The World’s 6 Coolest-Looking Bookstores

The World’s 6 Coolest-Looking Bookstores

Usually a store is just a store. But a few stores are attractions in and of themselves. So it is with these six incredibly cool-looking bookstores. Next you are in Maastricht, Beijing, Porto, Buenos Aires, Paris or Mexico City, add these stores to your list of must-see attractions—even if you don’t plan on buying a book.

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#1 Selexyz Dominicanen

Maastricht, Netherlands

selexyz dominicanen s The Worlds 6 Coolest Looking Bookstores follow me on pinterest button The Worlds 6 Coolest Looking Bookstores It’s tough running an independent bookstore. To make such a business successful it helps having God on your side.

Perhaps that’s what the proprietors of the Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore were thinking when they decided to house their establishment in a 13th century Dominican cathedral in the center of Maastricht, Holland. Though, in truth, the cathedral hasn’t been a center for worship since Napoleon put the kibosh on services after he invaded Maastricht in 1794. Since then the cathedral has been alternately abandoned, used as a warehouse and turned into what was probably the world’s most sanctified indoor bicycle parking lot.

Despite the fact that the cathedral hadn’t been a working cathedral for more than 200 years, turning the space into a bookstore was an enormous challenge for Selexyz Dominicanen’s architects. A city ordinance required that the cathedral be completely preserved, meaning that no permanent modifications to the building of any sort were allowed!

So how do you create a three-story bookstore in a cathedral when you can’t drill any holes into the building or attach anything load-bearing to its walls? Selexyz Dominicanen made ingenious use of free-standing black steel scaffolding. This scaffolding completely supports all the bookshelves and the catwalks to them. The shelves and scaffolding are close to the cathedral’s walls but scaffolding never actually touch them.

Add to that a tasteful use of religious iconography (check out the cross-shaped reading table in the pic, above), a nice cafe located where the church choir once sang, and a slew of inviting nooks and comfy reading areas and the result is a bookstore that’s absolutely divine.

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#2 Poplar Kid’s Republic

Beijing

What a cool design concept: Start with an all white bookstore interior—white floors, white ceiling, white walls, white stairs, white bookshelves, white everything—and to that liberally add rainbow splashes of bright color. Stock your shelves with a huge multi-language selection of kid’s books, add reading cubbyholes and padded activity areas, and you have Beijing’s Poplar Kid’s Republic, our favorite children’s bookstore in the world. (Sadly, our previous favorite children’s bookstore, the Cheshire Cat outside of Washington, DC, closed down several years ago—we hope endowing our current favored status upon the Kid’s Republic won’t condemn it to the same fate). Our few photos below don’t really do this huge store justice so check it out yourself next you are in Beijing. Kid’s Republic also has a branch, nearly as cool, in Shanghai.

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#3 Livraria Lello

Porto, Portugal

Think a profitable store can’t be lush, rich and somehow homely? The velvety Livraria Lello in downtown Porto will change your mind. Not so much the art nouveau exterior as the gold-accented interior with its red carpets, stained glass, wood paneling and flowing central stair case. Walking into this bookstore, we had an insatiable urge to light a cigar (and we don’t smoke) because, well, this is the sort of place it seems like one should do that. And, indeed, this is the sort of place where one can do that. Cigars are sold in the Livraria Lello’s upstairs four-table coffee shop along with port, coffee (obviously) and baked goods.

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#4 El Ateneo

Buenos Aires

Quiz question: Where and when was the first ever movie with sound shown to a public audience?

The answer: The El Ateneo bookstore, 1929.

Of course, this gorgeous building in central Buenos Aires wasn’t always a bookstore. It started its life in 1919 as the Teatro Grand Splendid; more than 1,000 patrons would fill the theater to watch operas and tango performances. In 1928 this space was converted into a cinema. It has been a bookstore since 2000. Happily, the El Ateneo architects included many homages to the building’s theater days including curtains and stage lighting. There’s also a wonderful cafe up on the “stage.” Add to that plush seating areas and a huge selection of literature and you have what is by far the best bookstore in South America, arguably the most luxurious in the world, and #4 on coolest-looking bookstore list.

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#5 Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian Books

Paris

time was soft there The Worlds 6 Coolest Looking Bookstores follow me on pinterest button The Worlds 6 Coolest Looking Bookstores If you’ve seen the movie Before Sunset you’ve seen the inside of the Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian bookstore—this is where Julie Delpy’s character reunited with Ethan Hawke’s during a book signing.

