Interior Design

These 12 Bookstores Are Worth Traveling for

January 23, 2018
Bookstore Selexyz Dominicanen Maastricht in the Netherlands Photo by Via e-architect

As long as books have existed, so too has the concept that reading one is like traveling without leaving your seat. Let us make the argument, though, for being transported both mentally and physically. In the age of Amazon, it’s nothing short of inspiring to see some of the most distinctively designed bookstores around the world thriving—clearly kept up by owners who treasure books as well as the bibliophiles who continue to visit and get lost in the shelves. We’ve gathered our favorites, the ones that we’re planning trips just to see and shop from. Checking out any of these offers a journey plucked straight from a novel.

Zhongshuge Bookstore, Hangzhou

Photo by Courtesy of Shao Feng, via designboom

Shanghai architecture firm XL-MUSE designed this futuristic bookstore in Hangzhou, and immediately after its opening in spring of 2016, images of its interior went viral. The spaceship-like setting blasts any preconceptions that brick-and-mortar bookshops are dusty, cluttered places, proving that it’s still modern and cool to find your reading materials in the real world.

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

Photo by Via lifestyledbyerica

You may recognize L.A.’s The Last Bookstore even if you’ve never been there—visitors love Instagramming from the tunnels and windows built from books throughout the huge store. Created by obvious die-hard book-lovers, these hidden gems punctuate a multi-level spot that one could spend days perusing, with shelves (and walls) full of books and records, used and new.

The Book Barn, Niantic

Photo by Via jordanramos6

A short drive from the beach in Connecticut, The Book Barn is a cozy yet sprawling complex of used books that feels like a vacation in and of itself. Books on everything you can imagine fill creaky-floored houses and outdoor shelves all over the property, broken up by colorful gardens, shady umbrella tables, and even a pen with some goats. It’s book shopping with a country getaway twist.

Livraria Bertrand, Lisbon

Photo by Via Facebook

Opened in 1732 and holding the Guinness record for oldest bookstore in the world, the Livraria Bertrand is full of more than just books: Its walls are packed with history, and decades of being a haunt for the Portuguese literati. It’s hard to pick its blue tiled exterior or medieval-esque arched interior as an aesthetic favorite, but either way, this shop is a must-visit.

Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht

Photo by Via holland_photolovers

Who would have thought that one of those mesmerizing cathedrals you find dotted throughout Europe would be the next place that bibliophiles could stroll in search of a good read? Architects Merkx+Girod transformed a 700-year-old church in the Netherlands into a lit hub, where frescoed vaulted ceilings soar over the buzz of book-browsing activity. Three stories of shelves climb the walls with the help of stairs and elevators, getting you ever closer to those Middle Ages-era details.

Housing Works Bookstore Café, New York

Photo by Via schwannk

Known for secondhand stores throughout the city that raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS issues, the charitable organization Housing Works has a book shop in Soho that’s so inviting, it’s become one of the most popular wedding venues in Manhattan. Judging by Instagram, snapping the scenery from the balcony is just as popular an activity there as flipping through books or sipping coffee.

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, Asheville

Photo by Via mandywinetravel

You don’t have to wait for a wedding to indulge in bubbles while you read at Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. The North Carolina spot celebrates the luxurious side of literature by making a book-filled room a day-to-night destination, decadently decorated with bold red hues, plush leather sofas, and gilded accents.

Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City

Photo by Via efrainfoglia

Mexico’s Cafebreria El Pendulo is an oasis in more ways than one. Yes, it has enough books to spend the next week sifting through. Yes, it has elevated dining on the first floor, casual dining on sofas on the second floor, and a bar on the third floor. It’s probably the lush greenery throughout the space, though, as well as the tonal and nature-inspired color scheme that make the store so calming and just plain lovely.

Cook & Book, Brussels

Photo by Via Giados Curiosos

Belgium’s Cook & Book has a reputation for taking its decor as seriously as its comprehensive book selection. Genres are grouped into different rooms that are meticulously (and playfully) designed to capture the corresponding themes—a car in the travel section, a piano in the music section, light installations in the art section, Victorian furniture in the English section. There’s food and coffee, too, which is good considering it might be a full-day affair to explore every room.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

Photo by Via vida_de_una_potterhead

Argentina’s Grand Splendid theater, built in 1919, got a second life when it was opened in 2000 as a vast space absolutely brimming with books. Many of the original elements are intact, from the frescoed ceilings to the gilded balconies to the rich red curtains. It makes for a captivating spectacle that a visitor would need time to take in before turning his or attention to the books.

