Best Bookstores in Europe
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ~ Stephen King
If there is one thing that has been a big influence in my travels it has been books, and while I travel to the enchanted cities I’ve read about in the pages of books of fiction as well as travel memoirs I have made it a priority to seek out bookstores along my journey. And boy have I stumbled upon some great ones, from the chilled vibe of the West Coast of the US to the classics in England and of course some of my favourites are bookstores in Europe. Though this list does not cover all of the best bookstores in continental Europe it does cover the ones that this book lovers heart has browsed.
Shakespeare & Company/City of Lights Books in Paris, France
Never has there been a bookstore that has not only brought together so many amazing authors but continues to draw tourists, book lovers and wanna-be authors alike, than Shakespeare & Company. Once an impromptu home and meeting place for authors of the Lost Generation like Plath, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, it now is another one of Paris’ attractions. And while chasing literary giants in Paris this past summer I finally wandered through its doors, made my way around the narrow book filled rooms and staircases and up to the most magical room of any bookstore I’d visited. It was Sylvia Plath’s reading room, with books from her personal library lining the modest room with its old, run down sofas, lounging white cat and the pièce de résistance – sitting at the window was a simple desk with a dusty black typewriter looking out over the Seine and Notre Dame, by far the best view to inspire writing!
Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, Italy
If ever there was a bookstore that was beyond words, for its sheer oddities, its peculiar placement half below water yet full of enchantment and in the most magical city in the world – in my opinion – it would be Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice. Hidden along the winding alleys of Venice and home to a most charming and sweet proprietor and his adorable cats, this bookstore is one of a kind. With a full size gondola as the center piece in the main room full of books, the smell of mold and mildew from countless floods lingering, it all gives to the magical atmosphere that is pure Venetian and tugs at the book lovers heart strings.
Carturesti Carusel in Bucharest, Romania
When I first stepped foot into this grand building I felt like I was entering the pages of a fairy tale with its gleaming white railings and massive white staircase. The striking white gave off an angelic glow as if this is what a bookstore in heaven would look like. Carturesti Carusel, or The Carousel of Light, opened in the beginning of 2015 in Bucharest’s Old Town and has a wide and massive selection of everything from books to music and fabulous gifts all across the sweeping six floors.
Tropismes in Brussels, Belgium
Unlike the others, Tropismes wasn’t on my list of must see bookstores but I was pleasantly surprised and wowed none the less. When I went out exploring one day I ventured in to the Royal St. Hubert’s Gallery in central Brussels. Built in 1847 it is a beautiful piece of architecture filled with shops, chocolatiers and places to eat and down one of the passage ways is Tropismes, though relatively new (just the past few decades) it maintains the atmosphere of the old Jazz club that once called this space home. You are overwhelmed by the mirrored walls that reach up to the grand ceiling above with its stunning stucco design and gilded eagles watching over the books. From the basement with its quaint travel section to the opened floor above looking out over the huge main room you feel like your in an old, classic library opposed to a bookstore.
Bertrand Bookstore in Lisbon, Portugal
Bertrand Bookstore is located in Lisbon’s Chiado neighbourhood and was one of the top must sees on my list as it is the oldest bookstore in Europe, if not the world, opening in 1732. It even has its own font for goodness sake! While it is no grand bookstore, it is charming with its wooden bookshelves, section on Portuguese writers like Fernando Pessoa, whose statue you’ll find nearby out front of Café A Brasileira, and arched hallway that strangely seemed to slope to the one side, and with a history as it does I simply had to add it to the list.
When I returned home from my epic solo adventure one of the common questions was over my souvenirs. “What did you buy?” And when I thought about it I realized many of my souvenirs were books from the incredible bookstores in Europe that I’d visited. For me these books were not only the amazing stories within their pages but also filled with memories of the amazing places I’d been.