If you’ve read Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (and if you haven’t you should) then you are intimately familiar with this bookstore. Time Was Soft There is the lusciously-written memoir of a homeless man who was allowed to sleep overnight in Shakespeare & Co by the store’s communist-leaning owner and then refused to vacate when times turned more capitalist. His bed is still there (see pic, below).

But even if you’ve never seen the Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian bookstore in the movies, or read about it in books, you’ll step through the store’s doorway and sense that this is the sort of quaint, quirky place that should be in cinema and literature. The isles are piled with books. The writer’s room has a working piano for patrons to play. Poets regularly read their work in one of the back rooms.

And if you can’t get to Paris personally then at least visit the store’s supremely well done website—poking around it is almost as much fun as poking around the store itself.

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#6 El Péndulo

Mexico City

Originally this post was envisioned as a list of five bookstores. We had to expand it to six in order to squeeze in Polanco branch of El Péndulo. This bookstore isn’t as amazingly stunning or history-filled as the above five selections are. But it is bright, spacious, huge and gloriously plant-filled. Plus the store (and attached cafe) isn’t shy about using air conditioning, which makes El Péndulo a wonderful literary escape on a hot Mexican day.

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Related post: The Cavern Restaurants Of The Caribbean

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updated: 1 Aug 2010
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Responses

  1. Megan says:

    If you’re in Columbus, make it to Acorn Books or Karen Wycliffe’s. These two smaller used bookstores are really wonderful and provide cool old rarities on the cheap. Also, it’s weird that Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood didn’t get any love. Lots of cool used bookstores there!

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Pages2Read says:

    Love them all!
    Pages2Read recently posted..HamletMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. karen patrick says:

    With Amazon slowly taking over the publishing world and bookstores closing left and right, things can sometimes seem a little grim for the brick and mortar booksellers of the world. After all, why would anyone leave the comfort of their couch to buy a book when with just a click of a button, they could have it delivered to their door?

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. banglaboi says:

    Can’t imagine a bookstore can be so massive and huge. Wish I could read them all.

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Stephanie Fleshman says:


    Twitter:
    I totally agree, Fida. Anytime I’m browsing a bookstore, I get lost in the atmosphere. You’re surrounded by so much knowledge at once. It’s kind of empowering. Some of these bookstores seem so amazing, I would probably never leave once I entered.
    Stephanie Fleshman recently posted..Get InspiredMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Stephanie Fleshman says:


    Twitter:
    Anytime I’m browsing a bookstore, I get lost in the atmosphere. You’re surrounded by so much knowledge at once. It’s kind of empowering. Some of these bookstores seem so amazing, I would probably never leave once I entered.
    Stephanie Fleshman recently posted..Get InspiredMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Penny Sadler says:

    Perhaps not the most beautiful bookstore but one of the most interesting in terms of engaging people in literary events is Book Passage in Corte Madera. They also have a location in San Francisco in the Ferry building. There are classes and author book signings and lectures almost every day. I wish I lived there just because of Book Passage.
    Penny Sadler recently posted..Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong (in Santa Barbara)My Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. luxury hotels Glasgow says:

    Remarkable! Some of them remind me of the Harry Potter movie, great post!

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. His Book Garden says:

    One boookstore that did not make the list (and this list is quite impressive) is Barts Books in Ojai, CA.

    It the worlds largest outdoor bookstore. A really fun place to visit where you can enjoy the open air and sit under a market umbrella to have a read. Or you can wind thru its labyrinth of bookshelves & aisles and discover something new.

    If you can make it out there I highly recommend it :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. Alice says:

    Here’s some more info/photos on the Libreria Acqua Alta, from Venice:

    http://theartofstayingupallnight.blogspot.com/2010/08/amazing-bookshops-around-world-libreria.html

    The address (although in Venice addresses aren’t of all that much use) is the following:

    Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa,
    5176 – Castello 30122 Venezia

    It has two entrances. The first time I was in Venice I found it by accident, as I went in through the back, through a small courtyard, and ended up in a long room which had a gondola in the middle. The bookstore itself is composed of random rooms, absurdly connected, some halfway hidden. It’s a joy to wander through. The books were literally everywhere: wooden chests, shelves, chairs, tables, the floor, there’s no real order to them. Although they are arranged thematically (there’s this whole room dedicated to detective novels, or “gialli”, as they’re called in Italy), you can find anything anywhere, really. They have books in several languages, and quite a number of old/rare prints as well. Oh, and a few friendly cats too! :)

