubs, and everything!
If you wondered how books could survive the 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 gives it its 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 magical 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. Named Le Mistral initially, the name was changed in 1964 to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. I think Shakespeare & Co has more of a ring to it.
They also own the café attached to the bookstore, called the Shakespeare and Company café. They offer a selection of lunch options, sweet treats, and divine Parisian coffee. Most of the food on the menu is vegetarian, and they also offer vegan options.
Edit: In 2018, I got to see Shakespeare & Co and 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” – where it gets its name! Customers can also sit in the actual 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 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 I’d fork out for it.
Barts Books, California
Bart’s Books had 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 various prices, largely secondhand. It began operating back in 1964! They still use the original honour system for some books, which means 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 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 wandering through the shelves. They sell both new and old books!
The Bottom Line On These Bucket List Bookstores
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 its 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 second-hand 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 keep publishing. However, when it’s an established writer, I don’t feel so bad buying second-hand. 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? If not, add these independent bookstores to your bucket list*. What’s on your bucket list?
*this journal is my own product.