With the ease of acquiring e-books in one click, the brick and mortar bookstores seem to be sadly reducing in popularity. However, book lovers argue that a traditional temple of books can be an eclectic atmosphere that propels discovery, fantasy, entertainment, solitude and social networking. These spectacular bookstores encourage readers to put aside technology and enjoy the pleasures of the printed word on page.
Besides browsing through the shelves, you can sip a mojito, munch on food, enjoy live music or stand-up comedy at this cross between a cafe and a bookshop. It even offers valet parking, elevating the cafe/bookstore concept exceptionally well. Be sure to give a nudge to the sand-filled pendulum that sways back and forth making patterns as customers give a gentle push.
2. Polare, Maastricht, Holland
Transformed from a 700 year old Catholic church to an ornate bookstore, the Polare (formerly Selexyz) is indeed a class apart. It houses a massive three storey bookshelf with staircases, elevators and walkways. Strangely enough, before the Amsterdam based architecture firm, Merkx+ Girod, designed the current structure, it used to be a bicycle shed.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a gorgeous renovated movie theater, that is now home to a variety of books. It retains the 1920s glamor using theater boxes for reading rooms, painted ceilings and crimson stage curtains. It is believed that over a million people visit this majestic bookstore every year.
Opened in 2005, Kid’s Republic is the first bookstore in China to specialize in children’s books. The bold and bright rainbow colored design makes it a fun and comfortable place for kids, encouraging them to enter their realm of imagination. Although it is a haven for kids, I can’t help imagining myself tucked away in one of their reading cubbies, with a book in hand of course.
For those who love books stacked over books in narrow hallways, don’t look further than Paris’s left bank. Hiding behind the shadows of Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company is an English language literature bookstore opened in 1951 by George Whitman. It was featured in Woody Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris.
Overwhelmed with his collection of books, Richard Bartinsdale built a collection of bookcases in 1964 by a California sidewalk so that passers-by could browse through them. Today Bart’s is the largest outdoor bookstore in the world. Not only that, it boasts of an extensive collection of rare books.
This state of the art modern bookstore occupies multiple stories of a former factory in Lisbon, a building built in 1864 to manufacture thread and fabric. Readers can delve in Portuguese and international paperbacks on various subjects while a bicycle with wings overlooks them.
8. Librería Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
Only in Venice, can you find thousands of books inside a rowing boat, gondola and even bathtubs! Its owner, Luis Frizzio, a 70 year old Venetian, has many cats who love to roam through the books. The shop overlooks one of Venice’s famous canals.
For Harry Potter fans, this bookstore may seem familiar, as it has been featured several times in the movie series. The neo-gothic façade, heavily decorated walls, stained glass ceilings along with ornamented pillars are sure to impress you.
The American Book Center or simply ABC, plays an important role in the promotion of English literature in the multicultural city of Amsterdam. For a book lover, ABC is more of a department store with an organized selection of books and magazines, in the backdrop of a pleasant interior. Their Treehouse section witnesses many events, conferences, workshops, courses and performances by upcoming artists.
Plural Bookshop may be smaller in size than more established stores, but its smart and innovative design makes it well worth the visit. It has a climbing wooden floor sandwiched between bookshelves, that serves as seats for browsers as well as an auditorium for spectators during talks and events. There is also a coffee shop at the floor’s peak.
Oozing French charm, this historic bookshop is a famous landmark boasting of wonderful architecture. It is long associated with authors that made Tanger their home permanently or for a few months. The owners, Pierre Bergé and Simon-Pierre Hamelin, often organize events such as book signings, film screenings and musical evenings.
Specializing in fiction and literature, this independent bookstore deserves a visit. Although it is relatively new (opened in 2005), it has already make a mark for itself as one of Singapore’s most beautiful places. In an inviting and warm setting, you can lust over a treasure of books as well as retro items such as typewriters.
14. Librairie Avant-Garde, Nanjing, China
In 2013, CNN named Libraririe Avant-Garde as China’s most beautiful bookstore. It is located at a mammoth parking lot spread over 4,000 square feet, which was once used as a bomb shelter. Instead of a shelf for best-selling books, visitors are welcomed by a replica of Rodin’s “The Thinker” sculpture.
