Is there a better way to spend a Sunday than browsing London's bookshops? We don't think so. The city is home to an impressive collection of beautiful, quirky and extensive stores celebrating printed pages. Despite (or perhaps thanks to) the rise of digital retailers, the city's independent booksellers have seriously upped their game. Those who've survived have done so thanks to the sort of literary niches, characterful service or café-style shopping experiences you simply don't get on the internet. Looking for something to read? Here’s our guide to the best bookshops in London, whether you're in central, north, east, south or west London.
VIDEO: Take a look at the UK's oldest LGBT+ bookshop
RECOMMENDED: Literary events and activities in London
Best bookshops in central London
So iconic is this travel bookshop it even gets a mention in Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. Opened in 1901, it’s one of the largest specialist travel bookshops in the world and an essential destination for explorers, backpackers and map fanatics. There are three floors stacked high with travel writing, guides, maps and gifts and also regular events from the great and good of exploration and travel writing.
The London Review of Books opened this thriving bookshop in 2003. The shelves are intended to reflect the ethos of the literary publication, in their words: ‘intelligent without being pompous; engaged without being partisan.’ Its focus is on classic and new fiction as well as history, politics and philosophy. There’s also an excellent and busy café plus a programme of high-profile literary events.
This may be London’s most beautiful bookshop. Occupying an Edwardian building on Marylebone High Street, it boasts an incredible galleried main room and stained glass windows that feel like they’re from a lost era. All the books are arranged by country – regardless of content – which makes for a fun and unique browsing experience.
Foyles’ flagship store is a vast temple to the printed word. Recently re-opened in a brand new spot on Charing Cross Road, it covers a whopping five floors, with a staggering 4 miles’ worth of shelves holding over 200,000 titles. You can easily lose yourself for a few hours in here. On the top floor there’s a café and exhibition space – look out for some high-profile authors doing readings and talks.
On a corner in Soho in a slick, modern building is this excellent shop dedicated to graphic novels. Gosh! embraces the medium in all its guises; you’ll find stacks of colourful manga, European fiction, vintage children’s books and indie releases as well as mainstream superhero fare. Both diehard comic fans and complete newbies alike will find it hard to leave here empty-handed.
This much-loved community bookshop is the only surviving LGBT+ bookshop in the UK. It stocks a large range of fiction as well as books on all aspects of queer theory, as well as titles covering sex, relationships, parenting and children. This isn’t just a place to buy books though; it’s an important community hub and hosts regular discussion groups and meet-ups.
The books at Koenig are displayed with their covers showing, giving due prominence to the beautiful designs of hundreds of publications dedicated to art, photography and architecture. The independent German business also stocks the bookshops at the Serpentine and Whitechapel galleries.
This unique shop and publisher gives a new lease of life to forgotten, out-of- print novels, with a focus on interwar stories written by women. It released ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ back in 2001 and the book became a hit, eventually being made into a film. Each release is beautifully realised with grey covers and vibrant linings. The shop itself, a Grade II-listed building on Lamb’s Conduit Street – is also a delight.
For those who like their books a little musty (in a good way!), add this secondhand bookshop to your list. On the ground floor is Francis Edwards, specialising in rare, antique and collectible books while downstairs, in the basement, is Quinto, which has more general stock including fiction paperbacks. The latter is good for rummaging.
On Piccadilly, in a prestigious spot next to Fortnum & Mason, is the UK’s oldest surviving bookshop. First opening its doors in 1797, Hatchards covers four floors and is home to 100,000 books. Today it’s owned by Waterstones but it doesn’t feel like a chain store; three royal warrants means a visit here is still very much a refined experience. In 2014 it opened a second store in St Pancras Station.
Best bookshops in north London
On what might be the prettiest (and poshest) high street in London, is this small family run bookshop. Owners Jessica and Marek, who’ve been here for nearly 30 years, sell both new and second hand books (the latter of which are also available through their website). They also host intimate literary events with names like Jeanette Winterson, Doris Lessing and Martin Amis.
