17 Extraordinary Bookstores

The inside of a very busy bookstore

Sb2s3 / Wikimedia Commons

There's nothing like your first great bookstore discovery — that place where you go to sit in a soft chair and read, to marvel at the incredible architecture, or to browse the maze of shelves for hours of literary exploration.

It seems more and more people are flocking to their local independent bookstores in lieu of big box stores. According to the American Booksellers Association, sales at independent shops were up 5 percent in 2018 from the previous year.

For all you bibliophiles itching to travel and discover new bookstores, here are some of the most remarkable book shops from all around the globe.

1
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Strand Bookstore

Photo: Marco [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

The Strand bookstore — with its "18 miles of new, used and rare books” — has graced New York City's streets since 1927. Named for a lucky literary London street, the Strand houses more than 2 million books on essentially every topic.

2
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Faulkner House Books

Photo: Faulkner House Books/Facebook

Faulkner House Books, a national literary landmark, is located the French Quarter in New Orleans in a building once rented out to the store's namesake, William Faulkner. Patrons can browse through thousands of books or pick from specialties including works by Faulkner (natch), Tennessee Williams and Louisiana-related Southern Americana books.

3
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Barter Books

Photo: John W. Schulze [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Barter Books is located in a beautiful old Victorian Alnwick railway station in Northumberland, U.K., where passengers once bought their train tickets. Barter Books comforts its customers with a homey feel — fires in the winter, a buffet and a waiting room for people to sip coffee and read.

4
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City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

Photo: Graham C99 [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr

An official historic landmark of San Francisco, City Lights Booksellers has specialized in progressive politics and alternative culture since 1953, when it was founded by Peter D. Martin and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was the first all-paperback bookstore, but now carries hardcover books — new and rare.

5
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El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Photo: Nico Kaiser [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Certainly one of the most beautiful bookstores, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a theatre-turned-bookstore in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It features eye-catching frescoes and sculptures — and, as if the scenery wasn’t enough, customers can flip through books in theatre boxes and sip a hot drink in the cafe towards the back of the stage!

6
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Powell's Books

Photo: Powell's Books/Facebook

Powell's Books has been a Portland landmark for more than 40 years. Founded in 1971, the original Powell's Books is housed in an old car dealership. (I mean, imagine an Oregon car dealership full of books!)

7
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E. Shaver, Bookseller

Photo: E Shaver, Bookseller/Facebook

Opened in 1975, E. Shaver, Bookseller is located in historic Savannah and specializes in regional topics from architecture to gardening. Considered a local treasure, one allure of the store is the collection of antique maps that can be found between its bookshelves. (Also alluring: The shop's two cats who are happy to cuddle with browsers.) The store was up for sale in 2013, but Esther Shaver instead found a co-owner in an employee in 2015.

8
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Boekhandel Dominicanen

Photo: Jorge Franganillo [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Offering another breathtaking setting, this bookstore in the Netherlands is situated in a 700-year-old Dominican church — but you won’t find any sermons here (there haven’t been any since 1794). The mixture of gothic architecture and modern furnishings makes this bookstore one of the most unique on the list. The bookstore was previously part of the Selexyz chain, but the chain has since been bought and renamed.

9
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Shakespeare and Company

Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock

The history of Shakespeare and Company is more than just that of a bookstore. George Whitman founded the Paris bookstore in 1951 with the name Le Mistral, but changed the name in1964 after becoming inspired by bookseller Sylvia Beach, the woman who operated the first Shakespeare & Company. Whitman had traveled the world, at times facing hunger and thirst for days on end, finally finding hospitality in locals. His experiences shaped his store's philosophy, and for decades it has been, as the store’s website puts it, "a home-away-from-home for many thousands of writers and visitors from around the world."

10
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Livraria Lello

Photo: Michał Huniewicz [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Among the oldest bookstores in Portugal, Livraria Lello’s neo-gothic exterior and intriguing staircase were designed by architect Xavier Esteves. Visitors can find food and wine on the top floor of the bookstore, and Portuguese, English and French books all around.

11
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Daunt Books Marylebone

Photo: Ungry Young Man [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Three book-filled levels invite customers to browse through travel books about every corner of the globe. The chain's Marylebone High Street location in London (pictured) is rumored to be the first custom-built bookstore.

12
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McKay's, Tennessee

Photo: McKay Used Books & CDs/Facebook

McKay's, Tennessee offers more than just books. The idea of a "free enterprise library" stemmed from the concept of trading books you've read for ones you haven't. This Knoxville store is stocked exclusively with items that customers bring in to trade or sell.

13
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Tattered Cover

Photo: Tattered Cover Book Store/Facebook

Tattered Cover was established in Denver's Cherry Creek district in 1971 and now spans three locations. Customers can find both new and used books or just snuggle up in a corner with something new to read. Though it's a self-proclaimed "indie bookstore," Tattered Cover is kind of a big deal. The store's website describes Tattered Cover as "a Denver institution, a literary landmark, a community gathering place, and an experience you can't download." Notable visitors include J.K. Rowling, Hunter S. Thompson, Julia Child and no fewer than three U.S. presidents.

14
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Parnassus Books

Photo: Parnassus Books/Facebook

"An Independent Bookstore for Independent People" is Parnassus' motto, and helping local creatives is its mission. Author Ann Patchett and publisher Karen Hayes started Parnassus in Nashville, naming it after the Greek epicenter of literature, knowledge and the arts.

15
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Battery Park Book Exchange

Photo: Scott Teresi [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr

Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville, North Carolina, is one of the most eccentric bookstores in America. The store boasts more than 22,000 books and a top-notch champagne bar. In this climbing maze of shelves, it’s not uncommon to see people snuggled up with their dogs and diving into a good book, espresso in hand.

16
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Boulder Book Store

Photo: Amy Aletheia Cahill [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr

A local favorite on the Pearl Street Mall, Boulder Book Store houses more than 100,000 titles over its expansive three floors. As soon as you walk in, you'll find an extensive section of recommended books, with thoughtful explanations from staff members. It's the perfect place in Colorado to go if you have no idea what you're looking for — but be prepared to spend hours on end browsing the collection.

17
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Cafebreria El Pendulo

Photo: Aquiles Carattino [CC BY-NC 2.0]/Flickr

Though the books line the walls of Mexico City's Cafebrería El Péndulo, but this place offers so much more. Visitors can order breakfast, lunch and dinner from the cafe and drinks from the bar, all while enjoying live music, poetry readings, stand-up comedy, improv and more. This cafe/bookstore even has valet parking.