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The Best Bookshops in the World

best book shops in the world

There’s a special magic to foreign bookshops. From local city guides to uncovering rare books (at bargain prices); reading has long gone hand in hand with travel. Second-hand, new or niche, a great book can often enhance your overall experience of a trip.

If you’re searching for your next holiday read, check out our list of the best bookshops in the world to make your purchase!

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1. Kinokuniya – Sydney, Australia

While you may not expect to find a bookstore dedicated to Japanese literature in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover one nestled at the top of the Galeries shopping centre. Boasting Sydney’s largest collection of books, Kinokuniya’s assortment comes in Japanese, English, French, Chinese and German. If you’re pleased by the Sydney offering, you can also seek out other Kinokuniya’s across the globe (including an impressively large one in Singapore).

For those looking for a sweet treat to nibble on, Kinokuniya Sydney used to be famed for selling Black Star Pastry’s Watermelon cake, so, if you’re interested in getting your hands on the world’s most Instagrammed cake, you can head downstairs to the Galeries for a slice. With the City to Surf trip you’ll be soaking up sun, sugar and quality reads while you check out the sights of Sydney. 

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2. Boekhandel Dominican – Maastricht, The Netherlands

Interested in a vast indie bookstore set inside a 13th century gothic cathedral? Boekhandel Dominican in The Netherlands is bound to impress even the most reluctant readers. It comes with a fascinating history, almighty views, a decent café and books in Dutch, French and English. Boekhandel Dominican is here to immerse you in a Maastricht culture while you browse the shelves. 

Situated in the beautiful city of Maastricht, Boekhandel Dominican is only a few hours from Amsterdam and a couple of kilometres from the Belgium border. If you’re looking for a day trip from Amsterdam, venture on to this lovely Dutch city known for its historic buildings, rolling hills and cultural events. 

3. City Lights – San Francisco, USA

Finish your LA Explorer trip on a high with a visit to one of the best bookshops in the country. With an iconic and turbulent history (including being the publisher of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl), City Lights is not only a fantastic bookshop but also a hub for budding writers. 

Here you’ll find several floors of popular titles from mainstream publishers alongside an extensive collection of specialty books. With solid staff recommendations, weekly readings and one of the most extensive poetry sections in the US, City Lights is worth a look.  

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4. Cook & Book – Brussels, Belgium

A restaurant or a bookstore? Why not have both? Cook & Book combines everyone’s love for food and reading with a unique bookshop experience. It features nine rooms, each with a different selection of books, specific design and dining options.

Highlights include eating in an Airstream (in the travel section, of course) and the rock and roll section (which often hosts concerts from local musicians). Extremely slick and wonderfully kitsch, you won’t need to do multiple trips to Cook & Book, but you’ll have a fun time while you’re there.

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5. Hay-on-Wye – Wales, UK

Fondly described as the “town of books”, this enchanting village promises over twenty bookshops for your perusal. Highlights include the beautiful Richard Booth’s, the huge Hay Cinema & Bookshop and Murder and Mayhem (an appropriately named crime and horror bookshop). Take the train from Cardiff and end up in this pretty part of the UK, where you’ll be won over by its old-worldly charm.

If you loved exploring Great Britain & Ireland, Hay-on-Wye is the ideal next stop for sightseeing the countryside. Stretch your legs and go for a walk around the Brecon Beacons or Black Mountains before cosying down inside with a good book. 

Hay-on-Wye book festival

Image source:Hay Festival

6. The Book Lounge – Cape Town, South Africa

Sometimes, you just want a good independent bookshop with a solid selection. The Book Lounge is an iconic institution in Cape Town with lovely staff, relaxed vibes and regular book launches. The Book Lounge is all about a true appreciation for the written word and the local community that champions it. At this store, you’ll find an extensive collection of South African literature, as well as a more unusual selection that you wouldn’t find in your mainstream store. With the Cape, Safari And Falls trip you’re guaranteed to find an excellent travel read for your adventures.

If you’re on a Contiki trip in September, The Book Lounge hosts the Open Book Festival, an annual literary festival dedicated to promoting South African talent to international audiences. It features a diverse program of up-and-coming writers, seasoned authors, poets and performers. Settle into one of The Book Lounge’s comfy couches, grab a coffee and be surrounded by fellow literary lovers.    

7. Ocelot – Berlin, Germany

With a title like “Ocelot, not just another bookstore”, you know you won’t be walking into your standard chain store. Ocelot is a haven for those seeking thoughtful selections, striking interiors and tasty hot beverages. Their books have a distinctly contemporary focus, with a desire to challenge their readers and the concept of what a ‘typical’ bookstore should look like. 