Perhaps the most unusual of all London’s bookshops, ‘Word on the Water’ is housed in a 100-year- old Dutch barge moored on Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross. Poetry slams and jazz nights happen on the ‘roof stage’ and inside there’s a wood-burning stove plus hundreds of new and second-hand books with a particularly large children’s section.
As the playful name suggests, this bookshop on Kentish Town Road does a great line in children’s books. It also hosts a range of kids’ events, from storytime sessions at the weekends to one-offs like a midnight opening for big franchise releases. Unsurprisingly it’s popular with families. There’s lots for adults, too: it’s strong on classic fiction, food and drink, gardening and sport and boasts a programme of popular author events.
Best bookshops in east London
This new kid on the block, founded by tech entrepreneur Rohan Silva, is designed as an antidote to our technological age. It embraces all things analogue: mobile phones are banned and there’s a printing press in the basement. The design feels very twenty-first century, though; yellow, curving shelves, designed by graduates of Slade make this a fun and inspiring place to hang out.
Broadway Market is a prime spot for browsing and no wander around these parts is complete without popping into this cosy bookshop. It’s larger than it looks from the outside, with steps leading down into a basement filled with new fiction, local history and children’s books. They also hold intimate events here – keep an eye on their Twitter feed for the latest.
Originally founded to provide educational materials as part of Newham Parents’ Centre, this community-focused bookshop has grown into an important neighbourhood resource. The stock is geared to local residents – half of it is dedicated to children and there are strong politics, social science and self-help sections, plus a significant number of bilingual dictionaries reflecting the diversity of the area.
Best bookshops in south London
This Brixton institution is everything you could want from a second-hand bookshop. Run by American-born Patrick Kelly, who opened the shop’s doors over twenty years ago, it’s developed a devoted following. Its stock is inspiring and well-organised, if slightly overflowing, and there’s a resident dog, who adds to the charm.
Kirkdale’s is a neighbourhood bookshop that also doubles up as a local cultural hub with a tiny gallery, regular music events and a bimonthly book group. It encompasses two floors, includes new and second-hand books and also sells gifts and cards. In 2016 it celebrated its fiftieth birthday.
Review is the brainchild of Roz Simpson, founder of the Peckham Literary Festival and author Evie Wyld. It’s a tiny shop that’s intelligently curated and famously dog-friendly (their website even has a dog-themed reading list). The events programme is particularly strong and the shop is also the home of the aforementioned Peckham Literary Festival, which takes place each November.
Best bookshops in west London
With its elegant striped awning, it’s hard to walk past Lutyens & Rubinstein and not be intrigued to find out what’s past the smart exterior. Set up by the literary agency of the same name, this beautifully designed bookshop aims to provide an idiosyncratic browsing experience. The stock was assembled after canvassing hundreds of readers, meaning each book has found its way here following personal recommendation. Alongside fiction, there’s also a strong poetry and art selection.
Stumbling across this beautiful bookshop in a Chelsea back street, you might feel like you’ve entered a Dickens novel. The shop occupies three floors of three connecting eighteenth-century shops with gorgeous window boxes outside displaying floral blooms. Inside, piles of books fill every surface with what it calls a ‘bias for the humanities’.
Bright and airy, with wooden floors and comfy sofas Nomad is a lively and popular shop and cafe on Fulham Road. We love the sound of their ‘reading clinics’ in which an advisor will sit down with you, ask you some questions and devise six books for you to receive over the coming year. There’s also a strong children’s section, gifts and stationery and a regular book club.
Discover more shopping inspiration
We've managed to whittle the list of thousands down to the 100 best shops in London. There's something to please every taste and budget, including a selection of the best department stores, quaint little boutiques, cavernous thrift stores, chic homeware outlets and designer fashion shops.