    I think it should have definitely made this list. :)

    Oh, and Shakespeare & Co still housed writers/poets/people last time I was there. There was quite an assortment of people living within the library. One of the people I talked to was writing at a table, using an antiquated typing machine. Very bohemian. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Penny Sadler Reply:

    I totally concur. Acqua Alta is one of the most delightful bookstores I’ve ever been to.
    The owner is quite a character as well.
    Penny Sadler recently posted..Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong (in Santa Barbara)My Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. SILJE says:

    i think the last one is the best beacuse it givea a home like feeling

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. David @hotelpepper says:

    Ah man, the Dutch seriously know how to create great bookshops and libraries. Even simpler, just look at the awesome library at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Beats wasting time in the airport lounge!

    [Reply to this comment]

  13. flor mondschein says:

    hi! another great book store, acoording to the owner ¨the most beatiful bookstore in the world¨and i think he is right, its in venezia, (i cant give wxactly the address , i guess you will have to get lucky to find it.
    but it even has a gondola inside!!!!
    BEllisima!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  14. Jeff says:

    Gotta agree with @Paris?…I made a special point of seeking out Shakespeare & Co when I was in Paris this June, because of Hemingway’s _A Movable Feast_. Cool atmosphere, but as a bookstore, it kind of sucked. Poorly organized, cramped, used books outrageously overpriced. It didn’t make me want to linger.

    Powell’s in Portland is 10x better.

    [Reply to this comment]

  15. augusta says:

    umm, i would totally love to travel and see all of these!!! ahh-mazing!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  16. citizenearth says:

    Wow, this article made me want to travel and visit the bookstores featured! Who says bookstore cannot be beautiful?
    Thanks a lot!

    [Reply to this comment]

  17. Mariner says:

    the one in Porto, Prtugal looks like the bookstore that was in Harry Potter – when they had the blonde hair, hollywood-looking professors who turned out to be a fraud. a scene in the beginning of the movie (which introduced that same actor) was filmed in a bookstore that looks just like Livraria Lello.

    [Reply to this comment]

  18. Claire Nelson says:


    Twitter:
    Re. Paris?

    I personally love Shakespeare & Co, and still refer to it – after discovering it many years ago – as one of my favourite places on earth. If you want a sterile, spacious bookstore with a searchable database, then go to one of the many chains around the world. If you want a place that oozes stories from every pore, and not just from the books, then it’s the place to go. It’s not about finding something you’re looking for, it’s about finding something you’re not looking for. I personally love bookshops where I can duck into nooks, browse around and find all sorts of gems in hidden corners, rather than standing in front of an alphabetised wall of books with 2-for-1 stickers on them.

    [Reply to this comment]

  19. Paris? says:

    In my opinion Shakespeare & cie is entirely over-rated. Sorry…it has a great history, but it is an institution, not a good bookstore, and the interior is cramped and dank and dirty/smelly.

    Sorry to be such a crank, just calling it as i smell it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  20. ReaderTV says:

    Very nice to look at… unless your a tree.

    The “World’s Coolest Bookstore” is the WorldWideWeb!

    [Reply to this comment]

  21. Dopkins says:

    Wow~ I am in awe. It would be inspiring to look for books in any of those environments.

    [Reply to this comment]

  22. Denise says:


    Twitter:
    What an unexpected and refreshing post to stumble upon. Thank you.

    [Reply to this comment]

  23. steph says:

    the one thing i regret about my trip to paris is not going to shakespeare and company. ate at a cafe next door, thought “i should take a look in there,” and never did.

    [Reply to this comment]

  24. anonymous651 says:

    To the person who said John King’s in Detroit deserves to be on this list–I agree wholeheartedly. Wonderful, wonderful place. The building may not be -pretty- in the common sense of the world, but the signs that it was once a factory are still very clear–and even if it was another sort of factory that became Detroit’s claim to fame and, ultimately, its downfall (at least for now), there’s something to putting a bookstore in a building that was part of the industrialism that made Detroit what it was. Wonderful, wonderful store. Have been there many times.

    However, I want to say–great list. I know I’m unlikely to ever get to visit many of them, but I enjoy getting to look at the pictures and read about them.

