30 Famous Bookstores Worth Traveling to Visit
The best bookstores don’t just sell books. They’re run by people, sometimes authors themselves, who love to read and are knowledgeable about a wide range of books. A recent Harvard Business School study showed that people look to bookstores for a more personalized reading experience. They’re seeking a sense of community, a curated selection of authors and titles, and a place to gather to hear writers talk or read from their newest book.
The best bookstores promote regional literature and writers and, often, artists as well. Their staff can match you with that perfect book. They strive to educate customers through popular blogs and podcasts on new writing or forgotten classics. They may have a small press that releases forgotten and out-of-print titles. They’re often de-facto community centers as well. Many stores have on-site cafes so you can hang out and read or create your new reading list. If you’re traveling overseas, you may even find a place to sleep overnight at a bookstore in Paris or Tokyo.
We’ve put together a list of 30 bookshops around the world that are definitely worth leaving home to visit. Whether you’re already traveling to a destination and want to check out a local bookstore or you’re a dedicated bookworm who will make a special trip to visit an unusual bookseller, you’ll find just the place to grab your interest.
30. SemiColon Bookstore and Gallery
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Where to stay:21c Museum Hotel
Why SemiColon is so famous: Author and editor Danielle Mullen opened SemiColon in 2019 as a way to address Chicago’s low literacy rates. She wanted to create a place that promoted Black literature and encouraged Black readership. Mullen personally curates all books stocked in the store and displays them with their covers out. The store has a rotating art gallery, featuring local artists, and hosts regular in-store talks with both writers and artists. SemiColon also runs a literary non-profit, Paren(t)hesis, which promotes reading in local public schools through a book giveaway program.
29. Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore
Location: Chongqing City, China
Where to stay: Beity Hot Spring Resort
Visit:Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore
Why Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore is so famous: Shanghai-based bookseller Zhongshuge has a chain of mega bookstores across China, which are designed by Shanghai’s X+living architectural firm. The Chongqing outlet, with over 50,000 books, opened in 2016 and covers two levels of the Zodi Plaza. The store gives the feeling of being inside the Impossible Stairs drawing by artist MC Escher, with bookshelves that stretch all the way up the walls, mirrored ceilings and zig-zagging staircases. The superstore includes a specialized children’s area, full of murals, bright colors and low bookcases. There is also a cafe and plenty of cozy reading areas for customers.
28. Book and Bed
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Where to stay: Book and Bed (yes, you can stay here)
Visit:Book and Bed
Why Book and Bed is so famous: Book and Bed is the only place on our list where you can read books, but you can’t buy them. Book and Bed is a Tokyo hostel where book lovers sleep in individual wooden pod beds built into massive book shelves. Each bed has a reading light and a curtain for privacy. The hostel stocks over 5,000 books in Japanese and English, including Manga novels and Japanese literary classics. Book and Bed also has a cafe and communal lounging spaces with sofas for curling up and reading.
27. Honesty Bookshop
Location: Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales
Where to stay: Old Black Lion
Visit:The Honesty Bookshop
Why Honesty Bookshop is so famous: Hay-on-Wye is well-known as a book town. In 1961, local Richard Booth had a vision for reviving the town’s economy through book tourism and opened the first of its many bookstores. The small Welsh town now has over 30 bookstores, an annual Hay Literary Festival and is a popular tourist destination. The Honesty Bookshop sells used books on open-air racks. Each book costs £1, and customers are asked to leave the money in an honesty box. All funds collected go to the Hay Castle Trust to restore and preserve the medieval castle.
26. Tattered Cover
Location: Denver, Colorado
Where to stay: Hotel Teatro
Visit:Tattered Cover Book Store
Why Tattered Cover Book Store is so famous: Tattered Cover Book Store is the largest independent bookseller in Colorado, with six locations around the Denver metro area. Joyce Meskis, who owned Tattered Cover from 1974 until her retirement in 2017, was a high-profile activist for literacy and freedom of expression. The stores sell a mix of used and new books, and host over 500 literacy and community events each year in-store. The current owners continue Meskis’ mission to defend free speech and build knowledge and intellectual curiosity through books and reading.
25. Strand Book Store
Location: New York, New York
Where to stay: Made Hotel
Visit:Strand Book Store
Why Strand Book Store is so famous: Strand Books is the last survivor of New York City’s Book Row, which once covered six city blocks and was home to 48 book shops. Strand Books was started in 1927 by Ben Bass, the current owner’s grandfather. The business stocks over 2.5 million used, rare and new books, a wide selection of book-themed gifts and hosts in-store literary events. Their Books by the Foot service creates customized or rental libraries for individuals and commercial spaces. Best of all, Strand Books has three locations: two in Manhattan and one at LaGuardia Airport.
