26 unique bookstores to visit in London
London is a reader’s dream – and a buyer’s dream too. However, the exact number of bookstores in London is a bit of a mystery. According to an online map, there are 112 independent bookshops in the British capital. But from my own knowledge there are many more, mostly small second-hand shops tucked away in corners of town. Then there are non-independent stores, regional chains, and global powerhouses. Add kiosks at stations, museums and general-purpose stores, and the number of book-selling establishments must grow to nearly 1,000. That’s great news if you’re a reader like me!
Some of these shops are more than just a place to buy a book or two. They are legends in their own right, acting as community centers and welcoming tourists as if they were locals. Here are a few to put on your travel bucket list, starting with generalist establishments and ending with specialty shops.
1. Bookstore (Brixton)
One of London’s best bookstores was founded by an American, Patrick Kelly. Devoted Book Mongers fans love the cramped but well-organized shelves of the used bookstore. Keep an eye out for Popeye, the store cat, and don’t forget to ask for “Popeye’s Picks” when browsing the books.
2. Broadway Bookstore (London Fields)
You’ll likely spend a lot more time at Broadway Bookshop than you imagine, as there’s an entire basement you can’t see from the street, filled with fiction, local history, and children’s books. They also have a small exhibition space where the art changes every 3 months or so.
3. Daunt Books (Marylebone)
Although Daunt Books has multiple locations, the Marylebone address is clearly the place to be. This wonderful shop is in an Edwardian building and has stained glass windows. The books are organized by country rather than genre, making it a fun (and sometimes confusing) browsing experience.
4. Foyles (Charing Cross)
The world’s leading specialist bookshop, Foyles covers every subject imaginable and also offers gifts, stationery, music and magazines. This multi-level space in the heart of London has more than four miles of bookshelves over four floors, as well as a café, auditorium and gallery.
5. Hatchards (Picadilly)
The oldest bookshop in the UK, shopping at Hatchards is an elegant and refined experience, with just a hint of whimsy – head to the second floor children’s section to see for yourself. During the annual Christmas Customer Night, the authors are on hand to mingle with shoppers.
6. Heywood Hill (Mayfair)
Sophisticated and understated, Heywood Hill is set in a Georgian townhouse. Well known for its antiquarian and children’s books, the store has held a Royal Warrant since 2011. Literature buffs will be delighted to know that novelist Nancy Mitford worked in the store during World War II.
7. Hurlingham Books (Fulham)
If you consider book shopping to be a quest, Hurlingham Books is your kind of place. It’s positively stacked from floor to ceiling, left to right, and what you see is just the tip of the iceberg. Over a million books are in their nearby warehouse.
8. Books by John Sandoe (King’s Road)
John Sandoe fans often describe him as stepping into a Dickens novel. From the original small store established in 1957, the store has taken over two adjacent stores and is now stocked with over 30,000 titles covering all surfaces, including chairs!
9. Kirkdale Bookstore (Sydenham)
Both a neighborhood bookstore and a cultural hub, Kirkdale hosts art and music events. It offers a mix of new and used books, prioritizing authors of color and LGBTQIA+ authors.
10. Liberia (Spitalfields)
In this bookstore founded by a tech entrepreneur, the atmosphere is resolutely analog. Cell phones are prohibited! Still, Liberia’s design is very futuristic, with bright yellow shelves organized by theme to “maximize serendipity”.
11. London Review Bookstore (Bloomsbury)
The London Review of Books is a literary periodical, but it also runs a cozy bookshop focusing on classic fiction as well as novelty. They also operate a patisserie, which is absolutely delicious (and perhaps why this bookstore is so popular with writers).
12. Lutyens & Rubinstein (Notting Hill)
Chic, uncluttered and well laid out, Lutyens & Rubinstein is both a bookstore and a literary agency. They built their initial stock after surveying hundreds of readers (adults and children) and as such, each book here is essentially a personal recommendation.
