I am an avid reader and I love wandering around bookstores in towns and cities I am visiting. I started reading when I was still attending kindergarten and my love for reading has grown through the years; I usually read all kinds of books across different genres and I love reading physical copies of books, so I rarely get to use an e-reader. Since I speak four languages, I like to read in different languages as well. I mostly read in English and Italian but I occasionally read French and Spanish editions of books as well. When I’m in Italy I find it difficult to buy books written in English in local bookstores, as most of them have only very few in stock and they are often quite expensive, so when I’m in foreign places like London or New York I really enjoy exploring the city to discover new bookstores.
I lived in London for some time in 2016 so I would buy books directly from local bookstores and I have rounded up five of my favorite ones I came across while living in the city:
1) Brick Lane Bookshop: an independent bookshop in Tower Hamlets. Established in 1978, it is located in the East End, one of the most iconic areas of London, which hosts plenty of interesting clothing stores, cafés and is also home to the famous Spitalfields Market. I love walking around this neighborhood because it is one of the most distinctive in the city and it has become a trendy area like Shoreditch, especially for young people. Many streets intersecting with Brick Lane are great to explore if you enjoy urban art and graffiti, since the East End is filled with amazing artworks covering different building façades. Brick Lane Bookshop used to be part of the Tower Hamlets Arts Project, formed in the 1970s out of a protest. There wasn’t a single bookshop in Tower Hamlets at the beginning of the ’70s, so a group of local people decided to start one. They began with a weekly stall in Whitechapel Market where they sold Penguin proof copies and the success of the bookstall inspired the locals to create a permanent bookstore. If you happen to visit Brick Lane, be sure to stop by the library because you will sure find some interesting reads about London and the East End (I suggest you have a look at the historic Brick Lane’s Beigel Shop, which is also known as “the yellow one” thanks to its bright yellow sign, and try one of their delicious bagels).
Brick Lane Bookshop, 166 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU
2) Foyles: Foyles is probably one of the biggest bookstores in London, as it spans five floors dedicated to different genres. It is located on Charing Cross Road, one of the most popular and busy streets in Central London. The bookstore also sells DVDs and CDs; the section dedicated to jazz is absolutely amazing and I love spending time there listening to the wonderful music coming out of the speakers. It also hosts a section of gifts and stationery to complement the books and it is one of the best bookstores in London when it comes to organizing in-store events with up-and-coming and famous authors. When I was living in London I had the immense pleasure of attending a book signing with writer and activist Gloria Steinem, as she presented her new memoir “My Life On The Road”; the event was greatly organized by the staff and I also got to exchange a few words with Steinem, an experience I will cherish forever.
I once visited Foyles with my parents and my dad took a series of photos of people reading in the bookstore that really captured the spirit of the place; if you love reading as much as I do you will definitely enjoy spending some time there! They also allow you to get a Foyalty card, on which you can charge points when buying books and eventually get discounts.
Foyles Bookshop, 107 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0DT
3) South Kensington Books: this is an independent bookshop located in the heart of South Kensington and very close to the museums; at the same location there has always been a bookstore since the 1940s. South Kensington Books hosts a wide range of fiction, history, art and children books and their selection is very well-curated! I love stopping by the bookshop every time I am visiting the V&A Museum, which usually hosts great fashion exhibitions (I recently wrote an article about my experience at the V&A for the 2019 Christian Dior retrospective). The bookstore has many shelves with great discount prices (like the one which lets you pick 3 books for £9) and it also hosts a collection of art posters. The last time I was there, I managed to buy a couple of books I had never heard about (I still have to read one of them) and it is always great to discover new titles. I love the South Kensington neighborhood, it is one of my favorite in London and this bookshop has such a cozy atmosphere! It is a quiet environment and it allows you to take a break from the usually crowded streets surrounding the museums. The staff is very helpful and kind, so it is definitely a place worth visiting for readers!
South Kensington Books, 22 Thurloe St, South Kensington, London SW7 2LT
4) Primrose Hill Books: one of the most residential areas of North London is home to Primrose Hill Books, which is situated in a Victorian terrace very close to Regent’s Park. The neighborhood is truly beautiful, especially Primrose Hill, from which you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city of London (a clear summer evening is probably the best time to be there). Primrose Hill Books is easily identifiable by its cute blue façade and it hosts a great selection of titles; you find yourself in a very small place but there are so many books surrounding you! It is a lovely independent bookstore in one of the quietest and most fascinating areas of London; if you want to escape the crowd, you should definitely spend a day in Primrose Hill (especially if you are visiting Camden Town, which is just a Tube stop away). Should you happen to be in the neighborhood, be sure to have lunch at Pesantissimo, an Italian restaurant which is just across the street from the bookstore and makes great pizza and Italian dishes (I talked about Pesantissimo in the article about my favorite food places in London). Primrose Hill Books also hosts various in-store events and they have recently organized a series of interviews and meetings with authors for the tenth anniversary of Primrose Hill Community Library.
Primrose Hill Books, 134 Regent’s Park Rd, London NW1 8XL
5) Daunt Books : this bookstore located in Marylebone is really one of a kind! The interiors are beautiful and have an elegantly ancient look, with wooden staircases and windows through which natural light filters. The atmosphere is so magical in there and it actually feels more like visiting a library! Daunt Books was founded in 1990 and it is dedicated to the theme of travel ; it has a huge travel section and the books are arranged by country. Every section is very well-organized and it is a pleasure to spend time there; they also sell Daunt Books tote bags. It is great to peruse this bookstore, especially if you are searching for travel books, but also if you want to have a look at new titles in the fiction section. I find it very fascinating to still read books about traveling instead of just doing an online research and I often buy National Geographic guides so I think this bookstore is extremely fascinating and I hope to visit again soon to take more pictures of its wonderful interiors. I hope you will get to visit Daunt Books as well, because it is a magical place to lose yourself into!
Daunt Books, 84 Marylebone High St, London W1U 4QW
There are plenty of other bookstores in London which I did not add to this list, but I will write them down at the end of this article because I had a great time visiting them. Hatchards is said to be the most ancient bookstore in the UK (it was founded in 1797) and it is located in Piccadilly Circus. Persephone Books used to be near Russell Square but it has since relocated to Bath; Persephone is both a publisher and bookseller which reprints women writers titles from the early 20th century (when I visited their old London store I bought a Noel Streatfeild novel and the staff was so kind!). Make sure you stop by the new Persephone Books if you are visiting the town of Bath, less than two hours from Central London. Libreria Bookshop opened in London’s East End in 2016, when I was still living in the city; they have an amazingly curated selection and the atmosphere is very cozy due to the warm light. Cellphones are not welcome there because you come across many people reading and enjoying the quietness of the ambience. Lastly, be sure to visit one of the many Waterstones you will spot around London; I visited the one in Piccadilly plenty of times and my father even spent an afternoon there reading! This chain of bookstores sells exclusive editions and also organizes numerous events with writers in the course of the year. I also love buying used books from Black Gull Books at Camden Lock, especially horror titles from the ’70s and ’80s.
As you may have guessed, London is a great city for readers and bookstore lovers! Hope you will get to visit some of the ones I have mentioned in this article and I am sure you will have a great time!
All pictures are my own except the one opening the article, whose credits belong to Alexandra Kirr / Unsplash.
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