My favorite places on earth are full of love and/or books — so it’s time to go word nerd and share my top 8 bookstores of all time!
These places are part sanctuary, part home away from home, part portal to discovery of other worlds, and part word heaven. Each has its own flavor, its own voice, and its own reason for making a trip. Let’s explore, shall we? (Psst! They’re in reverse order — had to save the best for last!)
40 Pleasant St, Portsmouth, N.H.
Alright, so I’m a sucker for books and beer in one place. The Art section is large and open, so you can tuck into those books that are normally plastic-wrapped and unknowable. Mixing used and new books, the light bites on the menu are well done, and the city of Portsmouth is worth checking out just as much as this cozy bookshop. (The River Run bookstore is also worth visiting, lovingly curated and full of cozy furniture.)
427 Spadina Road, Toronto, Canada
Type is tiny, which makes its tip-top curation incredibly important. This isn’t the place to come if you know exactly what you’re looking for and hope to find it in stock. It’s the place to come when you want to be led to a new treasure; when you have time to pick up and explore new works. There’s a fantastic selection of illustrated children’s books in the back, while gifts for word nerds dominate the front. On the middle tables, books are just as likely to be arranged by color as by subject. (These peeps are after my heart!) Pop into What a Bagel! next door for an absolutely fantastic bagel while you’re out and about.
Perched in an alleyway that is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s depiction of Diagon Alley, this rather large London bookshop is home to all things spiritual and metaphysical. Whether you’re interested in spirituality, religion, angels, demons, the occult, or the divine, any and every book that you could previously only seem to find on Amazon is here to hold in your hands and peruse. I dragged Matt out of Heathrow during a 12-hour layover in England to see this place, and it was 100% worth it. The totebag counted as my purse on the plane home — yay for traveling lightly!
428 Main St, Bethlehem, PA
The oldest continually-operating bookstore in the United States, this absolutely vast bookstore also contains a gift shop, Christmas shop, kitchen shop, cafe, clothing section, and jewelry department. (It’s the perfect place for non-book-lovers to spend time while you explore the books.) The Young Adult department isn’t limited to “Paranormal Vampire Romance” and rip-offs of The Hunger Games, a remarkable feat of modern literature. Likewise, the fiction section offers plenty of local flavor, and readings by authors abound.
828 Broadway, New York, NY
This one claims to have 18 MILES of books, which is just plain incredible. I love its squeaky wooden floors, and adore its integration of used and new books on the shelves. Instead of segregating the new books from the well-loved ones, they mingle together happily. The staff’s table piled high with recommended reads is divine, as are the high ceilings and quiet atmosphere. (A welcome reprieve in New York City!) Be sure to check out the ever-changing rotation of book totes designed by artists from all over the world. They’re irresistible.
Marylebone High Street, London, England
There’s nothing like an English bookshop. This one is just plain gorgeous, chock-a-bock full of travel guides in the most gorgeous reading room I’ve ever encountered. If you enjoy wide-open spaces and the look of books as well as the reading of them, give Daunt a visit.
1517 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Located near Dupont Circle, this bookstore is regularly visited by one Barack Obama. If it’s good enough for the President, it’s good enough for me. More importantly: Kramerbooks combines fantastic pie (and other foods, whatever) with beers on tap. Books, beer, pie. I could literally camp out here for days with that menu on tap. Open late with a knowledgable staff, this place is worth hopping onto a train to D.C. for a visit.
37 Rue de la Bucherie, Paris, France
The be-all and end-all of bookshops for English speakers. In a world of beautiful bookstores containing only French books, those of us who speak just one language well can sink into a seemingly endless variety of books. Uncover a new favorite, revisit an old one, and be sure to visit the second floor for a charming view of Paris. Don’t expect the floors to be freshly-swept, don’t expect a latte (there are cafes all around), and don’t compare prices with Amazon. This cozy store is like stepping back in time, and it’s perfect just as it is. It’s my sole reason for loving Paris as much as I do, and I hope it never changes. Be sure to ask for the signature stamp that means you’ve purchased your wares from this place. It’s a nerdy badge of book honor.
This incredibly biased list is full of only those bookstores I’ve visited, so please give me grace for not including your personal favorite. Feel free to hit the contact button and tell me all about it, though!
P.S. I recently told a friend I’m never going to own a bookstore, but it is a life ambition to have my own bookshelf in bookstores all over the world. As in, “Oh wow, this place has a Kristen Kalp section!” In that spirit, my books. Pick one (or three) up if you dare.