24. Shakespeare and Company
Location: Paris, France
Where to stay: Les Rives De Notre Dame
Visit:Shakespeare and Company
Why Shakespeare and Company is so famous: Shakespeare and Company was founded by American George Whitman in 1951 as an English-language bookstore that also served as a gathering place for Anglophone writers and intellectuals. The bookstore has an unusual program called Tumbleweeds, in which people are invited to read a book each day, help out at the shop and then sleep on small beds among the books at night. Some now-famous writers and actors, such as Kate Grenville and Geoffrey Rush, were once Tumbleweeds. Shakespeare and Company hosts a literary festival and the Paris Literary Prize and has set up a publishing division.
23. Politics & Prose
Location: Washington, D.C.
Where to stay: Woodley Park Guest House
Visit:Politics & Prose
Why Politics & Prose is so famous: Politics & Prose was founded in 1984 as an independent bookstore with a wide range of books and as a cultural gathering place. Over the years, Politics & Prose has gained a reputation as one of the most prestigious places for authors to speak and attracts large audiences at literary events. The main shop has an Espresso Book Machine for printing self-published and out-of-print books. The store also offers literary programs, including book groups, readers tours both overseas and locally, and classes on literary topics. Politics & Prose has three locations around the D.C. metro area.
22. El Pendulo
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Where to stay: Hotel La Casona
Why El Pendulo is so famous: The El Pendulo bookstore chain has seven locations across the city, each with cafes, live music concerts and literary events, and they all stock a wide range of books in Spanish and English. The stores feature ceiling-high bookshelves, trees and vines growing among the books, small reading nooks with comfortable chairs, sofas and tables and walkways that let customers browse the upper levels. The best locations are in Polanco, near several of Mexico City’s best museums, and Roma, a trendy neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants, cafes, tree-lined streets and Spanish Colonial houses.
21. Parnassus Books
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Where to stay: Bode Nashville
Why Parnassus Books is so famous: Parnassus Books was started in 2011 by best-selling novelist Ann Patchett and business partner Karen Hayes after Nashville’s two remaining booksellers closed. The pair believed that people still wanted to buy and read physical books. The name comes from Mount Parnassus, the home of literature and music in Greek mythology. The store stocks a wide range of fiction, non-fiction and arts books, with a special section featuring local area writers. Parnassus and Hudson Bookseller opened a co-branded bookstore at Nashville’s airport.
20. The Last Bookstore
Location: Los Angeles, California
Where to stay: Ace Hotel Downtown
Visit:The Last Bookstore
Why The Last Bookstore is so famous: When owner Josh Spencer opened his now iconic bookstore in downtown Los Angeles in 2005, he was certain it would only last three years and that selling conventional books was a dying industry, hence the store name. Still thriving 17 years later, The Last Bookstore is California’s largest book and record retailer and sprawls across two floors in the historic Spring Arts Tower. In addition to new, used and rare books, the store sells vinyl records, graphic novels and art, and contains a book labyrinth. The Last Bookstore is also featured in a short, award-winning documentary.
19. Harvard Book Store
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Where to stay: Irving House Bed & Breakfast
Visit:Harvard Book Store
Why Harvard Book Store is so famous: Harvard Book Store was founded in 1932 by Mark Kramer, and run by the Kramer family until 2008. What started as a single small shop selling used and bargain books, Harvard Book Store expanded over the years until it covered three storefronts and carries a wide selection of new, used and remaindered books. The bookstore was the first in the city to have a cafe and offer literary events, in partnership with the Boston Public Library. The business runs a law book annex around the corner and offers a print-on-demand service for self-published authors.
18. Faulkner House Books
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Where to stay: Renaissance New Orlean Pere Marquette Hotel
Visit:Faulkner House Books
Why Faulkner House Books is so famous: Faulkner House Books is located in a townhouse near the French Quarter where famed Southern writer William Faulkner lived in the 1920s. Joseph and Rosemary DeSalvo bought the building in 1988 and fully restored it, creating a bookstore at street level and a living space for themselves upstairs. The shop specializes in Southern literature and sells a carefully curated selection of Southern authors. Local tour guides will tell you that Faulkner’s ghost can sometimes be seen in and around his former home.
17. Elliot Bay Book Company
Location: Seattle, Washington
Where to stay: Shafer Baillie Mansion Bed and Breakfast
Visit:Elliot Bay Book Company
Why Elliot Bay Book Company is so famous: The Elliot Bay Book Company is located in the heart of Capitol Hill near downtown Seattle. Founder Walter Carr opened the store in 1973 with a vision of having the widest range of books, subjects and authors that he could get. It was the first in the Seattle area to host in-store readings and literary events. Today, the store holds about 500 author events each year. The company also publishes Booknotes, a quarterly review of new titles.
