My Five Favourite London Bookshops

west end lane booksI love my books. As an English Literature graduate that should be pretty obvious but it is important to clarify that I am just not down with all that e-book nonsense. Yes, it must save you a fortune in luggage costs when you go abroad. Yes, it would be nice not to lug 7 books around for a week-long holiday. BUT e-books are rubbish.

You can’t enjoy the cover, or fold over a page. You can’t write little notes in the column in pencil (old habits die hard). An e-book has no smell, no personality, no history. And you don’t get the same experience purchasing an e-book as you do when you buy a hard copy, browsing for a novel to suit your mood.

So in celebration of the book, a list of five of the best London bookshops you should visit. Inspired by this dramatic beauty in the Netherlands.

My five favourites… 

West End Lane Books, West Hampstead

A small, independent bookshop in North West London. A beautiful interior and a fairly wide selection of books (including a great local history section). Bill Nighy pops in from time to time, and if it is good enough for him, it is good enough for me…

Lutyens & Rubinstein, Notting Hill

This is what I would describe as ‘a darling of a bookshop’. I don’t know why, as I don’t usually describe things like that, but it fits. It is small and they have a very cute tea / coffee station downstairs. Light, spacious and airy but not too modern that you forget you are in a bookshop. Our jaws dropped open when we sneakily saw the concealed private office. Very nifty.

Keith Fawkes, Hampstead

I’ve been visiting this bookshop since I was 14. It is rammed full of books, mostly very reasonable, and all rather old. It is a book lovers paradise but don’t expect to pick up any pristine gifts from here. I also love the location; it is down a cobbled street just off the high street that eventually leads you to the fairy shop (I don’t like pink girly fairy things but this shop is awesome) and then towards the Heath. The owner (presumably Keith, but I’ve never asked) is also fabulous – incredibly knowledgeable and well worth speaking to.

Book and Comic Exchange, Notting Hill

I have lost count of the number of people I have dragged into this shop. The basement, where every book is 50p or a pound, is fantastic and goes on forever. That said it is rather creepy down there alone so take a friend along for the ride. A varied selection is on offer in the basement – I once found a University prospectus on sale for 50p which I did think was a rip-off since they hand them out for free… Back upstairs you can pick up classic novels, hefty critical works, old cookbooks and fairly recent fiction from a couple of quid. They also have a good selection of comic books and magazines – I’ve never looked closely at the comics, but with the magazines think old copies of Vogue and Wallpaper* and some other weird, random stuff.

London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury

The last time I visited this shop I bought a copy of Naomi Klein’s No Logo (which is well worth a read, to say the least). I then went round the corner to the British Museum and looked at the Egyptian mummies, before sitting down under the beautiful roof with a cup of tea and reading about all the nasty things those naughty corporations get up to. The bookshop itself has a fairly limited stock in store but if my adventure above whetted your appetite then it is worth a visit. You can definitely find something there that will make you want to change the world.

I also went to a lovely bookshop near(ish) the Louvre in Paris. What makes wandering around a bookshop so special, even when you can’t understand the content because it is in a foreign language?

Where is your favourite bookshop, and what do you love most about it?

16 thoughts on “My Five Favourite London Bookshops

  1. More Than Greens

    You echo my thoughts EXACTLY on e-books. I just can’t get on board and will continue to lug around a ‘heavy’, delicious-smelling REAL book every day.

    I’ve been to so many AMAZING bookstores around the world that it is impossible to name my favourite, so I’ll narrow it down to London… One of my favourites in London is Nomad Books in Fulham. It is small but sweet with a lovely dark wood interior and they have a little cafe inside that does a fantastic chai latte.

    Oh, and of course I can’t go past Southbank Book Market without picking something up. The other week I got a beautiful old, hand-bound poetry book with hand-painted illustrations on its yellowing pages and an inscription on the inside cover written in 1889. 1889! The book cost me a whole £3. Love.

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  2. Carla B

    Glad you agree! Never been to Nomad as it is quite far from where I live but I will definitely try and get down there at some point soon… plus I love a good chai latte so that is an added incentive!

    How could I not include Southbank Book Market?! It totally slipped my mind, but it is one of the best places to pick up a book in London. Really atmospheric too. Can’t believe you got such a beautiful book from 1889 for £3!

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  3. Suz

    So. Very. True. I end up carrying extra bags, it seems, just to have my favorite books with me on vacation. Not that I read them ALL, but it’s good to have options! Some of my favorite bookshops are no longer. It is a sad thing. When I was young, I first smitten by Rizzoli in NYC: http://www.rizzoliusa.com/. But, I don’t need fancy. I just need variety and to hold them in my hands!

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    1. theswindian

      Lovely post! I need to visit more bookshops in London and now I have a list of places to go! I’m also an English Literature graduate so I completely echo your thoughts on e-books. What a waste of digital space. :)

      Reply
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  5. broadsideblog

    I really like Posman Books in NYC. It is a small, very well-edited indie bookstore with locations in two places well worth a day’s visit (shopping, food, neighborhood), in Grand Central Station and in the Chelsea Market. (I also almost fainted with joy when they put my latest book in their window!)

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    1. Carla B

      Sounds like a great store – and I can think of nothing more exciting than seeing a copy of your latest book in the window of your favourite store!

      Reply
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  8. travellousworld

    I see I still have plenty of London bookshops to discover. My personal favorite is the travel bookstore Stanfords on Long Acre. The exterior to start with is gorgeous, and it’s said to have the most extensive collection of travel books, guides and maps in the world. I just love the vibe of walking around there and be inspired by all the travel books!

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