What really makes the design of Livraria da Vila unique is how it utilizes books not just as a product to be sold, but as a decorative element. Isay Weinfeld has beautifully designed every corner of this store, including atriums on the ground floor so that visitors can peek at other floors.
16. Bookabar Bookshop, Rome, Italy
The Bookàbar is located in Palazzo delle Esposizioni, the largest inter-disciplinary exhibition area in central Rome. It has three large, airy rooms, two of which are devoted to books, catalogues, DVDs and CDs, while the third contains a stylish museum store. Next to the bookstore is a café, with a menu inspired by current collections on view at the museum.
This houses more than a million books in an abandoned glove factory in Detroit’s industrial wasteland. Need I say more? You can spend hours here, finding one gem after another. The cardboard signs and musty paperback aromas add to the industrial feel of the store.
Back in 1991, and in the face of a rather large overdraft, Mary Manley decided to open a secondhand bookshop in an old train station – one that would be based on the swap system and called Barter Books. It hit the headlines in 2001, when the owner discovered an old World War II poster with the slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, and the simple design has turned it into an international phenomenon.
Conveniently located on the main line of the metro in Brussels is a whimsical bookstore cum restaurant. Don’t be confused by the name, Cook and Book, does not specialize in books on cooking. Instead, it is a unique combination of good food with good books, following the motto read while you eat.
A neglected old village house was converted to a magical place, when two young friends decided to open a bookshop on the island over a bottle of wine. It was the only thing the Mediterranean island was missing – a haven for readers and writers. Atlantis hosts festivals and sunset readings on their terrace with sea views. They even started their own publishing house in the back room of the shop.
21. Brazenhead Books, New York, USA
After the rent at his Brooklyn retail space shot through the roof, Michael Seidenberg moved his secondhand bookshop to his Upper East Side apartment, where it exists under the radar, unknown even to many who live in his building. To visit, all you have to do is call him and make an appointment. Good luck finding him in the phone book, if you have one.
French for “the burning ball”, this is a quant little bookstore with an eye-catching arch entrance. Born in 2003, it is committed to defending unknown authors, publishing houses or independent themes, that are little prized by traditional stores.
La Libraire Ptyx is famed for its dictionary-esque façade featuring images and brief bios of some of authors whose books are held within. It offers a wide variety of literature, with a focus on facilitating conversation and exchanging of views.
Old books are packed tightly onto shelves, laid out on tables and categorised into little alcoves. Creaking, timber floorboards and stairs lead up to a book-filled mezzanine. It would be difficult to come into Book Now and not find something of interest among the 60,000 or so secondhand titles that they carry.
Livraria Cultura was founded in 1948 by Eva Herz, who had left Berlin in 1938 to escape from the Nazis. She started by using a spare room at her house as a rental library, and eventually paved her way to Brazil’s largest bookstore. There are massive dragon statues to play on, areas to lounge, and four stories of pure book-filled aisles to wander through.
Founded in 1825, this is one of the largest antiquarian book shops in the country. The store got its name from Brattle Street in Boston, where it originally was located. Today is stands on West Street in downtown Boston. The vacant parking lot next to it serves as an outdoor wing of books, weather permitting of course.
Powell’s is enormous and you will need a map to find your way around (the store provides one). It was previously a car dealership that has now become a Portland landmark selling old and new books.
Books arranged in elegant style line the walls of this Edwardian building, providing the perfect setting for one of London’s most treasured, independent bookshops. A glorious mezzanine and a quiet ambience give the building an air of academia, like an old university library.
Munro’s Books has been described by journalists as the most magnificent bookstore in Canada, and possibly in North America. Since 1984, the store has been located in the centre of Victoria’s Old Town, formerly a Royal Bank of Canada building.
The largest travel specialist in the world is possibly one of the most beautiful bookstores too. For decades they have been inspiring travelers to start their next adventure. Take a guidebook, sit on the couch below their ornate iron columns and let your imagination take flight.
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