As a book lover, you know there’s truly no better way to spend your time than visiting a bookstore. Yeah, reading a book is great and all, but there’s an unparalleled thrill we all feel when perusing a fresh stack of books we don’t yet own. Encounters with books at bookstores open up a window of new opportunities. With so many bookstores in the world and so little time, I’ve compiled a list of the 19 coolest bookstores in the world that you, a bookstore lover like myself, have to make time to visit before you die.
But before we get into the list, what makes something the coolest bookstore? There are lots of different factors that can earn a bookstore that title. Some of these bookstores are amazingly stunning. Some of them boast a wide range of books. Some of them are in fun, quirky locales. Others boast really amazing reading programs or other community events.
In all honesty, there are so many of the coolest bookstores in the world out there, and it would be impossible to share each and every one of them. Just know that for every bookstore listed here, there are about 1,000 more that make up the honorable mentions list, including some of my personal favorites.
Which of these bookstores will you visit next? In no particular order, here is a list of the coolest bookstores in the world. Time to start making your travel plans.
The Coolest Bookstores in the World
Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
Let’s start with the bookstore that is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful (if not THE most beautiful) bookstore in the world. Located at 144 Rua das Carmelitas in downtown Porto, this bookstore dates all the way back to 1881, when brothers José and António Lello initially opened an establishment at a nearby location to publish and sell books. The bookstore at its current location opened in 1906. There are many notable things about the architecture and design of this bookstore, but the staircase, in particular, really makes this bookstore stand out. You’re not only going to want to shop here. You’re going to want to take plenty of pictures.
Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, Wales
Hay-on-Wye is known as the National Book Town of Wales, and it’s also the location of the annual Hay Festival. So it should come as no surprise that the streets of Hay-on-Wye are lined with bookstores. Basically, the town is a book lover’s dream come true. But one of the coolest bookstores in Hay-on-Wye is the Honesty Bookshop on the grounds of Hay Castle. This open-air bookshop is open to browse 24/7. Book prices are cheap, ranging from £1 to £5. And to pay, you are just trusted to be honest and drop your payment in the payment box. All proceeds go towards the Hay Castle Trust.
SemiColon Bookstore & Gallery, Chicago, IL
Semicolon is a Black woman–owned bookstore and gallery in Chicago, Illinois. Part of what makes Semicolon so cool is the business’s dedication to raising the literacy rate in Chicago and beyond. Semicolon bookstore owner Danielle Mullen also helped create National Black Literacy Day to support literacy programs in Black communities. The bookstore has also teamed up with 93 Boyz X to support Books Before Bars, which provides books for jails in Illinois.
El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
El Ateneo was named the World’s Most Beautiful Bookstore by National Geographic. The building in Buenos Aires was first a theater called Teatro Gran Splendid, which opened in 1919. In 2000, the theater was renovated and converted into a book and music shop under the direction of architect Fernando Manzone. Now, there are over 120,000 books on the shop’s shelves and a stage with a piano for live music.
Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore, Chongqing, China
Chongqing Zhongshuge is a 36,000–square–foot store in Chongqing, China. The space features stunning staircases and mirrored walls that make the bookshop more than just a place to buy books. “The clients asked me and my team to create a bookstore that was also a landmark,” Li Xiang, the president of X+Living and the chief designer explained. “The glass ceiling enlarges the space, while creating something that appears more magical than it does real.”
El Péndulo, Mexico City, Mexico
El Péndulo is a chain of stores across Mexico City that is part bookstore, part cafe, and part restaurant. The stores are truly welcoming and beautiful places to gather, eat, drink, and talk books. Specifically, the Polanco location on Alejandro Dumas Street made Book Riot’s list of the 15 Most Instagrammed Bookstores in the world.
Powell’s, Portland, Oregon
Powell’s is a chain of bookstores in Portland, Oregon. Its flagship store on 1005 W Burnside Street is called the City of Books, and with good reason. It’s incredibly, almost overwhelmingly large. Even the world’s biggest book lover will discover books on Powell’s shelves that they’ve never heard of before. The store boasts carrying over one million titles, after all.
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht, the Netherlands
Boekhandel Dominicanen in The Netherlands is another breathtaking bookstore that you’ll likely make you want to take a million pictures to post on Instagram. Located within the stone vaults of a former medieval church, this bookstore sells both Dutch and English titles. So, my English-speaking people, if you’re visiting Maastricht and are looking for a beautiful tourist destination and a place to buy more books, this is your spot.
Arc N Book, Seoul, South Korea
Arc N Book is a fun bookstore to visit for many reasons, but what I love most about it is that it’s a bookstore that promotes more than reading. Arc N Book is about the reading lifestyle. This curated shop is separated into four different themes: Daily, Weekend, Style, and Inspiration. Visitors are invited to stay a while, get something to eat or drink at the cafe, and lounge in one of the store’s many comfy seating areas to get the full experience. You’re also going to want to take pictures of the gorgeous arch made of books.
