“I live in bookstores. Busboys And Poets in Washington DC is one of my favourites,” says Yara. Here are the independent bookshops worth travelling for.
Livraria Lello, Porto
If Livraria Lello seems familiar, it’s perhaps because this ticketed bookshop (the price of entry is deducted from any purchase) served as an inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series – JK Rowling lived in Porto for two years in the 1990s.
More than 100 years old, Livraria Lello’s forked crimson staircase, stained-glass windows and majestic ceiling (which looks like it’s carved from wood but is, in fact, plaster) are as impressive as its huge literature collection. We’re still waiting for our Hogwarts letter, but in the meantime, a visit to Livraria Lello will do.
Rua das Carmelitas, Porto; livrarialello.pt
Nearby: Following a gelato stop a couple of doors down from Livraria Lello, head out with an expert guide on one of Porto’s free walking tours (portowalkers.pt) to ensure you capture everything in Portugal’s second city.
Persephone Books, London
It makes sense that one of London’s finest bookshops would be found in the literary district of Bloomsbury. Persephone Books (conveniently close to Stylist HQ on Lamb’s Conduit Street) scours second-hand bookshops and follows word-of-mouth recommendations to find and reprint works by forgotten women writers from the mid20th century. As well as novels, short stories and memoirs, you’ll find cookbooks and diaries – all wrapped up in a sleek grey jacket with individually patterned end-paper and a bookmark to match.
Lamb’s Conduit Street, London; persephonebooks.co.uk
Nearby: Lamb’s Conduit Street is a haven for independent shops. Pop into Aesop for skincare, La Fromagerie for cheese, then settle into Noble Rot with a glass of wine while you peruse your latest purchase.
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Kitab Khana, Mumbai
Founded by bibliophiles Amrita and Samir Somaiya, Kitab Khana stocks books in English, Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi. Its collection is eclectic, with everything from the newest releases and bestsellers to lesser-known texts expertly championed by its booksellers. There’s an in-house cafe, the brilliantly named Food for Thought, which serves breakfast, lunch and great coffee (everything is vegetarian or vegan), meaning you can spend the whole day browsing the stacks without needing to leave for sustenance. Kitab Khana is located in Fort, a business district in Mumbai that gets its name from Fort George, which was built around Bombay Castle by the British East India Company.
Mahatma Gandhi Road, Mumbai; kitabkhana.in
Nearby: Explore the rest of Fort, which has impressive examples of the gothic-style architecture the British when they colonised India. Browse the galleries and mooch around the arty boutiques of the Kala Ghoda precinct, full of graphic prints and handmade textiles.
Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh
This charming two-storey shop marries a modern aesthetic with a knowledge and love of books that’s timeless. Designed so books are presented cover-out (rather than spine-out), its displays are changed regularly so you’ll always spot something new. It also runs a subscription service, Post Books, with a different theme every month (from £9.99).
St Stephen Street, Edinburgh; goldenharebooks.com
Nearby Head to Söderberg Stockbridge (soderberg.uk), a Swedish bakery famed for its cardamom buns and almond tarts.
Busboys and Poets, Washington DC
Named in honour of poet Langston Hughes (who worked as a busboy in the nearby Wardman Park Hotel in the 1930s), Busboys And Poets is a hub for the area known as Black Broadway. It’s one of Yara’s favourites: “I love that it’s a multivariate space,” she says. “There’s food and live poetry nights. All the books are primarily by people of colour and it’s really well curated.” Browse its shelves, then stop off in the restaurant and gawp at the huge civil rights mural Peace & Struggle.
14th Street, Washington DC; busboysandpoets.com
Nearby: Hop in a cab and head south to the moving Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.
Ler Devagar, Lisbon
You’ll have seen pictures of this bookshop on the ’gram, its sculpture of a woman flying through the air on a bicycle is a famous image. Ler Devagar was founded in 1999 and is housed in a former warehouse; the huge space means that bookshelves appear to reach to the sky all around you. Home to thousands of new and second-hand titles, it’s set out perfectly for a leisurely browse: there are plenty of hideaways and reading nooks scattered around. Ler Devagar is Portuguese for ‘read slowly’, and everything here inspires you to savour every word.
Rua Rodrigues de Faria, Lisbon; lerdevagar.com
Nearby: OK, it’s 30 minutes outside Lisbon, but the whole Óbidos area is a must-visit for book lovers. Named a City of Literature by Unesco, its historic buildings, museums and churches house an abundance of great bookshops.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris
Founded in 1951 on the Left Bank, this English language bookshop is a Parisian institution named in honour of American bookseller Sylvia Beach, whose original Shakespeare And Company was a gathering place for Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. Creatives still flock to today’s iteration: its tradition of ‘tumbleweeding’ allows anyone to stay as long as they help out, read a book a day and write a short autobiography to leave behind.
Rue de la Bûcherie, Paris; shakespeareandcompany.com
Nearby: Cross the River Seine at the Pont des Cours to the beautiful Île de la Cité.
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Love Books, Johnannesburg
This small bookshop is located in the trendy suburb of Melville and has been around since 2009. Founded by entrepreneurs Jaci Jenkins and Kate Rogan, the shop stocks titles for adults and children, both local and international, as well as hosting book clubs and story time sessions. It may be small, but it’s a popular location for launches, and was named the Independent Trade Bookseller of the Year at this year’s Sefika Booksellers Awards. Alongside books, the shop is also the exclusive stockist of Joostenberg wines, made on an old family farm in Stellenbosch.
Rustenburg Rd, Johannesburg; lovebooks.co.za
Nearby: Head further into the Bamboo Lifestyle Centre (bamboo.co.za) for more browsing – there’s an art gallery upstairs – or settle down for a bite at the Service Station (servicestationcafe.co.za) which has been serving locally sourced food since 1999.
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
California’s largest book and record shop was founded in 2005 by Josh Spencer. Located in the Spring Arts Tower, it is spread across two floors and contains over 250,000 used and new books. If that wasn’t enough, The Last Bookstore’s Arts and Rare Books Annex is home to tens of thousands of vinyl records and graphic novels. A mezzanine level has gallery shops and you can also get coffee on-site. Its name was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but as Spencer has pointed out, it’s becoming more and more relevant as bricks-and-mortar bookshops are increasingly threatened by online retailers. But with its gorgeous interiors and vast collection, The Last Bookstore is sure to, well, last.
S Spring St, Los Angeles; lastbookstorela.com
Nearby: Check out Sidewalk Food Tours (sidewalkfoodtours.com), which runs a series of walking tours around the top foodie spots in Los Angeles, from bakeries to barbecue joints. You’ll visit six different eateries and all the food is included in the price.
Liberia Aqua Alta, Venice
Libreria Acqua Alta is one-of-a-kind, forgoing bookshelves to display its wares in gondolas, canoes and bathtubs that keep them safe when the canals flood the streets. Books damaged by the acqua alta (‘high water’) are repurposed into a staircase, which you can climb for a great view. There are no genre sections – but if you’re after something spectacular, this is where you’ll come across it.
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, Venice; facebook.com/libreriaacquaalta
Nearby: After rummaging through a gondola in Libreria Acqua Alta, take a working one out onto the water to explore Venice’s iconic canals.
Artwork: Su Blackwell
Photography: John Reynolds, Getty Images
Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.