Worldwide icon-chevron-right 10 incredibly beautiful bookstores around the world
Boekhandel Dominicanen
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

10 incredibly beautiful bookstores around the world

From New York to Vienna and Amsterdam, the world’s most beautiful independent bookshops are temples to literature

By Huw Oliver
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Independent bookstores are so much more than just cute little places to buy books. Each is also a reflection of the thoughts, opinions and tastes of the owner – like a scrapbook or a diary that anyone can peer inside. They are paper towns unto themselves and a refuge for book lovers around the world.

Many of them are also incredibly beautiful, as shown by new photobook ‘Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers’by author Stuart Husband and photographer Horst A. Friedrichs.

The popular image of the indie bookshop may be of a dimly lit backstreet room piled high with battered volumes – and there are plenty of charming places like that. But this book shows that there are a load of snazzier and more contemporary shops out there too. The authors guarantee that all bookshops featured have impeccable book selections, but they are also relaxing places to just hang out – and, bonus, they’ll look pretty fabulous on your Insta feed.

So, ready to fuel your literary lust? From a dairy-turned-book barn in Pennsylvania to a church in Maastricht that’s been converted into a secular temple to literature, here are ten of the world’s most gorgeous independent bookstores, with photos by Friedrichs and a brief description in the booksellers’ own words.

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Most beautiful bookstores in the world

Shakespeare and Company
Shakespeare and Company
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Shakespeare and Company, Paris

‘My father started the shop with 1,000 books from his personal collection, acquired under the GI Bill, but he would lend out as many as he would sell – he was never interested in making money. He was interested in creating a space where people could mingle, exchange ideas and get inspired. It’s an immediate community – real, not virtual – that anyone can become part of.’—Sylvia Whitman, owner of Shakespeare and Company in Paris

Baldwin’s Book Barn
Baldwin’s Book Barn
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Baldwin’s Book Barn, Pennsylvania

‘This was a dairy barn, built in 1822. Mr Baldwin, who died just recently, had run a book business since the early 1930s. He had a book wagon and would roll from town to town, but then he bought this place and added three extra floors to accommodate his growing inventory. You’ll find a lot of vintage fruit crates that we use for shelving. It’s definitely got an old-world charm, though we tend to huddle round the stove in winter.’—Fred Dannaway, owner of Baldwin’s Book Barn in Pennsylvania

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Word on the Water
Word on the Water
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Word on the Water, London

‘I think a lot of people see this place as a kind of secular church. It’s something about bringing people together where there’s music and culture and beautiful words; a place where, for whatever reason, people just quietly agree they’re going to be nice to each other.’—Paddy Screech, co-owner of Word on the Water in London

Livraria Lello
Livraria Lello
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Livraria Lello, Porto

‘The founders, José and Antonio Lello, wanted to create a building that would stand out in the city and the world. So the engineer, Francisco Xavier Esteves, created this neo-Gothic building with its stained-glass skylight, ornate wood carvings, forked spiral staircase, bas-reliefs of Portuguese literary figures carved into the pillars, and allegorical figures of Art and Science on its façade. It’s impossible not to feel a sense of history and grandeur when you come through the door.’—Aurora Pedro Pinto, owner of Livraria Lello in Porto

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Phil
Phil
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

phil, Vienna

‘Are books and all-day breakfasts a natural combination? I think so. I wanted to create a “living room” ambience, where books were always integral to the concept, alongside great food and drink, soft lights and sofas to browse on; a home away from home. The atmosphere changes through the day; when the breakfast dishes are cleared, the beer, wine and gin and tonics come into play. We’re open till 1am, and reading is encouraged any time, day or night.’—Christian Schädel, owner of phil in Vienna

MENDO
MENDO
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

MENDO, Amsterdam

‘My co-founders and myself used to run an advertising agency, and we were always looking for visual inspiration. So we hired Concrete Architectural Associates and gave them a modest brief: design the most beautiful bookshop in the world. They came up with the idea of creating a bookshop made out of books. It’s functional as well as fun.’—Joost Albronda, co-owner of MENDO in Amsterdam

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Green Apple Books
Green Apple Books
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Green Apple Books, San Francisco

‘The thing that marks us out? I honestly think it’s the physical beauty of the store. The building predates the 1906 earthquake, and the space has expanded piecemeal over the years to the point where it’s quite labyrinthine – we have many odd turns and dead ends, about ten different flooring surfaces, and quite arcane section headings like “Circus Magic and Hobo”.’—Kevin Ryan, owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco

Boekhandel Dominicanen
Boekhandel Dominicanen
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht

‘This was the first Gothic church built in the Low Countries, in the thirteenth century, but it was deconsecrated six centuries later. It’s since been a boxing arena, a car show venue and a storage facility for bicycles. When we converted the church into a bookshop, we put in a pair of huge doors in Cor-ten steel in the shape of a book; a portal that lets you know what’s inside, with the word “books” printed on them in 27 languages.’—Ton Harmes, co-owner of Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht

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Books Are Magic
Books Are Magic
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Books Are Magic, New York

‘We got lucky with this space. It’s warm, like books are, and we have lots of places where big and little people can sit. Lingering is encouraged, and the kicking off of shoes is positively commended. It’s usually filled with people sprawling and reclining amid piles of books. Sure, people can buy every book ever printed online – if they don’t care about their soul or the rest of the world. Luckily, people who read tend to care about those things.’—Emma Straub, owner of Books Are Magic in New York

Do you read me?!
Do you read me?!
Photograph: Horst A. Friedrichs, courtesy of Prestel

Do you read me?!, Berlin

‘There wasn’t a space like this in Berlin, dedicated to magazines, when we opened. I run a design studio, and my business partner worked at Dussmann, the big Berlin bookshop. We both loved magazines, so we thought, why not? We get new titles in all the time, so the character of the whole place changes from month to month. That keeps people coming back and keeps things fresh for us.’—Mark Kiessling, co-owner of Do you read me?! in Berlin

‘Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers’ is published by Prestel.

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