How to Find the Best Bookstores in the World

Recently in Porto, I paid 4€ to get in to the Livraria Lello & Irmão, ranked as the third most beautiful bookstore in the world and supposedly an old favorite of J.K. Rowling. It was a beautiful bookstore. The 4€ wasn’t a waste, as it was also a voucher towards the purchase of any book (I got a book called Blindness by Portuguese author Jose Saramago; it’s some heavy shit).

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Livraria Lello & Irmão is considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and was a favorite of J.K. Rowling's when she lived in Porto. It costs 4€ to get in, and the ticket counts as a voucher towards any purchase you might make. They had to start doing this because thousands of people were coming in to take pictures but not buying anything 📷 📚 Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with just wanting a nice picture in a pretty book store. Sure, fine, whatever (pretend I said that like Scully does). But if you are like me, and you actually like browsing bookstores, looking through books to find that perfect read you didn't know you needed, you should NOT go here 🙅 The store itself is quite small, and there are so many people jostling about just to take pictures that it really kills the whole book-browsing experience. People are constantly pushing past you in the narrow walkways that it becomes such a pain to even read the book jacket, much less the first few pages to see if you want to buy it! 📖 and if you just want to get from the bottom to top floor? Ughhhh, fuhgetaboutit. 😣 And yes, I did end up buying a book, in case you were wondering. I got a novel called "Blindness" by José Saramago, a famous Portuguese writer 📚 #supportyourlocalbookstore . . . . #books #bookstore #livraria #livrarialello #porto #portugal🇵🇹 #portugal #visitportugal #igersporto #travel #travelgram #europe #travelphotography #girlslovetravel #glt  #thetravelwomen #dametraveler #sheisnotlost #wanderlust #girlswhotravel #ladiesgoneglobal #everydayexplorer #passionpassport #girlslovetravel #girlsthatwander #girldiscoverers #travelandlife #femmetravel #femaletravelbloggers

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But… I hated that bookstore. It’s not conducive to actually finding a book. It’s quite small, and there are so many people inside that browsing the books is not relaxing. Instead, you are avoiding elbows and waiting for five minutes just to go up the staircase because someone is taking a picture.

I see Instagram posts about charming libraries and bookstores and I wonder… do those people actually like to read? Or do they just like to appear well-read? Do they think looking cute in a bookstore will make them seem smarter? Because when I think about my favorite bookstores, they are never the ones I see on Instagram. (Okay, not usually the ones I see on Instagram.) In fact, I often skip libraries and bookstores that seem to be more aesthetics than book browsing. Because yeah, it looks cool, but what’s the point of that fancy library in Prague if all the books are in Czech?

The best bookstore (my favorite bookstore) is the one near me, where I can find the books I’m looking for, where I can spending hours browsing without feeling rushed, where they don’t mind if they find me curled up, pawing through a book.

Pegasus Books

A favorite of mine during my uni years in Berkeley. They have 3 locations in Berkeley and Oakland but are, of course, independently owned. They have a great section of new and used, but my favorite thing was that they always had a sale table where new books, sometimes even hardcover, would go for 3-10$. The sale table at Pegasus is where I first picked up my copy of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, one of the books and authors that changed my life. Plus, Pegasus has a live-in cat, so you can cuddle while you browse.

2349 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

5560 College Avenue, Oakland, CA

1855 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Photo via LibraryThing

City Lights Books

A San Francisco shop famous for its reputation as a stomping ground for beat poets back in the day, City Lights boasts a great selection (they even have a whole room dedicated to poetry) and a great location, right on the corner between Chinatown and North Beach. Caffe Trieste is right up the street, great Chinese and Italian restaurants are all within spitting distance, plus great bars and nightlife. Also, there are tons on strip clubs right down the street, if you’re into that sort of thing I guess.