13. Nomadic Books (Fulham)
This laid-back, cozy space with spongy couches is a favorite of writers and celebrities and has a strong community vibe with an excellent kids’ section. Nomad Books also has a good selection of titles in French.
14. Primrose Hill Books (Primrose Hill)
Very cozy, Primrose Hill Books is a family-run bookstore selling new and used titles and occasionally hosts small literary events with big names. It’s a good place to go to find works by local writers – some from their own neighborhood – and signed copies.
15. Examination Library (Peckham)
Review has perhaps the bragging rights of being London’s most dog-friendly bookshop. Puppies are welcome, the bookstore hosts a dog-themed reading list, and you can even submit a photo of your pooch to be featured on their website.
16. Waterstones Piccadilly (Piccadilly)
Granted, Waterstones Piccadilly is about as far from a cozy independent bookshop as you’ll find. Waterstones is a big chain and its location in Piccadilly is reputed to be the biggest bookshop in Europe. But what it lacks in intimate charm it makes up for in amenities and titles. Located in central London, it’s the perfect place to hide out for a few hours when the rain hits.
17. Word on the Water (King’s Cross)
If you want to find time for just one London bookshop, Word On The Water should be it. This new and used bookstore is actually a ‘book barge’, a 100-year-old Dutch houseboat moored on Regent’s Canal. It’s quirky and fun and has real literary chops, hosting musical performances and poetry slams.
18. Alice Through the Looking Glass (Covent Garden)
Alice Through the Looking Glass is perhaps the most special of all London’s specialist booksellers. As the name suggests, this is the home of all things Alice, from expensive first editions to modern novelties. Browsers will also find a mini-museum and first editions of other childhood classics like the Harry Potter series. Located on Cecil Court, this store is part of ‘Bookseller’s Row’, the perfect place to browse rare titles.
19. Arthur Probsthain (Bloomsbury)
This family-run bookstore has been in business for over 100 years and specializes in titles related to global culture, particularly Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Their on-site tea room, Tea and Tattle, serves afternoon tea with scones and cakes and is also a great stop for an affordable lunch.
20. Books for Cooks (Notting Hill)
As the name suggests, Books for Cooks sells thousands of culinary arts-related titles, from classic cookbooks to biographies. More than just booksellers, they have a small test kitchen where they put their inventory to the test. Nicknamed “the shop that smells best in the world”, you can even have lunch there.
21. Gay’s The Word (Bloomsbury)
The UK’s oldest LGBT bookstore sells new and used titles ranging from fiction to relationships and parenting. They’re also a center for community activities, hosting discussion groups (including one that’s been around for 40 years!) and literary events.
22. My God! (Soho)
This amazing shop is dedicated to comics and graphic novels. It has titles for children and adults, including everything from mainstream selections to more obscure works by small-press editors. They also stock rare used titles, signed books and gifts.
23. Persephone (Bloomsbury)
Specializing in 20th century female writers, Persephone only stores what they themselves have printed. As such, they breathe new life into exhausted writers. The books are as fun to collect as they are to read, as they feature gray covers, glossy liners, and previews by famous authors.
24. Stanfords (Covent Garden)
One of the best travel bookstores in the world, Stanfords is full of travel guides, maps, literary adventures, cool gifts and essential travel gear. Founded in 1853, past patrons include Florence Nightingale and Captain Robert Scott.
25. Notting Hill Bookstore (Notting Hill)
Made famous by the 1999 film Notting Hillthis iconic bookshop with its bright blue sign does indeed specialize in travel books, although today The Notting Hill Bookshop has expanded to include general interest titles (as well as magnets with quotes from its eponymous movie).
26. Travis and Emery (Covent Garden)
Another Cecil Court gem, Travis & Emery specializes in music, including rare, used and collectible books, as well as sheet music, posters, photographs and prints. Music lovers will also be seduced by the fact that Mozart lived in this same building.