15 of the World’s Biggest and Most Beautiful Bookstores
As avid readers (and occasional book snobs), you can guarantee we’ve explored all the libraries and bookshops within a 20-mile radius of our homes and workplaces. To get us out of our literary rut, we’re on the hunt for new reader-friendly places to put on our wanderlust list. We’ve already stolen some vacation ideas from our favorite books and checked out a few of the coolest libraries in the US, so now we’re pooling our vacation days to explore some of the world’s biggest and most beautiful bookstores. With locations ranging from beautiful Portugal to fast-paced New York City, here are 15 stunning bookstores that every bibliophile should visit at least once in their life.
Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR, US: This third-generation family-owned bookstore is a mega-popular Portland hangout for intellectuals and bibliophiles. While the brand has now expanded to five locations, the flagship on West Burnside Street is by far their most impressive, with over a million volumes packed within the city-block-sized store. (Photo via Powell’s Books)
Barnes & Noble in Union Square, New York City, NY, US: While most American readers have probably been to their fair share of Barnes & Noble stores, none quite compare to the beauty that is the Union Square location. This massive building holds the Guinness World Record for the largest bookshop in the world, with 154,250 square feet of space and nearly 13 miles of shelving. Plus, if you’re looking to score an autograph for your favorite book, many high-profile celeb authors are known to put this iconic location on their book tours. (Photo via Getty)
El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenes Aires, Argentina: In 1919, this spectacular building first opened as a performing arts theater; today, it's the grandiose setting of one of the most spectacular bookstores in the world. With its original frescoed ceilings, stunning red stage curtains, and beautiful trimmings, El Ateneo takes readers back to a decadent age... all while shopping for bingeable books. (Photo via Getty)
The House of Books in St. Petersburg, Russia: Housed in the iconic Singer Building in St. Petersburg (named after the Singer Sewing Machine Company), this beautifully renovated building is not only the largest bookstore in St. Petersburg, but it's also one of the largest in all of Europe. Make sure to stop by Café Singer for some sweet eats while you leaf through your new reads. (Photo via Puripat Lertpunyaroj/Getty)
Waterstones, Piccadilly in London, England: Similar to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, the flagship Waterstones bookstore in Piccadilly claims to be the largest chain bookshop in all of Europe. We’re not joking when we say that you can spend hours searching through their massive collection of 200,000 unique titles spanning six floors. If you come by for a visit, make sure to stop by their children’s section, which is modelled after a Piccadilly Circus, and munch on a locally sourced sandwich at Café W. (Photo via Stuart C. Wilson/Getty)
Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal: One of the oldest bookstores in all of Portugal, Livraria Lello is an art nouveau masterpiece that begs to be explored. With an elegant red staircase, an exquisite stained glass skylight, and historical touches everywhere you look, it’s so beautiful that you might even forget that you came into the shop to look for a new book. (Photo via Livraria Lello and Manuel Varzim)
Cook and Book in Brussels, Belgium: This charming Belgian bookstore is divided into eight themed spaces, each with an accompanying eatery. We suggest sipping on a delicious cocktail while admiring the decor — which ranges from a dazzlingly colorful youth space to a novel room with paperbacks hung dangling from the ceiling — and browsing for your next great read. (Photo via Cook and Book)
Strand Bookstore in New York City, NY: This New York City literary staple has a rich history that dates all the way back to 1927, when founder Ben Bass decided to set up a modest bookstore on NYC’s famous Book Row, which spanned six city blocks and housed 48 bookstores. Unfortunately, the Strand is the lone survivor of Book Row, but today it carries over 2.5 million used, new, and rare books — along with myriad fun literary gifts. They even have their own Strand onesies for sale in the shop! (Photo via Strand Books)
City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco, CA: Founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, this famous bookstore is ideal for those seeking titles from harder-to-find independent publishers. While you’ll definitely find a healthy selection of summer blockbusters on their shelves, we highly suggest browsing through their impressive collection of indie titles while you’re there. (Photo via City Lights Books)
The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA: You’ve probably seen a bazillion picture of this vibrant bookstore all across your bookstagram feed... and for good reason. The aptly named bookstore is the largest used and new book store in California. Not only are you sure to find a great read among their quarter-million-plus titles, but you can sell and trade your own well-loved copies too. Make sure to check out their awesome book tunnel while you’re exploring the colorful displays. (Photo via The Last Bookstore)
Le Bal des Ardents in Lyon, France: This charming Parisian bookstore may be a relative baby (it was born in 2003), but it has already taken the literary community by storm. Walk through its breathtaking entranceway and you’ll be amazed by all the neat titles you’ll find. According to their website, “The Bal des Ardents is dedicated to the defence of unknown authors, independent publishing houses, and themes not popular with traditional bookstores.” BRB, we’re already booking our plane ticket to France! (Photo via Le Bal des Ardents)
Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France: Once you finish visiting Notre-Dame, head down to Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore on the banks of the Seine. It opened in 1951 and has a rich history of expat literary life in Paris — plus, it houses hundreds and hundreds of exciting titles that will thrill every type of reader. (Photo via Lonely Planet/Getty)
Munro’s Books in Victoria, Canada: This neo-classical heritage building in stunning Victoria has invited in book lovers for more than 50 years. Managed for many, many years by Canadian author Alice Munro and her husband, it’s a must-see when you’re visiting the western Canadian coast. (Photo via Munro’s Books)
Librairie Avant-Garde Bookstore in Jiangsu, China: If you need proof that you can literally turn *any* space into a popular bookish hangout, this amazing bookstore is actually housed in a repurposed underground parking garage. With a checkout counter made from thousands of old books and a Mini Cooper parked in the center of the store, it’s an experience packed with surprises. (Photo via Getty)
Eslite Dunhua 24 Hour Bookstore in Taipei, Taiwan: This Taiwanese bookstore takes staying up late to finish an engrossing book to a whole new level. The Dunhua branch of this popular chain bookstore is literally open 24 hours a day. Yes, you read that right: 24 HOURS A DAY! (Photo via Getty)
Have you visited any of these world-famous bookstores? Tweet us @BritandCo!
Ashley Macey is a lifestyle freelance writer who loves all things fitness, wellness, and creativity. When she's not exploring her home in the Pacific Northwest with her dog Max, you'll probably find her curled up with a good book and some hot tea. Follow her daily jaunts on Twitter.