Last Updated on 6th September 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
There’s something so enticing about Europe that makes you want to visit again and again. Perhaps it’s the food, maybe it’s the centuries worth of history to be found in each destination. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: there are some truly breathtakingly beautiful bookstores in Europe.
So whether you enjoy perusing shelves served with a side of coffee or are simply looking to soak up some history, here’s the crème de la crème of bookshops in Europe. While some stores are pretty well known and have existed for decades, others are a little more off the beaten path and require the perseverance of a true bibliophile to visit…
#1 Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini, Greece
If you’ve ever searched for images online of sunset in Greece, then you’ll likely have spied the beautiful blue domes of Oia and the cobbled lanes and charming blue and white houses of the rest of the town. But what you may not know is that one of the most beautiful bookstores in Europe can be found in the heart of the village, close to the Red Bicycle restaurant.
Atlantis Books was founded in the mid-2000s when two Americans visiting Santorini became inspired by the picturesque location. They soon discovered that there was no good Anglophone bookstore on the island and soon set about opening one. Now, the store welcomes tens of thousands of visitors, if not more, on a yearly basis.
#2 Carturesti Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
Best seen earlier in the day (and midweek if possible) so as to snap photos without the crowds, this beautiful bookshop is housed within a former warehouse. Located in the very heart of ‘old town Bucharest,’ which happens to be the oldest new town in Europe, the spiral staircases and coffee shop on the top floor make for a nice touch!
Read more: Is this the prettiest bookshop in Romania?
#3 Word on the Water, London, England
One of the quirkiest vendors of books in England, if not all of Europe, is that of Word on the Water. Self-proclaimed to be the only bookbarge in London, music blares out onto the quayside all day long (the shop is open in all weather, seven days a week) while the interior is absolutely filled with books, easily making it one of the best bookshops in Europe.
Situated close to Granary Square and not far from King’s Cross, a visit to this bookstore can easily be combined with a trip to the British Library (where two of the only four existing copies of the Magna Carta area located) as well as the unusual Persephone Books of Bloomsbury.
#4 The Abbey Bookshop, Paris, France
Books spill out onto the streets in a small and little-traversed lane close to the ‘forest of columns’ church of St Severin in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Upon arrival, you’ll soon be greeted by freshly brewed coffee and Brian the Canadian owner. Set over two floors, the store is packed with novels and tomes quite literally stacked from floor to ceiling.
While in the area be sure to check out the French capital’s most famous anglophone bookstore, Shakespeare and Co. This incarnation of the original Sylvia Beach bookshop is an ode to the great writers and authors who lived, gathered, and worked in the 1920s (including Ernest Hemingway, author of A Moveable Feast).
Read more: Paris’ Other Anglophone Bookshop
#5 Booth Books, Hay-on-Wye, Wales
For those who are looking for a literary-focused destination, there is perhaps no place better to visit than Hay-on-Wye. For, the town is quite literally filled with bookshops and shelves full of tomes can be found around pretty much every corner. Even the ruins of the castle are now home to an honesty bookshop!
One of the best stores in town for bibliophiles is Booth Books. All vintage vibe and wood panelled interior, this literary lover’s haven can be found in the very middle of the town. Founded thirty-something years ago, there’s also a café and cinema on site.
Read more: A guide to the book town of Wales
#6 Goussainlivres, Goussainville, France
In an abandoned ghost town on the fringes of Paris, in the place where you’d least expect, you’ll find the hauntingly beautiful bookshop of Goussainlivres. Though a little better known now than just a few years ago, Goussainville is a largely crumbling town which was mostly abandoned by its residents following the construction of Charles de Gaulle airport
Today, the church is closed, the mansion is crumbling, while many of the houses remain shuttered. Though residents are slowly but steadily returning, the main attraction of the town (well, quite literally the only attraction!) is Goussainlivres.
The store was first opened with the view to expanding floor space and creating a town similar to that of Hay-on-Wye in England. Of course, that never happened! However, Goussainlivres is open to the public and is well worth a wander around, if only to check out the miles worth of bookshelves.
#7 Winding Stair Bookshop, Dublin
I was first acquainted with the Winding Stair Bookshop thanks to a reader recommendation. And, ever since visiting for the first time earlier this year, I’ve been raving about this quaint little store! Located alongside the River Liffey which wends its way through the city, the Winding Stair Bookshop has an adjacent café where you can sip on a tea post book browsing.
#8 Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Housed within a former Dominican Church, Boekhandel Dominicanen has it all: shelves stacked full of books, history in abundance, and a little coffee shop in the corner where you can grab a coffee while you peruse the works for sale. Look up and you’ll even spy a beautiful centuries-old fresco which depicts the life and times of Thomas of Aquinas.
#9 The Sanctuary Bookshop, Lyme Regis, England
Deep in the depths of Dorset, somewhere along the millions-of-years-old Jurassic Coast of England, the pretty town of Lyme Regis has been a tourist hotspot for centuries. Today, the town is best-known for its fossil stores and stunning beaches. While in Lyme Regis, be sure to pay a visit to the Sanctuary Bookshop. Featuring ten rooms set across four floors, you never quite know what you’ll stumble on next!
Read more: Visiting the Narnia-like bookstore of Dorset
#10 Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
For those who love their European bookshops served with a side of magic, Livraria Lello is well worth checking out. Officially opened to the public at the turn of the twentieth century, this bookstore is a sumptuous Neo-Gothic masterpiece featuring a central spiralling staircase, stained glass skylight, and an art-nouveau façade.
However, you should note before you go that unlike pretty much every bookshop in Europe, you’ll have to pay to enter Livraria Lello! This is because the independent shop has increased in popularity dramatically since it was alleged that JK Rowling drew inspiration for a Harry Potter staircase as a direct result of the bookshop. Now, the Lello bookshop sees up to 5000 visitors a day, and as many of these people weren’t buying books, they decided to charge an entrance fee of €5.
Read more: How to visit Livraria Lello in Portugal
#11 Laie Librería Café, Barcelona, Spain
Hands down, my favourite bookshop in Barcelona handily doubles up as a coffee shop. Set over two levels, the European bookstore café offers all manner of books; from lengthy tomes to thrillers to historical fiction, this Barcelona bookstore has you covered!
While the lower floor is dedicated to all things book, head upstairs and asides from a brief section filled with books about Barcelona, you’ll soon discover that there’s an expansive café serving delicious cakes and piping hot coffees. What’s more is that there’s a secret terrace out the back where you can curl up with your new reads, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Barcelona streets.
#12 Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
For one of the best hidden gems of bookshops in Europe, you simply need to visit Venice. World-famous thanks to its meandering canals, a wealth of bridges, and stunning architecture, the Libreria Acqua Alta is unusual in that it stores its books in bathtubs and boats! Often touted to be ‘the most beautiful bookstore in the World,’ the shop features stacks of books both outside and in.