Kindles may have dealt a blow to the printed book of old, but it hasn’t killed off the brick-and-mortar bookshop altogether. Not in London that is.
London still has some excellent bookstores, where you can happily spend a few hours looking at real books rather than a small screen. (You’ll get back to that soon enough no doubt…) Whether your passion is for small, specialist shops with tables of used books outside, or you prefer to browse in Europe’s largest bookstore, London has plenty to offer.
Charing Cross Road was once home to over 20 bookstores, and although this number has sadly declined in recent years, it’s still worth a wander down this street which was made famous in Helene Hanff’s literary memoir, 84 Charing Cross Road. Several used bookstores still survive at the southern end of the street near Leicester Square, and in nearby Cecil Court, a narrow passageway of 19th-century shop fronts, there are over a dozen small shops specialising in children’s books, ephemera, posters and old maps.
Charing Cross Road is home to one of the world’s most famous bookstores, Foyle’s, which has been a London fixture since 1903. In 2014, Foyles closed the doors on its rather old fashioned premises and opened a brand new and modern store a few hundred yards down the street. The new store is home to over 200,000 books, along with a jazz music store, and hosts regular exhibitions and readings.
Bloomsbury has long been London’s literary and intellectual hub and is still home to several publishers. The streets around the British Museum are still a good area to explore several used and discount bookstores, as well as the almost legendary Atlantis Bookshop. At over 100 years old, this bookshop is London’s oldest specialist occult and New Age bookstore and has somehow managed to survive since 1922. In past years, the shop’s basement has been a meeting place for witches’ covens. Also on the Bloomsbury list is Gay’s the Word, the largest and most comprehensive lesbian and gay bookshop in the UK
London has several other specialist bookshops. You can spend hours planning your next trip in Stanford’s in Covent Garden, which started out selling maps in 1853 and today is the world’s largest map and travel bookstore.
NOTTING HILL, KENSINGTON, LONDON NORTH
In Notting Hill, Books for Cooks stocks over 8,000 books on every aspect of cooking, while Koenig Books in Kensington specialises in photography, art and architecture titles. With little ones in tow, it’s worth making the trek to the Children’s Bookshop in north London, one of the country’s largest kid’s bookstore.
Piccadilly is home to some of London’s most exclusive stores, hotels and restaurants as well as two of the capital’s largest bookstores. Hatchard’s is the oldest bookshop in the UK, having been in business since 1797, and is the holder of three Royal warrants, meaning it is an official supplier to the Queen. Just down the road, Waterstone’s has the distinction of being the largest bookshop in Europe, and is in a beautiful 1930s Art Deco building.
One of the few outdoor second hand book markets in the UK can be found on London’s South Bank, close to the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye. It’s open daily regardless of the often unpredictable weather, and dozens of stalls offer paperbacks and hardbacks, as well as a range of prints, posters, antique maps and other items.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou