15 magical bookstores around the world

Recently updated on July 18th, 2023 at 12:11 pm

There’s nothing quite like diving into the pages of a book and travelling to a faraway place. Even in this digital era, book lovers will always adore getting lost in a magical bookstore. If you’re dreaming of cosy reading nooks, miles of bookshelves, and dreamy designs, look no further. From a grand old theatre in Buenos Aires and a whimsical gondola in Venice, to bookshelf beds in Tokyo, and the old Parisian haunt of Hemingway, here are 15 of the best bookstores in the world. 

1. Livraria Lello

Porto, Portugal


The self-proclaimed ‘most beautiful bookstore in the world’ certainly lives up to the hype. Livraria Lello in Porto is the city’s oldest bookstore and is absolutely dripping in old-world splendour. Opened in 1906, the striking red double helix staircase is the main centrepiece, otherwise known as the ‘stairway to heaven’ for book lovers.

This neo-gothic bookstore also features a breathtaking stained glass skylight and bronze reliefs of literary figures, carved into the wooden bookshelves lined with leather-bound books. The bookstore is even rumoured to have inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts in Harry Potter! So grab a book and settle in with a coffee or wine at the cosy cafe, and see what you dream up in this magical bookstore.

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Portugal

2. El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the library in Beauty and the Beast, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires comes fairly close. The bookstore was originally a theatre built in 1919, and most of the gorgeous Beaux-Arts décor, including the stage and ornate balconies, has been kept as part of the beautiful bookstore.

You can snuggle up in the club chairs with a coffee and one of over 120,000 books. Or take in the view from the balcony, where you can imagine glamorous Argentines watching tango performances and the country’s first movies with sound. This bookstore is so fancy, you might feel like you need to put on your finest clothes to do some book browsing.

RELATED CONTENT: 9 of the most beautiful libraries around the world to plan a visit to

3. Boekhandel Dominicanen

Maastricht, Netherlands

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Prepare to be awed as you walk into Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht. It’s located in the breathtaking Dominican church that’s over 700 years old, so you’ll be standing in an ancient piece of history as you browse the books.

With high ceilings and arched halls, masterfully restored in 2006, this bookstore is simply stunning. You’ll want to spend hours exploring the sleek black shelves or hunkering down in one of the peaceful reading nooks.

4. Shakespeare and Company

Paris, France

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As one of the most historical bookstores in the world, Shakespeare and Co. is an oasis for literary lovers. Set in the heart of Paris, the bookstore was opened in 1919 by American expat Sylvia Beach. She lent books to famous author Ernest Hemingway when he couldn’t afford to buy them.

The bookstore became a popular hangout for writers in the 1920s, including James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, but was forced to close in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris. It never opened again in the original location, but in 1951, George Whitman opened the bookstore in a second location overlooking the Seine. The current bookstore pays homage to the original Shakespeare and Co.

Today the shop is active as ever and holds regular readings, workshops and an annual festival with some of the world’s best contemporary writers.

GET INSPIRED BY: Paris Explorer

5. El Pendulo

Mexico City, Mexico

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A true feast for the eyes, El Pendulo is utterly magical and one of the best book shops in the world. You’ll enter a dreamscape where lush trees hang over bookshelves and plants are dotted all over the space, and even the handrails look like winding green vines.

Every detail in this bookstore is designed to make you feel like you’ve stepped into a paradise of books. Enjoy a coffee in the café beneath the thick trees and check out the Polanco branch, where a striking curving staircase leads up to a mezzanine lined wall-to-wall with books. Stunning!

6. Libreria Acqua Alta

Venice, Italy

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A wonderland of books in Venice, this unique bookstore may be the only one in the world to use bathtubs and gondolas as bookshelves. Libreria Acqua Alta is famed for its old stonewalls and charming hodgepodge rooms filled with books, along with gorgeous views of the centuries-old Venetian canals.

It’s also home to many adorable cats, so you can kick back with a novel and watch the gondolas pass by, with friendly cats curled up at your feet. 

GET INSPIRED BY: Italy Bellissimo

7. The Last Bookstore

Los Angeles, United States

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One of the most magical bookstores in Los Angeles, The Last Bookstore covers more than 1,850 square metres and even has gravity-defying bookshelves. On the mezzanine level, you’ll find the famous tunnel of books where you’ll feel like you’re entering a fairytale world made entirely from books.

With grand marble columns lining its hall, you’ll definitely want to whip out your camera here, before settling in to explore the huge labyrinth of books. You’ll find everything from fantasy titles to LA-centric literature, and a whole crime and mystery section set over the threshold of a former vault.

8. Atlantis Books

Santorini, Greece

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This dreamy bookstore is set in a white-washed home in Santorini beside the glittering ocean. Atlantis Books is owned by American Craig Walzer, who set up the bookstore with his friend, Oliver Wise, when they were holidaying in Santorini and couldn’t find good books in English in the local bookshops.

They built the bookshelves and handpicked all the books that line the shop, and you can find rare treasures like the first edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. There’s also poetry, biographies, short-story collections and philosophical volumes, and the shop hosts many events from dance parties to book readings. Don’t forget to head up to the terrace for beautiful views over the sea.

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Greece

9. Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore

Chonqing, China

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Set in Chongqing City and designed by architectural firm X+living, Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore has gone above and beyond to create an architectural masterpiece and a book lover’s dream.

Featuring an M.C Escher-style bookshelf staircase that zig-zags around mirrored ceilings, lampshade shaped bookshelves, and a whimsical children’s reading room, this is one bookstore you’ll never want to leave. And with plenty of quiet reading hallways and nooks, you can enjoy this experience in comfort for hours.

10. Strand Bookstore

New York, United States

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Opened in 1927, the Strand Bookstore is Manhattan’s most famous bookstore, renowned for its “18 miles of books”. It’s one of the oldest family-run bookstores in the United States, set in an area of New York formerly known as Book Row, which once housed nearly 50 bookstores.

The Strand is now the last one standing. You’ll still find countless rows of books with everything from children’s stories to fiction novels to banned books. The famous musician, Patti Smith, even used to work here.

11. The Academic Bookstore

Helsinki, Finland

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The Academic Bookstore was designed by renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, one of the most important architects of the Scandinavian modernist movement. Staying true to his talent, this bookstore is a true modernist masterpiece. The design is sleek and smooth, featuring angular glass skylights in the ceiling and white marble and blonde wood over the three-storey complex.

There’s no better place in Helsinki to browse through books – there are over 450,000 of them here – as sunlight pours through the skylight and warms up the beautiful space.

12. Cook & Book

Brussels, Belgium

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You’ll be blown away by this whimsical red and black bookstore. But don’t forget to look up – you’ll find 800 books suspended on the ceiling! The magic doesn’t stop there in Cook & Book in Brussels, with eight rooms, each with its own unique vintage design.

There’s a caravan in the travel section and model railway tracks winding through the children’s section. You’ll find a Fiat 500 in the cooking section, vinyl records lining the music section, and a large comic book section. There’s also the luxurious literature space, with champagne bottles, Acqua Di Parma fragrances, pocket lamps, book holders, customised motorcycle helmets, lavish chocolate and all the literary classics.

Don’t forget the café, which features lights made of Campbell’s soup cans. It’s got a lovely atmosphere and it’s a great spot to delve into a book as you enjoy a delicious lunch.

GET INSPIRED BY: European Highlights

13. Bart’s Books

Ojai, United States

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Bart’s Books is one of the most unique bookshops on earth. It’s famed as the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the world, with almost one million books lining the maze of shelves. You’ve likely never seen anything like it and the bookstore’s origin story is just as interesting.

Set in an idyllic town in Southern California, Richard Bartinsdale opened the store in 1964 when his book collection grew too large to keep at his house. He built bookshelves along the sidewalk so people passing by could browse his collection. Instead of using a cash register, he placed coffee cans on the shelves so people could pay using an honour system.

Today there is a real register, but you can still buy the 35-cent specials by putting your coins in the old coffee cans. Also, if you arrive after hours, you can grab a book and drop your money in the designated slot. Once you’ve got your book, you can settle into the gorgeous courtyard and read under the apple tree. Or play a game of chess as you sip fresh lemonade.

14. Book and Bed

Tokyo, Japan

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Ever dreamed of spending the night surrounded by books? Then head to Book and Bed, the bookstore-themed hostel in Tokyo. It’s a fantasy for the book-obsessed, with dozens of bookshelves lined with more than 5,000 books. You’ll even get to sleep inside a bookshelf! So grab a few books, get cosy in your bunk, and drift away in a literary dreamland.

15. Barter Books

Alnwick, United Kingdom

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This beautiful bookshop used to be a train station and was refurbished in 1991 to become the literary wonderland it is today. You’ll feel immersed in history, with miniature trains running around the shelves. Plus there are all kinds of books to get lost in, from fiction and poetry to history and philosophy to crime, business, biographies and even hobbies like gardening and needlework.

The design is gorgeous with rounded ceilings and charming lighting. There are several open fires where you can cosy up with a book in winter, plus a charming children’s room filled with toys.

The bookstore is named after their unique payment system, where you can barter and purchase books on credit. And don’t forget to stop by the cafe which features a delicious menu of homemade and locally sourced food, along with speciality coffees and teas.

Have you visited any of the best bookstores in the world? What is your favourite bookstore? Let us know in the comments below!

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