Edinburgh's best bookshops

Edinburgh is officially a UNESCO City of Literature - have a browse of its shops and find out why
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When UNESCO launched its City of Literature scheme in 2004, Edinburgh was first to receive the accolade. Its main railway station, Waverley, is named for a series of 19th century novels by Sir Walter Scott while working authors resident here include Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith (not to mention its part in the genesis of a certain boy wizard). Edinburgh has literature nailed – but does it have any decent bookshops?

After you've made your purchase, why not settle down to read in one of Edinburgh's best coffee shops or, weather permitting, one of the city's plethora of parks?

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Shopping, Bookshops

Armchair Books

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If the interior of a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop should feel like a wander through a novel by Borges or Eco, then Armchair is a winner, shelves groaning under the weight of pre-owned literature. Small, cramped, untidy, appealing – and with a droll Twitter feed – it offers everything you want from such an establishment. Its stock covers everything from architecture to travel and there’s fiction too.

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Shopping, Bookshops

Blackwell's

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In bookshop terms, these premises have a distinguished history. They were once occupied by Scottish academic bookseller James Thin, but taken over by Blackwell’s in 2002. Sitting opposite the University of Edinburgh’s Old College, the shop was a familiar sight to generations of students. As a branch of Blackwell’s it remains a significant academic bookstore, but also operates as a general bookshop with fiction and all the other usual categories.

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Deadhead Comics

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If you like your comic shops with authentic backstreet cachet, then Deadhead is the shop for you. Small, stacked with titles and boasting staff who really know their stuff, it's a comic aficionado's delight. Fun fact: at its previous incarnation on Candlemaker Row, it was also the star of a no-budget Scottish superhero movie, 'Electric Man'.

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The Edinburgh Bookshop

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Tucked up in the bijou suburb of Bruntsfield, The Edinburgh Bookshop has carved a niche for itself on the capital's literary scene as a stand-out children's bookshop (though adults are well-catered for as well). Keep an eye out for regular author events and book groups, stocks of signed copies and two dedicated story time sessions for under-5s, every Thursday and Friday morning from 9.30-10am.

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Elvis Shakespeare

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Beloved Leith music'n'book institution, home to CDs, vinyl, books and regular live in-store performances from local music and spoken word acts.

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Fruitmarket Gallery

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One of Scotland’s most important contemporary art spaces, the Fruitmarket is also one of the city's best emporia for picking up art books, especially those by artists who have current or previous shows at the gallery.

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Looking Glass Books

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Independent cafe/bookshop with regular live events and initiatives like the Writer-in-Residence, where an author will work on their next project on the premises.

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Shopping, Bookshops

Transreal Fiction

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Formerly based nearby in Cowgatehead, this small shop moved to its current location in 2011 and continues to fly the flag as a specialist sci-fi bookstore. You can find anything here from classics of the genre to otherwise unavailable American imports, a conveyor belt of new titles as well as work by local authors like Ken McLeod, Charles Stross and the late Iain M Banks. 

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Waterstones West End

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Covering four floors of a prominent site on Princes Street, looking over to Edinburgh Castle, this is its biggest Waterstones in the city. It can sell you anything from magazines like Monocle or Wallpaper* to new fiction, travel guides to military history, cookbooks to 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. It may be a chain store but it’s huge, it’s handy, it’s obvious and it has an in-store Starbucks.

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Shopping, Bookshops

Word Power Books

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For more than 20 years, this politically outspoken bookshop has ploughed its radical furrow. Fans include writers like Alan Bissett, Kathleen Jamie and AL Kennedy, comedian Mark Thomas and poet Benjamin Zephaniah. It's the base of operations for both the Edinburgh Book Fringe and the annual Edinburgh International Radical Book Fair and it’s the prime place to pick up signed copies of James Kelman novels or, perhaps, the latest analysis of nationalism in Europe by Czech historian and theorist Miroslav Hroch.

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