Welcome to one of my favourite little corners of Paris, that of the Latin Quarter. Wander away from the Banks of Seine. Step away from the ever iconic and incredibly famous Shakespeare and Co., and escape the crowds of Notre Dame. Head down the little cobbled lanes that form mazes in this part of the city. Soon enough, you’ll likely come across books spilling out onto the street and the smell of coffee wafting down a little-known Parisian lane. This is the Abbey Bookshop, a store selling all manner of new, vintage, and rare books.
And here’s the view from their front door…
The Abbey Bookshop: A Brief History
Founded in 1989 by Canadian book lover, Brian Spence, the magical store is situated in the very heart of the Latin Quarter. So-called because, during the middle ages, students from the nearby universities would converse with one another solely in Latin, this arrondissement of the city includes all-time tourist favourites such as the Paris Pantheon, Sorbonne University.
And of course, in the 5e, you’ll also find Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop sitting squarely along the Seine. Well, let me introduce you to Paris’ other bookstore, and it’s well worth a visit. After all, it’s not only the city’s first English/Canadian bookshop but filled with quirky reading nooks and has over 35,000 works in English.
In a somewhat fitting manner, the actual address for the Abbey Bookshop is number 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, a lane dating back to the 13th century, and perhaps beyond. The road is so named for all of the parchment makers and sellers that once lived and conducted business in this very road.
Prior to its current name, the road was called Rue des Escrivains, and was named for the scribes that lived here in the middle ages. The scribes were the heart and soul of Parisian book trading before the parchmenters took over.
Today, the Abbey Bookshop is located in Hotel Dubuisson, a protected monument that was built in the 18th-Century. While much of the rest of the street has been modernised, the former hôtel retains many of its sumptuous original features; carvings on the façade, a lofty entrance way and solid doors.
Visiting the Abbey Bookshop
Opening times | Monday-Saturday, 10am-7pm
Metro | Saint Michel (line 4)
Payment methods | If you find a book worth purchasing (and it’s hard not to come away with a souvenir or two considering all of the offerings!), then cash, Visa and Mastercard are all accepted.
The first thing that strikes you when you finally make your way inside is the precarious position of the books. This is not a shop filled with books, but books with a little room in-between. Boxes of books. Piles of books. Row upon row of them. Some vintage, others rare, many well worn and obviously well loved. In total, there are over 40,000 books, mostly in English.
In an increasingly Internet-driven world, stepping into the Abbey Bookshop is a welcome breath of fresh air, a vanishing gem in a sea of a constant stream of online media. You could easily pass a couple of hours browsing the floor-to-ceiling stacked shelves, speaking with the friendly staff (including Brian himself, often), and enjoying the music.
And when the bookstore is open, there’s always a welcoming pot of coffee so you can enjoy a hot beverage while perusing the books. Heaven (is in Paris!)