Along the Eastern Road you can sift through all of Berlin’s hipster hotspots (and bookstores), while soaking up the incredible culture on offer in this vibrant city. Located in central Mitte, Ocelot is the perfect place to escape to when you get tired of tourist attractions. Ocelot is also open ‘til late Monday-Saturday, so you can pop in after eating at one of the German capital’s best brunch spots or after a drink in one of its many cosy bars in the evening.  

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8. Cărturești Carusel – Bucharest, Romania

You can easily spend a day (or two) in this ethereal bookshop. Originally built by a Greek family in the early 19th century, Cărturești Carusel operated as an old bank before it fell into decay after the rise of communism. After extensive renovations, it reopened in 2015 as this extraordinary bookstore spread across six levels. With selections in multiple languages and reasonable prices, Cărturești Carusel stands out as a store that not only looks good but will also satisfy your reading needs. 

Pick up a holiday read before exploring the rest of this fascinating country on a Castles, Bikes and Hikes in Romania trip. To avoid the crowds, we recommend heading to Cărturești Carusel in the morning if you prefer to read in peace and quiet.

9. Livraria Ler Devagar – Lisbon, Portugal

While Porto’s Livraria Lello might get all the accolades, if you’re after one of the coolest bookshops in Portugal head to Livraria Ler Devagar. Housed inside a former industrial textile warehouse, Livraria Ler Devagar is the ideal stopover on the The Spain and Portugal Highlights trip.

Perfect for art and design nerds, Ler Devagar is on a mission to embrace the concept of ‘slow reading’. You’ll find plenty to do at this creative mecca. Not only is it a bookshop but it’s also an exhibition space, cake shop, bar, art gallery and live music venue. On Sunday Ler Devagar transforms into a market where you can peruse vintage clothing, antiques, handmade crafts, food, plants and more. Despite its constant stream of activities, Ler Devagar remains the perfect place for quiet chats and innovative reads, right in the heart of Lisbon. 

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10. Wuguan Books – Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Sometimes it’s not about the books themselves but the experience. For a unique sensory experience, Wuguan Books is an experimental bookstore that offers readers the chance to immerse themselves in a space that is part art exhibition and part bookshop. 

Created by award-winning designer Chu Chih-Kang, the entirety of the store sits in incredibly low lighting, making the books often appear as if they are floating in mid-air. With flashlights banned and a curated collection of books, Wuguan’s focus is on illuminating stories rather than readers. Pick up a book, find a night light and wind down at Wuguan Books without worrying about the world outside. 

11. The Abbey Bookshop – Paris, France

From London to Paris, you’ll be spoiled for books. France is not short on bookshops, and Paris has a mammoth selection to choose from. Spend your days trawling the famous Shakespeare & Company or the captivatingly old Delamain. For English speakers shopping second-hand head to The Abbey Bookshop in the Latin Quarter. Tightly packed shelves with books from ceiling to floor line this cavernous bookshop.

While there are certainly bigger and fancier bookshops in Paris, The Abbey Bookshop is a treasure trove for those who love hunting the shelves for rare and unexpected finds. With an array of different genres lining every possible surface (including an excellent travel section), you won’t be walking out empty-handed.

12. Cafebreria el Pendulo – Mexico City, Mexico

Whoever said chain bookstores have to be dull? With its stance as part bookstore, part café and part forest, you won’t be bored at Cafebreria el Pendulo. Encompassing a mainstream selection of books in English and Spanish, you can also purchase novelty items, films, music and stationery. While you won’t find any rare reads in this store, the ambience (which features a palm tree in the centre of the store) is enough for one to while away several hours.

End your Mexican Fiesta by picking up the perfect souvenirs at Cafebreria el Pendulo. With multiple locations spread throughout Mexico City, these bookstores are the perfect place to let your imagination roam as you sightsee this effervescent city. 

13. Daikanyama Tsutaya Books – Tokyo, Japan

A winner at the World Architecture Festival, Daikanyama Tsutaya is housed in three interconnected buildings and located conveniently close to Daikanyama Station. Despite its size, the store has a chilled atmosphere where charmingly the books are not arranged by genre but rather by lifestyle. 

Beyond the extensive book selection, you can pick up stationery, movies, spatulas, perfume and even soy sauce. Daikanyama also boasts an extensive music collection of both local and international artists that you can explore. If you’re doing Japan in a Week, relax at Daikanyama, pick up some Manga and embrace the wonders of Japanese design. 