Oxford Exchange, Tampa

Photo by Via Riveted

Inspired by the academic gathering places of London, Florida’s Oxford Exchange is designed to be an intellectual hub. The space includes a thoughtfully curated book shop, a meeting space, a restaurant, and a home goods shop. While every room expertly balances an understated quality with artful detail, the bookstore feels especially well-appointed, like the living room of a chic countryside manor.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris

Photo by Via shakespeareandcoparis

It seems simply wrong to end any bookstore roundup without the renowned Shakespeare and Company. A loving second home to many of the 20th and 21st centuries’ greatest writers (and, of course, even more readers), the literary pilgrimage destination perhaps has an unfair advantage in its interior: One can feel the stories that the walls have to tell, and that undoubtedly adds to the magic of weathered wooden shelves, rustic chandeliers, and oh-so-French tiled floors.

Have you visited a jaw-dropping bookstore lately? Share your experiences with us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Shari Grant
    Shari Grant
  • Svdp
  • oleva
  • Elena Moisesc
    Elena Moisesc
  • Margaret McNellis
    Margaret McNellis
Courtney Iseman

Written by: Courtney Iseman


Shari G. March 26, 2019
You certainly missed this one, Barters Books,it is the old railway station in Alnwick Northumberland, it is an amazing place, you could easily pass a few hours here on a cold wet day. They also sell first class food, served in the old waiting rooms, with all the rooms having log fires burning. Beautiful
Svdp March 25, 2019
You totally missed Powell's in Portland! One of the best bookstores in the world!
oleva June 12, 2018
You missed Powell's in Portland, Oregon where customers are offered a map of the bookstore due to the many rooms and levels.
Elena M. March 26, 2018
This book store in Bucharest, Romania should have definitely made the cut:
Margaret M. March 24, 2018
I go to the Book Barn in Niantic all the time! I was just there the other day to sell some books to them—looking forward to going back to spend my store credit!
70&holding January 28, 2018
Of the stores you listed, Last Book Store is a 30 minute 2 bus ride. Love that store!!! If I had the means to do so, I would spend a month in each of the other stores. Book stores are the only place time stands still for me!! If you go to Last Book store, two things to know..NO public bathroom/coffee shop, make sure to check out the vault!!raf
Rhonda35 January 28, 2018
I'm a fan of Books for Cooks in Notting Hill, London. Love the little cafe in the back!
Sandi L. January 28, 2018
Thanks for the great list... but, I can’t believe Powell’s in Portland wasn’t on it..
ChefJune January 24, 2018
Surprised that Powell's in Portland OR was not on your list.
Lyrajayne January 26, 2018
Love Powell's. It's been the defining purpose for more than a few flights to Portland for me.
Madelyn B. January 24, 2018
Beautiful architecture is one reason to go to a book store. Another is beautiful content. I wrote about one such place, Monro's in Victoria, Canada, in my blog at Both content and architecture can feed the soul -- and does. Thanks for this inspiring article.
Dylan Q. January 23, 2018
Dog Ears Books, Rt 7 in Hoosik (sic), NY. Tens of thousands of books piled to the rafters (literally) of an old house, run by a single old British man who hates 20 dollar bills. All the heat comes from a pot belly stove that run on, he says, nursing textbooks. It's better than the Book Barn in Niantic and I LOVE the Book Barn in Niantic.
Peter January 23, 2018
Minor typo -- the Book Barn is in Niantic, CT. Not Nianti, CT. :-)
(And clearly I need to book some plane tickets -- I've only been to 3 of these!)
Tez H. January 23, 2018
Mas Puro Verso on the pedestrian stretch of Calle Sarandi in Montevideo, Uruguay.,-56.2014509,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipPb-M4Y05F9mRFMxAyvAFKEOWsC7vCfezuTS-Yh!2e10!3e12!!7i6000!8i4000!4m5!3m4!1s0x959f802af7f5c169:0x5f7e9eb70a65fc40!8m2!3d-34.9064466!4d-56.2015251
AntoniaJames January 23, 2018
Rizzoli Milano wins the prize in my book for most beautiful exterior, including the mosaic sidewalk in front: . For interiors, though not "jaw dropping," their New York store is one of my favorites all-time anywhere. It's my idea of what a bookstore should look like. ;o)
creamtea January 23, 2018
Daunt books, Marylebone, London is a beautiful bookstore in an antique building with beautiful architectural features and arched windows. Blackwells books in Edinburgh well worth visiting too. Thanks for this article! Will be saving and sharing.
Rachel H. January 23, 2018
T-Site in the Daikanyama neighborhood in Tokyo should definitely be added to the list!