Summer is the perfect time to downshift a gear or two. For many, getting lost in a great book is the perfect way to do so. If you’re on the lookout for your next literary adventure, London is a fantastic place to start. We’ve got a wealth of destinations which make the process of book shopping a joy in and of itself. From quaint holes in the wall to staggeringly chic emporiums, we’ve got you covered…
John Sandoe Books has got the feel of a charmingly haphazard hidden gem. This petit bookshop is home to over 30,000 titles, which you’ll find stacked all the way up its creaky wooden stairs. It sits just off the Kings Road in Chelsea, making it something of a local favourite for us. Pop in to find beautifully bound classics piled to the rafters, alongside an ever-changing window display of new releases.
They’re doing things a bit differently at Maison Assouline. This Sir Edwin Lutyens-designed building is the French publishing giant’s global flagship, so it’s no wonder they took the opportunity to reflect what they’re all about. Here you’ll find stunning coffee table books displayed amidst eye-catching design objects, like Francois-Xavier Lalanne’s famous sheep sculptures, for example. Take a seat at Swans Bar and pour over a book or two as you sip a signature cocktail, or head upstairs to escape the bustle of Piccadilly.
If you’re on the hunt for something a little different, Peter Harrington will be right up your alley. They’re one of the world’s leading rare book dealers, with a vast range of first editions, original illustrations, unique maps, and modern art pieces. Their collection spans from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, making a visit feel like something of a trip through time. Their original location is in Chelsea, though they’ve also got an outpost in Mayfair that’s equally well worth a visit.
Daunt Books is without a doubt among London’s most famous book shops. That’s thanks, in no small part, to the stunning environs of their Marylebone location. This cathedral-like space dates back to 1910, and has been exceptionally well looked after throughout the intervening years. It’s the UK’s oldest purpose-built bookshop that’s still in use today, making it both an architectural point of pilgrimage as well as a fine source of literary delights.
Paper and water may not mix all that well, but Word on the Water has made it work in stride. Their little boat is home to a curated selection of books, and also plays host to talks, poetry readings, and musical performances. Its position on Regent’s Canal makes it a lovely place to stop as you stroll through the area, in all its off-kilter charm.
Lutyens & Rubinstein is a Notting Hill fixture. It’s a small but perfectly formed book shop that keeps its selection fresh. Interestingly, it’s also a boutique literary agency, so you’re sure to find a few gems that you might not encounter elsewhere. The shopkeepers really know their stuff as well, making it a pleasure to explore the unfamiliar.
While in Notting Hill, we’d highly recommend you take your lunch break at Books for Cooks. This is no ordinary cookbook store; it’s also a test kitchen! Arrive early to swipe a table and taste a recipe from one of their many tomes, followed by a selection of meticulously made cakes.
The beautifully formed Libreria bookshop takes its inspiration from straight from literature. It was shaped by Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, ‘The Library of Babel’, a tale about a library which holds all the books in the world. The space is designed to foster cross-disciplinary exploration. They’ve taken an original approach to organisation which encourages shoppers to step outside their comfort zone by browsing shelves which share themes as opposed to genres. You can find them in Spitalfields, amidst the area’s infamous gastronomic offerings.
Walden Books sits a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Camden High Street. It’s an unfussy shop that, in the spring, hides behind a veil of fragrant wisteria. You can spot it by the shelves of second-hand books which pour out onto the pavement. You can take home something special for as little as 50p, or go up to the £50 bracket for a rare find. Think of it as London’s answer to Paris’ Shakespeare and Company.
Foster Books has got something of a Diagon Alley feel to it. It’s forest green bow windows tempt passers-by, encouraging an afternoon of quiet exploration. It sits in the laid-back, residential enclave of Chiswick, making it a wonderful destination for a Sunday outing. Pop in and sift through their inspiring mixture of first editions, fine bindings, and antiquarian volumes.
Text by Annabel Colterjohn