261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA

The Labyrinth above the Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore

Everyone loves this bookstore in L.A., where you can walk through their labrynith of books and take a picture in the Instagram worthy halo. There are always a few people around taking photos, but for the most part people are actually in this store to look for books! (gasp! I hope they won’t start charging 5 bucks for entry!) My favorite part of the store is actually through the book tunnel, where they have a whole section of hardcover sorted by color. These are supposed to be “decorative” books (that’s L.A., always concerned with the aesthetic), but they are actually just normal books about normal things, so if you’re willing to browse you can find good-condition hardcovers for 2$ a pop that will also look pretty on your shelf.

453 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA

As Seen on Instagram™


Los Angeles Central Public Library

This is actually a really beautiful library, inside and out. The outside has a great art deco facade, and there are beautiful reading rooms and art installations inside. (Unfortunately, many sections just look like a normal, modern library.) If you want to get any books you need a library card, but you can spend as long as you like reading, with no one to bother you about how you’re not buying anything. You can also get married there, if you’re a real nerd.

630 W 5th St, Los Angeles, CA

The central hall with some weird art installations
Main rotunda, which is where all the nerds like to take their wedding photos. Photo via KCET (Los Angeles public television, also for nerds like me and my mom)
Image via Wikipedia

Strand Bookstore

An absolutely huge book store in Lower Manhattan. I actually have a canvas bag I bought here that I use every day. Also when I was there, I saw the cutest Pomeranian puppy, which was so small that its owner put it on the counter while she was paying for her books. Eeeek!

828 Broadway, New York, NY

Image via ViaCityMap

Tajne Komplety (Secret Sets)

My favorite bookstore in Wrocław, not just because they are one of the few with a substantial selection of English books. They are super cosy, they have a cafe, and they have lots of cool post cards you can buy as well.

Przejście Garncarskie 2 (in the smaller alleyway inside Rynek),  Wrocław, Poland

Image via Wrocław 2016 ECOC

Księgarnia Hiszpańska Elite (Spanish Bookstore)

My other favorite bookstore, which has tons of books in Spanish (obviously), but also Spanish-language authors in English and Polish. They also have a cafe/bar and they host parties and meetings!

Karola Szajnochy 5, Wrocław, Poland


Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. These are the places I’ve found and cherished, not necessarily because they were beautiful (although some of them are*) but because they are everything you want in a bookstore, not in a tourist attraction.

*also I would argue that even the most mundane bookstore has its own beauty; ok I’ll shut up now

9 Replies to “How to Find the Best Bookstores in the World”

  1. There are some fantastic bookstores in the world. I loved reading about the Shakespeare and Company bookstore….. I loved bookstores in Japan, even though I could not read hardly anything.


  2. I went to the Porto bookstore back in the day when the entry was still free and the experience was pretty much the same as yours, I don’t know if I spent 10 minutes in there, because I just couldn’t appreciate it because of the crowd… Still pretty, though.
    Same in Shakespeare&co in Paris, a decent selection of English books obviously, but I prefer a smaller Canadian I found not far away, where I can browse the shelves for an hour if I wish and the owner always invites me to some kind of an event coming up 🙂
    It’s absolutely true that ”even the most mundane bookstore has its own beauty”, it has books, that’s quite enough! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a wonderful list your favorite bookstores! I personally haven’t sought out going to instagram-famous bookstores while I travel, just because I love stumbling upon random, small bookstores and exploring them myself without a crowd. I find that way of traveling and going to bookstores so much more satisfying because it makes the bookstores I discover feel so much more special and unique. 😊 Great post, Arielle!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I usually skip the famous bookstores/libraries… the only ones I’ve done are the one in Porto, and after I published this entry I did go to Shakespeare & Co in Paris (which did have moments where a tour group annoyingly sweeps in but for the most part was very chill). Like I see a lot of pictures of people in this one library in Prague and I’m like… what are you doing there? I know you don’t read Czech! Y’all don’t have to pretend to like books if you don’t haha. If you really want to buy books you should just find a cute bookstore yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

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