16. City Lights Bookstore
Location: San Francisco, California
Where to stay: Axiom Hotel
Visit:City Lights Bookstore
Why City Lights Bookstore is so famous: City Lights was the first all-paperback bookstore in the country. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened the store in 1953, and it became a literary landmark for the Beat Generation. Tour buses stopped at City Lights so people could spot “Beatniks.” City Lights continues to feature books with an anti-authoritarian theme on wide-ranging subjects. In 1955, Ferlinghetti established City Lights Publishers, a small press best known for its Pocket Poets Series. City Lights hosts regular literary events in-store and has an educational outreach program that works with local arts and community groups.
15. Busboys and Poets
Location: Washington, D.C. Metro Area
Where to stay: Lyle Hotel
Visit:Busboys and Poets
Why Busboys and Poets is so famous: Social activist and restaurateur Andy Shallal started the first Busboys and Poets bookstore in 2005, naming it after writer, activist and poet Langston Hughes, in the heart of the U Street Corridor. The area was known as Black Broadway in the 1920s and is still a center for arts, culture and activism today. Busboys and Poets stock books with a focus on politics, society and social justice. Each store includes a restaurant and bar, and runs live literary, cultural and artistic events in-store. Busboys & Poets have seven locations around the D.C. Metro area, including their flagship store at 14th and V Streets.
14. Books and Books
Location: Coral Gables, Florida
Where to stay: Hotel St. Michel
Visit:Books and Books
Why Books and Books is so famous: Owner Mitchell Kaplan started Books and Books in 1982, after dropping out of law school. The independent bookstore is best known for its selection of books on art, architecture and photography. Kaplan also co-founded the Miami Book Fair, sponsored by Miami-Dade College, which brings over 300 authors to a week-long book event in downtown Miami. He hosts a podcast called "The Literary Life," which discusses books and writers. Books and Books has five locations around the Miami area including one at Miami's International Airport.
Where to stay: The Sultan
Why BooksActually is so famous: BooksActually is a small independent bookstore that specializes in fiction, literature and literary magazines, along with a smaller curated selection of non-fiction books, including history, travel, food and biography. The store is best known for its large offering of books by Singapore authors, including out-of-print titles. BooksActually also has a small press imprint, Math Paper Press, which publishes poetry, memoir, fiction, essays and photography books. The company has transitioned to being an online bookseller; however, orders can be picked up in person at their office or delivered anywhere in Singapore.
12. Baldwin’s Book Barn
Location: West Chester, Pennsylvania
Where to stay: Inn at Whitewing Farm
Visit:Baldwin’s Book Barn
Why Baldwin’s Book Barn is so famous: In 1946, William and Lila Baldwin converted a 19th-century barn and milking shed near West Chester into a used book and collectible shop and residence. The Book Barn is located just outside of town in the Brandywine Valley. The Baldwin family still runs the business, which now stocks used, rare, out-of-print and antiquarian books, and has over 300,000 books under its roof. The Book Barn also sells maps, prints, estate antiques and other collectibles.
11. Square Books
Location: Oxford, Mississippi
Where to stay: The Z B&B
Why Square Books is so famous: Square Books was founded in 1979 and originally occupied a Civil War-era building on the town square — after all, Oxford is known as a literary destination. Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi, and writers William Faulkner, John Grisham, Barry Hannah and Willie Morris have lived here. Square Books expanded over the years to include three separate additional businesses nearby: Off-Square Books, which sells lifestyle books, such as cooking and travel; Square Books Jr, which sells children and young adult books; and Rare Square Books, which sells rare, collectible and first-edition books.
10. Seminary Co-op Bookstore
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Where to stay: The Gwen
Visit:Seminary Co-op Bookstore
Why Seminary Co-op Bookstore is so famous: The Seminary Co-op Bookstore is a nationally known academic bookstore with a strong focus on humanities and social sciences, and is affiliated with the nearby University of Chicago. The Seminary’s sister store, 57th Street Books, located around the corner, stocks an extensive backlist of older books and has a large children’s book section. Seminary Co-op hosts a range of readings and literary events in-store. The company also maintains a popular podcast, called Open Stacks, which features interviews with writers and people in the publishing and bookselling industries.
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Where to stay: Hotel Lindrum
Why Readings is so famous: Melbourne is a designated UNESCO City of Literature, as Melbournians read more books than citizens in any other Australian city. So, it's not surprising that Readings has eight shops around Melbourne, including one just for kids. The first store was opened by Ross and Dorothy Reading in 1969 in Carlton, a popular student area. The company promotes Australian literature and authors in the stores. The Readings Prize supports emerging Australian authors, and the Readings Foundation supports community literacy and arts programs. The bookstore locations host over 300 events annually, including book launches and author readings.