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14. Chongquing Bookstore – Chongquing, China

This architectural masterpiece made waves around the world when it first opened in 2019. The megastore is situated across 4 levels, and with its winding staircases and mirrored ceilings, you’ll start to feel very small very quickly. Inspired by the mountain topography of Chongqing, this bookstore aims to invite readers to be curious about the local history and environment.

If you need a respite from the upside-down feeling of the main space, there are cosy reading nooks dotted throughout so you can get lost in your books. While you’ll probably be too overwhelmed to be seriously browsing, as an experience Chongqing Bookstore won’t fail to impress. 

15. Blackwell’s – Oxford, UK

While the outside of Blackwell’s may appear like your average store, behind it lies a room with over three miles of shelves containing books (making it the biggest in the world!). Smack bang in the middle of town, browse the shelves of Blackwell’s before strolling around the likes of The Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs. 

Checking out Oxford is perfect for a day trip from London and is easily accessible by regular buses and trains. If you don’t find the perfect read at Blackwell’s, you can always explore London’s extensive options (including the wondrous Daunt Books, Liberia, Common Press and Gay’s The Word). 

Blackwell's bookmark from Oxford

Image source:Charlie Fabre

16. El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Prior to being a bookstore, El Ateneo was a theatre known for hosting tango legends, before going on to become the first cinema in Buenos Aires to show ‘talkies’. Now a magnificently ornate bookstore, you’ll have a grand time taking in its 120,000 books, snug seating and superb ceilings. 

Buenos Aires is renowned for its love of reading with 734 bookshops spread across the city. Other inviting options include Libros del Pasaje and Walrus Books (for English-language books). However, if you’re looking for an Argentina highlight on your travels, the Grand Splendid will certainly stand out. Embrace Porteño culture and a city that treasures reading as you take in the truly Grand Splendid. 

17. Massolit Books & Café – Krakow, Poland

With the European Vistas trip, you can spend a free afternoon in Krakow getting lost in the curious shelves of Massolit. Full warning though: once you go in, you won’t want to leave.

Krakow’s only English-language bookshop is for enthusiasts of quiet corners, old book smell and tucked-away couches with a slice of apple pie. Located in a converted apartment, Massolit is situated on a discreet backstreet away from the city centre. Owned by an American couple, the store’s collection is vast, containing over 20,000 books. With a selection of both new and used (at very decent prices), the architecture and warm ambience will transport you to the sophisticated literary circles of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Explore their selection online first, or unearth a captivating read in person. 

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18. Atlantis Books – Santorini, Greece

By travelling from London to Athens to Santorini you’ll finish up on the beautiful Aegean with one of the best bookshops in the world at your feet. Greece is full of myths and wandering the shelves of Atlantis, you’ll feel like you’re stumbled across something truly magical.

What started as the pipe dream of a couple of friends on holiday has resulted in one of the most peaceful bookshops around. Housed inside a vaulted marble building, you’ll be treated to a stunning collection of fine books, cute resident cats and the soft sea breeze. As a souvenir, they even offer to ink stamp your purchases, so you can take a bit of Atlantis home with you.

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19. Munro’s Books – Victoria, Canada

Situated in a historic bank building, Munro’s Books is a huge bookstore in the centre of Victoria. Founded over 50 years ago by author Alice Munro and her then-husband Jim, Munro’s Books is an iconic institution beloved by locals and tourists alike. Munro’s large selection is a great place to find new favourites and discover Canadian authors. The friendly staff are highly knowledgeable and will be able to point you in the right direction no matter your reading tastes. 

With its neo-classist architecture and exquisite wall tapestries, this store is easily one of the most attractive bookshops in the world. But while the physical architecture of Munro’s is impressive, it’s the welcoming atmosphere of this independent store that makes it so easy to return to. 

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20. Open House at Central Embassy – Bangkok, Thailand

An adventure from Bangkok to Singapore will lead you through the hustle and bustle of this exciting city. While many major cities in Southeast Asia suffer from a sense of claustrophobia, Open House counters this by providing an oasis for readers to escape to, your ‘home away from home’ so to speak. In terms of its unique layout, Open House at Central Embassy is a series of interconnected villages rather than a single bookstore.

The books themselves are woven throughout the space and feature a highly-curated selection of Asian art and culture. With its spectacular city views and collective mindset, Open House is not only a great place to read, but it is also a peaceful space to meet fellow bibliophiles.  

Ready to discover your next holiday read? Explore some of the best bookshops in the world with Contiki as you travel the world in 2024.

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