Since I was little, I’ve always been an avid reader. From picking up YA novels in second grade to studying literature in university, I devoured books within days, even hours, of picking them up. I would beg my parents to take me to bookstores (including Borders, RIP) to spend an afternoon reading in the aisles, before purchasing one (or twenty) books to take home.
Bookstores have fascinated me, beyond just the books themselves. They’re spacious, yet cozy– the silence of wandering the aisles to peruse for a good book makes for an intimate experience, and the details of the store’s layout: comfy seats, regulated temperature, and a coffee bar, are all intended to make us stay and spend countless hours just enjoying the moment. Really, these bookstores know exactly how to suck us in (but I’m not complaining)!
I’ve always enjoyed trips to bookstores for the atmosphere, but it wasn’t until I started traveling that I got introduced to historical and architecturally-renown bookstores. Not only were these places for purchasing books, but they were also absolutely gorgeous. The way I see it, such bookstores not only draw visitors in for their beauty, but also as a way to reflect the love of writing as an artform.
That said, I’d like to share a few I’ve come across on my trips. From elegant to quirky to unexpected, these bookstores are unique to the city they’re in– even if you’re not a bookworm, you can still appreciate just how fascinating the architecture is, and perhaps you’d be inclined to buy a book as a souvenir. Here they are!
5 Beautiful Bookstores in the World
1. The Last Bookstore (Los Angeles, California, USA)
Starting off in my hometown, The Last Bookstore is a popular one in Downtown that draws both locals and tourists in. Founded in 2005, this two-story store actually used to be a bank, before being converted to house 300,000+ forms of media (books, magazines, records, etc) for purchase today. It’s become an Instagram hub in the last few years, as it has a few cool visuals made from books (e.g. book tunnel, peep hole, etc) to entice patrons in. Gimmicky as it is, The Last Bookstore makes perusing for books a fun time spent.
2. Livraria Lello (Porto, Portugal)
This is probably one of the most-featured bookstores on anyone’s Instagram in the world (and for a good reason)! The exterior is distinctively Art Nouveau, but it’s the interior that blows you away. First thing you see is its serpentine staircase that wraps in and around itself, and the details of the red carpet and golden lighting give off the impression you’re at the opera, instead of a very-classy bookstore. Since 2015, you actually need to pay a fee (€5, although when I went in 2016, it was €3), but it’s worth it given the labor needed to keep this historic store (since 1881) in pristine condition!
3. Cărturești Carusel (Bucharest, Romania)
Upon stepping into Cărturești Carusel, you’d think you’re inside a high-end clothing store, with its tall, marble-like pillars and Victorian-style railings. First built in 1903 by wealthy Greek bankers, it later converted into a bookstore in 2015 and has since become a popular tourist spot for its bright, interior design. What amazed me about Cărturești Carusel was just how white and immaculate it was, not to forget the perfect symmetry of the staircases and rails– as if you stepped into a kaleidoscopic mirror. Even if you don’t purchase a book here, it’s still fun to wander the store!
4. Shakespeare and Company (Paris, France)
Bookstores (or librairies) are abundant in France, but few sell books exclusively in English. In comes Shakespeare and Company, founded by American expat George Whitman in 1951. S&C was found as an expat writer’s store, helping struggling artists with shelter as they wrote their works– in fact, there are beds throughout that 30,000+ patrons have slept in, including those of the Beat generation like Ginsburg and Burroughs having lived there. The store is cramped, yet cozy, and it’s the antique, disorderly mess of books throughout that makes it charming, almost bohemian, for a peek inside.
5. Powell’s City of Books (Portland, Oregon, USA)
Founded in 1971, Powell’s Books is a well-known establishment in downtown Portland, and it claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Given how big it is (6300 squared meters), Powell’s has color-coded its rooms for easier access to all sorts of genres and media for patrons to find. The store’s layout reminds me of a contemporary art museum, with its large, spacious rooms and its color-coded system to represent different gallerias to browse through. It is certainly an overwhelming experience, but a thrilling one nevertheless.
…and that’s about it! Granted, there are thousands of beautiful bookstores I have yet to chance up on my travels, not to forget libraries (which will be for another post). I’d love to hear what your favorite bookstores are, as well as your favorite book! Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day! 🙂