More into publishing than pubbing? As restrictions ease this week, why not take a trip to some of London’s most unique specialist bookshops.
Not only do the capital’s winding, narrow streets hide some of the most famous literary locations in the world, but they also conceal some of the best specialist bookshops in the country, which are often home to rare or previously undiscovered pieces of literature.
So as the country sees lockdown lifted and non-essential retail re-opening this week, what better way to celebrate (and support small businesses) than with a wander among the shelves and displays of a few specialist bookshops in the hope of uncovering a new favourite novel, poem or piece of non-fiction.
If you don’t know where to get started, this guide to London’s best specialist bookshops will send you in the right direction. From a treasure trove of LGBTQ+ literature to the home of previously unrecognised women writers, these shops will open your mind to stories and events you’ve likely never heard of before.
Word On The Water – The London Bookbarge, Regents Canal
Fancy a book break whilst on your walk? Located along the Regent’s Canal towpath, this 100-year-old barge is probably the coolest way to find new reads. They even host Poetry Slams, readings and live acoustic music on their roof stage.
Open now. Find them at Regent’s Canal Towpath, Kings Cross, London, N1C 4LW.
Notting Hill Bookshop, Notting Hill
The world-famous Notting Hill Bookshop first opened in 1979, but became famous in the nineties after its interior was copied in the film Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Check it out for something a bit special - beautiful gift editions, satin-bound classics and golden gilt leather-bounds.
Open now. Find them at 13 Blenheim Crescent, London, W11 2EE.
If you really want to find something different, head to Libreria. With shelves curated by broad themes like ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Enchantment for the Disenchanted’, and ‘The City’, you’re bound to encounter titles you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. As their website states, browsing this bookshop is a world away from the narrow algorithmic recommendations of Amazon.com.
Open now. Find them at 65 Hanbury St, Spitalfields, London, E1 5JP.
Housmans, Kings Cross
Founded in 1945, Housmans specialises in books, magazines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics, such as feminism, Black politics, LGBTQIA+, environment, anarchism. Alongside cool greetings cards and gifts, make sure you don’t miss their bargain basement, an ever-changing selection of second-hand books for just £1.
Open now. Find them at 5 Caledonian Rd, London, N1 9DX.
Persephone Books, Bloomsbury
Independent publisher Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction from mid-twentieth century women writers. Founded in 1998, the shop is home to a variety of ‘lost’ texts, but they’re all covered in the same signature grey Persephone jacket.
Open now, excluding weekends, until April 23. Find them at 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London, WC1N 3NB.
Stanfords, Covent Garden
Stanfords is the UK’s leading retailer of maps, travel books and other travel-related accessories. After spending over 100 years in Long Acre, Covent Garden, Stanfords relocated their flagship store in January to their new home on Mercer Walk.
Open now. Find them at 7 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9FA.
Gay’s the Word, Bloomsbury
Gay’s the Word is currently one of two LGBT+ dedicated bookshops in the UK, but holds the title of the first gay and lesbian bookshop founded in the UK. Founded in 1979, the bookshop is home to a large collection of LGBTQ+ literature and hosts regular events and discussion groups throughout the year.
Open from April 14. Find them at 66 Marchmont Street, London, WC1N 1AB.
The Atlantis Bookshop, Bloomsbury
The Atlantis Bookshop holds the title of London’s oldest independent occult bookshop. The shop stocks a variety of books and rare texts on magic, as well as a selection of magic ware and tarot cards. They also host a number of events, too - they even hold regular ritual meetings in their basement.
Open Thursday to Saturday from April 15. Find them at 49a Museum Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1A 1LY.
The Second Shelf, Soho
The Second Shelf is a bookshop dedicated to rare books, modern first editions, manuscripts, and rediscovered works by women. Their picture-perfect shop in Soho is a must visit for anyone looking to discover new female writers.
Re-opening soon. Find them at 14 Smiths Court, London, W1D 7DW.
New Beacon Books, Finsbury Park
New Beacon Books are London’s specialists in African and Caribbean literature. Founded in 1966, the shop was the UK’s first black publisher, specialist bookshop and international book distributor. Despite almost closing in 2016/17, the shop was able to survive thanks to a crowd funding campaign.
Open Fridays and Saturdays, from April 16. Find them at 76 Stroud Green Road, London, N4 3EN.
Bookmarks is a dedicated socialist bookshop which stocks titles covering topics from politics, and economics to trade unionism and the environment. They also stock a collection of DVD’s and CD’s, as well as hosting regular events.
Open now. Find them at 1 Bloomsbury St, Bloomsbury, London, WC1B 3QE.