10 Of The World's Most Iconic Bookstores

With the advent of the Kindle, the rise of tablets like the iPad and the pervasiveness of Hollywood films, many have feared the death of good old-fashioned books. After all, not many of life’s simple pleasures beat curling up with a novel and a cup of hot tea by the fireplace. The landscape of writing is changing quickly, and companies that refuse to adapt could quickly be left behind. It’s true that accessing novels, newspapers and other forms of the written word via electronics is on the rise, but it doesn't look like printed forms of communication will be disappearing any time soon. The next time somebody bemoans the good old days and the demise of literature, point them to these ten world-renowned bookstores that prove literature is alive and well. Chains like Waterstones and Barnes & Noble are all well and good, and sometimes a quick purchase off of Amazon is all you want, but each of these ten bookstores has a unique atmosphere, artistic vibes and, most importantly, enough literature to keep you occupied for a lifetime.

10 El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Buenos Aires


El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of Buenos Aires’ most famous bookstores. Originally a theater nearly a century ago, the opulent building was transformed into a bookstore in the early 2000s. The original frescoes and ornate architecture remain, making El Ateneo one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. El Ateneo still has the atmosphere of a regal theater, complete with theater boxes. Over one million customers patronize the bookstore each year to enjoy the perfect combination of classic literature and a beautiful reading environment, featuring comfy chairs and warm lighting. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is definitely a must-see in Buenos Aires.

9 The Last Bookstore – Los Angeles


The Last Bookstore can be found in a trendy downtown Los Angeles loft. The bookstore both, sells and buys used books, so whether you’re looking to make a little cash or you’re on the hunt for a new literary gem, The Last Bookstore should be on your list. Not only does The Last Bookstore deal in the physical book trade, they also host literary events including book launches, readings by authors and events that incorporate the renowned L.A. art scene. In fact, this bookstore is pretty interdisciplinary – they also buy and sell records, so whether you’re moved by books or music, there’s sure to be something you’ll love.

8 Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen – Maastricht, the Netherlands


It turns out that the Netherlands is famous for more than just the notoriously lenient lifestyle in Amsterdam – the lesser-known Maastricht, houses one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Originally a 13th century Dominican church, this cathedral is now home to a different kind of religion: literature. Numerous patrons have called this bookstore the most beautiful bookstore they've ever encountered, and coffee and tea are available in case the stone interior is too chilly for you. The name might be hard to pronounce, but you surely won’t regret visiting Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen.

7 Librairie Avant-Garde – Nanjing


Buenos Aires’ El Ateneo Grand Splendid may have taken the opulent route when selecting their venue, but the Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing, China, did something much more unorthodox. This bookstore is located in an underground parking lot, that also once acted a bomb shelter. In addition to obviously selling books, this bookstore has other amenities to make your experience that much better. They host literary events, concerts, exhibitions, and, just in case your novel is making you sleepy, there’s a cozy café. The gritty surroundings make the Librairie Avant-Garde a unique experience, and might help to remind you not to judge a book by its cover.

6 Strand - New York City

The Strand bookstore in New York City has a whopping 2.5 million books at your disposal and gets its name from the iconic, literary London street. The bookstore has been in operation since 1927 and is still going strong, despite the slow demise of the printed medium. The Strand has some pretty high profile literary events and is often frequented by the rich and famous, due to its stellar location and solid reputation. You can even rent The Strand’s famous rare book room, which houses over 200 rare books, for events. The rare books room costs $2,000 to rent, but if eating surrounded by first editions and signed copies sounds like an ideal night to you, it just might be worth it.

5 Cook & Book – Brussels


The combination of bookstore and café is hardly innovative, but Brussels’ Cook & Book is something else altogether. This charming place features a legitimate restaurant with yummy brunch options, fresh salads and traditional food. Not only is the food scrumptious, but the book selection is inspiring and the interior decoration is absolutely perfect. Most of the books found in Brussels’ Cook & Book are in French, but their English selection is legendary as well. Cook & Book just might usher in a new era of dinner and a book, to replace the stale combination of dinner and a movie.

4 Powell’s – Portland


If you’re looking for size, Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon, is the place to be. The store occupies an entire city block, but despite its gigantic size, Powell’s is an independent retailer in true Portland spirit. Although the exterior is far from being the most beautiful on this list, the interior is what counts: Powell’s boasts an dizzying literary selection, evident in the fact that the giant bookstore purchases roughly 3,000 used books every single day and has an inventory of approximately 4 million books. Powell’s has been open for nearly 45 years and is a favorite of both tourists and Portland natives.

3 Libreria Acqua Alta – Venice


If you’re a book lover, the Libreria Acqua Alta, which translates to ‘Library of High Water,’ is one place on this list that you should prioritize – after all, Venice could sink any day now.  If you do make it to Venice before the city is completely submerged, make sure to stop at this famous bookstore. This cozy bookstore channels Venice’s famous canals: new and used books are shelved in gondolas and canoes, and oars and boat poles are beautiful decorating staples. If ambience is an important component of your bookstore selection process, a trip to the quaint and dusty Libreria Acqua Alta is mandatory.

2 City Lights – San Francisco


San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore was founded in 1953, and was extremely important to the beat poet movement. City Lights first achieved fame after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s controversial and now-famous collection, Howl and Other Poems, which was subsequently tried for obscenity. The bookstore is located next door to Vesuvius, a bar that was equally famous for its role with the beat poets. Both the bookstore and the bar boasted patrons like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and photographs of the authors can be found on the walls. City Lights is small compared to some of the titans on this list, but the bookstore remains independent and still publishes work to this day, and its history is nothing to be scoffed at.

1 Shakespeare and Company – Paris


Shakespeare and Company, located in the heart of Paris, is arguably the best-known bookstore in the world. The bookstore is unique because it specializes in English literature and has a stunning supply of rare books, many of which are surprisingly affordable.  Shakespeare and Company also has a legendary publishing history – the cozy little shop was the original publisher of James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, and was known in the early 20th century as a place to acquire books which had been banned in the U.S. The fame of Shakespeare and Company lives on as one of the most visited bookstores in the world, and has even been featured in films like Midnight in Paris.

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