8. Prairie Lights Books & Cafe
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Where to stay: Graduate Iowa City
Visit:Prairie Lights Books & Cafe
Why Prairie Lights is so famous: Prairie Lights started in 1978 as a small bookstore offering a mix of new voices and classic literature. Iowa City is a designated UNESCO City of Literature because of its vibrant literary scene, including the world-famous University of Iowa Writing Program. Prairie Lights covers 3.5 floors in its current downtown building, with a large cafe, and hosts regular literary events in-store. In the 1930s, the bookstore’s current site was a meeting place for the local Iowa City literary society, which hosted readings with writers from all over the world.
7. Powell’s Bookstore
Location: Portland, Oregon
Where to stay: The Heathman Hotel
Why Powell’s Bookstore is so famous: Founder Michael Powell first opened Powell’s Bookstore in Chicago in 1970 when he was a graduate student at The University of Chicago. When his father, Walter, opened a similar used bookstore in Portland, Michael returned from Chicago to join his father in the business. Michael’s daughter, Emily, now runs Powell’s, making it a third-generation, family-owned company. Powell’s Bookstore has a unique business philosophy: It displays new and used, hardcover and paperback books altogether. Powell’s also holds regular in-store literary events and has three locations across the city.
6. Persephone Books
Location: Bath, England
Where to stay: The Kennard
Why Persephone Books is so famous: Persephone Books is both a bookseller and a book publisher. The company was started in 1998 by author Nicola Beauman to reprint neglected and forgotten books by women authors of the mid-20th century. She handpicks new books or new writers to publish, and all books are printed with Persephone’s characteristic plain gray covers. Beauman often finds new books through her customers, who recommend favorite out-of-print writers. The shop also features book groups, lunches, concerts, seminars and film screenings. The shop’s best-selling novel, "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," was made into a movie starring Frances McDormand.
5. Munro’s Books
Location: Victoria, Canada
Where to stay: Abigail’s Hotel
Why Munro’s Books is so famous: Munro’s Books was started in 1963 by Canadian writer and Nobel Laureate Alice Munro and her husband, Jim Munro. In 1984, the business moved to, and restored, a landmark Neo-Classical building in Old Town. Munro’s stocks specialty books in French and on Indigenous Canadian culture and history, including fiction, poetry and memoir. Munro’s is also known for its knowledgeable and book-loving staff, four of whom have worked at the company for decades. The store hosts regular literary events and author readings as well as offers resources for teachers on reading and books.
4. Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe
Location: New York, New York
Where to stay: Moxy NYC Downtown
Visit:Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe
Why is so famous: Founded in 1990, Housing Works is a nonprofit that provides a range of services, including housing, job training and legal assistance, to low-income, vulnerable or homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. The store sells a wide range of books, music and movies, and the proceeds go to fund Housing Works programs. All stock at the store is donated, and the staff is made up of volunteers. The Housing Works Bookstore offers regular in-store events and rents the space for weddings and functions.
Location: Austin, Texas
Where to stay: Hotel Ella
Why BookPeople is so famous: BookPeople was started by graduate students from the University of Texas in 1970, and it initially specialized in books on radical politics and those published by small presses. In the 1980s, the store evolved to carry a full range of subjects and titles, added a coffee shop and began hosting popular author events and readings. The Austin Chronicle has named BookPeople Austin’s best bookseller annually for over 20 years. BookPeople also supports literacy programs in the Austin area that encourage reading within at-need communities.
2. Birchbark Books
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Where to stay: 300 Clifton B&B
Why Birchbark Books is so famous: Birchbark Books was founded by Native American author, Louise Erdrich, to provide a focus on indigenous culture and life. The Minneapolis area has the highest urban population of Native people in the country. The store specializes in books on indigenous studies and fiction. Birchbark Books also sells Native crafts from local and regional artisans, including traditional baskets, quillwork, silverwork, dreamcatchers and artwork. Some unusual features at Birchbark Books include a loft, hobbit hole and reading chairs for kids as well as a handmade wooden canoe hanging from the ceiling.
1. Atlantis Books
Location: Santorini, Greece
Where to stay: Ecoxenia Hotel Oia
Why Atlantis Books is so famous: In 2002, two college friends, Oliver Wise and Craig Walzer, were vacationing on the Greek island of Santorini. Unable to find a bookstore, the pair decided to open one on the main street of Oia, with views over the Aegean Sea. Atlantis Books sells new, used, first editions and antiquarian books in seven languages for travelers and locals. The store stocks classic fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis on poetry, philosophy and art. The company hosts outdoor theater productions and movie screenings and has a book donkey, which carries books to local Greek schools.