1200 Bookshop, Guangzhou, China
Speaking of bookstores where you can relax and stay a while, you can’t go wrong with 1200 Bookshop, located in Guangzhou, China. 1200 Bookshop is China’s first 24-hour bookshop. During the day, they’re in the business of selling books. At night, they offer a free place to stay in private rooms for backpackers. All you have to do to apply to stay at the shop is follow 1200 Bookshop on WeChat (ID: gz1200bookshop) or send an email to email@example.com to let them know your travel plans and why you need a place to stay.
Strand Bookstore, New York City
If you love books, then you’ve likely already heard of New York’s famous Strand Bookstore. But that’s part of what makes it so cool. Strand is another bookstore that’s well-known for its large collection of books. The store carries over 2.5 million used, new, and rare books in a wide range of categories. Strand has also become a community hub, offering up plenty of special book clubs, author readings, and more. Basically, if you plan a trip to New York and don’t take the time to stop by this bookstore, what are you doing?
Word on the Water, London, England
What’s cooler than a bookstore on a boat? Word on the Water is a bookstore inside of a 100-year-old Dutch barge located along the Regents Canal in London. Inside the store, you can find a wide range of classics, contemporary fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. The book barge also hosts a variety of events, from jazz concerts to poetry slams.
Cook & Book, Brussels, Belgium
Does reading ever make you hungry? You’re all set at Cook & Book, a fabulous (and super cool) bookstore/restaurant in Brussels, Belgium. The shop is divided into nine rooms, each offering a different selection of books and its own unique atmosphere. One room has an English books section and is designed to look like a British library. There’s also a terrace with a playground. And yes, you can absolutely dine in each and every area of the store.
Atlantis Books, Santorini, Greece
Atlantis Books is one of the coolest bookstores in the world that’s been up and running in Santorini, Greece since 2004. The shop is known as the most beautiful bookstore in Greece and might just be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world (yes, I know there are a ton of contenders on this list). Atlantis offers new and used books of modern classic fiction and nonfiction, as well as poetry, philosophy, art, and all things Greek interest. But the coolest part of the shop? Probably the terrace, where Atlantis hosts readings, food festivals, and film festivals.
Bart’s Books, Ojai, CA
Bart’s Books makes it on the list of the coolest bookstores in the world because it is the world’s largest outdoor bookstore. Open since 1964, Bart’s offers a wide range of second-hand books, plus a few select new titles. The Ojai, California, bookstore is such a fun, unique location that it has often been featured in TV, movies, and novels. For instance, Bart’s was featured in the 2010 film Easy A starring Emma Stone and Penn Badgley.
Librairie Avant-Garde, Nanjing, China
Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing, China, is another bookstore that gets cool points for its unique location. This bookstore was once a parking lot, and before that, it was a bomb shelter. But since 2004, this location has become a place where book lovers gather to buy books, grab a drink at the cafe, and attend talks, concerts, and art exhibitions.
Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
Cărturești Carusel, located in Bucharest, is part of the Romanian bookstore chain Cărturești. The bookstore carries a wide selection of books, but what you’ll probably notice first is the beautiful building. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the building first housed the Chrissoveloni Bank headquarters. After that, it became a general store, but in the 1990s/2000s, the building was falling apart. Now, after a five-year rehabilitation, the stunning locale has been renewed to its former glory and houses this unforgettable bookstore.
Book and Bed, Tokyo, Japan
Book lovers visiting Japan will not want to miss out on this unique hostel experience. Book and Bed is a bookstore where you can also stay the night. If you don’t choose to stay the whole night, the bookstore also offers couches and beds where you can nap or just lounge during the day. Prefer to stay awake? You can grab a coffee and a bite to eat at the cafe.
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
Of course, Los Angeles’s coolest bookstore had to be on this list. The Last Bookstore is the largest new and used bookstore in California (according to Conde Nast Traveler). Located in an old bank building, the store is 22,000 square feet and includes a record store, a comic book store, a yarn shop, and much more! Gone Girl fans, David Fincher’s adaptation of the popular Gillian Flynn novel includes a scene set right here in this store. Oh, and you won’t want to miss getting a picture of the bookstore’s famous book tunnel.
Ready to explore more bookstores around the world? After you make your way through this list, make sure to check out the most Instagrammed bookstores in the world. Also, Book Riot has compiled our list of personal favorite bookstores in all 50 states. And if you’re on board for all things scary, then you’ll want to visit the most haunted bookstores and libraries around the world.
Feature image via Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau (Creative Commons).