    [Reply to this comment]

  25. ~Sia McKye~ says:

    What a sight. Interesting to see a church used as a book store. Some of these remind of huge libraries. Enjoyed the tour. :-)

    [Reply to this comment]

  26. jason beech says:

    have you not been to bloom and curll in bristol?

    [Reply to this comment]

  27. Bobby Sox says:

    It’s funny that Selexyz Dominicanen made #1 on the bookstore list and it would be lucky to make #100 on the library list.

    [Reply to this comment]

  28. lady dandelion says:


    Twitter:
    I’m looking forward to your library review!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  29. Hotels Fairy says:


    Twitter:
    The El Péndulo book store look so lovely and bright.
    It makes me fall in love with book stores again! :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  30. lady dandelion says:


    Twitter:
    Wow! I especially love the Selexyz Dominicanen, El Ateneo och Livraria Lello! Another book temple (though a library, not a book store is the Stockholm Public Library. Photos can be found here:
    Exterior:
    http://ladydandelion.net/2010/01/11/shape-and-content/
    Interior:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/arndalarm/311113434/in/set-72157594515605352/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/arndalarm/298387294/in/set-72157594515605352/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/arndalarm/355125948/in/set-72157594515605352/

    [Reply to this comment]

    Spot Cool Travel Stuff Reply:

    Thanks for the pic links, Lady Dandelion. So you know, we’ve been working on a review of cool looking libraries. Keep on eye out for that . . .

    [Reply to this comment]

  31. underexposed says:

    wonderfull! i wanna live there…

    [Reply to this comment]

  32. Peter says:

    The Kid’s Republic Bookstore in Beijing is really quite terrible. A bad selection of books (i.e. not much variety or quantity), and the colorful carpets you see are quite dirty.

    [Reply to this comment]

  33. anotherbookfan says:

    @abookfan:
    YES! Powell’s is one of my favorite places in the WORLD. I actually read this list to see if Powell’s made it…. but sadly, it did not.

    [Reply to this comment]

  34. Gina says:

    Oh…my…goodness! I think I just found the next 6 places I want to live. These are fabulous! Off to tweet to my bookish friends…

    [Reply to this comment]

  35. Felipe says:


    Twitter:
    You left Livraria Cultura, in São Paulo, Brazil:

    http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1097/1244111085_d3e243893f.jpg
    http://www.fashionbubbles.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/livraria-cultura1.jpg

    [Reply to this comment]

  36. abookfan says:

    i tihnk there is one that you should add. its nothing special in terms of architecture, but its one of the biggest bookstores i know of. its called powell’s city of book in portland, oregon and takes up more than a full city block, 2-3 stories tall. its massive, and there has never been a book that i couldn’t fine there.

    [Reply to this comment]

  37. librarychair says:

    I think that John K. King Books in downtown Detroit should be added to this list. It’s a huge bookstore in a former factory – a lot of the old factory signs are still there, and the whole thing is a hodgepodge of creative handmade signs. You can get lost in that place – it’s awesome.

    http://lnvsml.blogspot.com/2009/05/dial-30-getting-lost-in-michigans.html

    [Reply to this comment]

  38. Chris Ronk says:


    Twitter:
    You were not kidding. The first one is phenomenal. The second one look kind of like a habitrail.
    Nice post.

    [Reply to this comment]

  39. kerry says:

    some of them look amazing

    [Reply to this comment]

  40. Dave Williams says:

    I loved all of these, but especially the first one….how nice that a space once devoted to the propagation of ignorance and superstition has been reconfigured to spread genuine knowledge and enlightenment. One down, how many million to go….?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Mark O'Neill Reply:

    Wow, Dave. What an ignorant comment. The Catholic Church maintained libraries and supported the sciences for two thousand years. Monks preserved books from Greece and performed science experiments. Gregor Mendel’s work is considered “genuine knowledge”. Your anti-historical rant flies in the face of the facts.

    [Reply to this comment]

  41. Jennifer Lo Prete says:


    Twitter:
    Thanks! I think you just created my next “I want to travel to” list.

    [Reply to this comment]

  42. NommingMan says:

    Wonderful collection. Made my day.

    [Reply to this comment]

  43. Fida says:


    Twitter:
    Thank goodness they are not in my neighborhood – or I’d move in ;-)

    [Reply to this comment]

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