There are few better ways to spend your afternoon than browsing through a beautiful selection of books, escaping everyday life and immersing yourself in a new world. But if anything can make that even better, it’s a unique bookstore experience.
Libraries are havens of knowledge and exploration, where people come to explore the world around them, find new worlds, and learn answers to questions they didn’t know they wanted to ask. Libraries and bookshops are often beautiful places, with ornate architecture and stunning collections of books. Here are some of the best ones.
Often hailed as the most beautiful bookshop in the world, the Livraria Vello is a beautiful, old-world bookstore that sits on the banks of the Douro River in Porto, Portugal.
The site was first established on the site in 1869, and after changing ownership several times, the Livraria Vello was finally established in 1906. But in one form or another, the bookplace has been selling books for over 150 years.
The bookstore is in a central location in Porto, Portugal’s largest city, flanked by shops left and right, and close to the Porto University Faculty of Sciences building. The design features a forked staircase connecting a first-floor gallery, and over this staircase sits a large stained glass window.
Remarkably, you can still visit the bookshop and browse books on all floors and it’s still very much an active store, but as of 2015, you need to buy a ticket to visit the bookshop. Still, it’s most definitely worth it! From its rich history to the wine cellars, the lovely landscape and the atmosphere, Porto is a wonderful city — if you happen to visit it, don’t miss out on Livraria Vello.
Arc.N.Book, Seoul, South Korea
Moving halfway around the world to the capital of South Korea, Arc.N.Book is a true haven for book lovers. Anyone can visit it freely and take a break from the bustling streets of Seoul, finding refuge around thousands of books, many of which are arranged in an arc you can walk under.
The library is underground and in addition to thousands of books in both Korean and English, it sells a wide variety of magazines, souvenirs, and even some drinks you can enjoy while looking at books.
The library prides itself as being a public space more than a shop and strives to be a space where people can meet and bond over their love of books. Arc.N.Book features a wide array of books on various topics split into several categories. Its vintage look is complemented by an ancient-looking phone booth where you can scan for books. However, the bookshop has greatly struggled in the pandemic and is facing closure.
Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
The newest bookshop on our list hails from the center of Bucharest, in Romania, and blends modern architecture with a distinctly vintage, cozy feeling.
The building that houses the bookstore was built as a bank in the beginning of the 20th century. After being a bank, it became a general store, but after the fall of communism, fell into disrepair. In 2015, a major rehabilitation project started and led to the restoration of the stunning library as we see it today.
The white columns complement with the wooden floors to create a stunning environment that blends in the old with the new — a key vision for this bookshop.
The bookshop has several floors and sells classic books, as well as more unconventional things like manga and board games. The collection of books is worthy of the architecture and decor. The library also has a bistro on the last floor and occasionally hosts artistic events.
El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
As the name implies, this bookshop in the heart of Argentina was first opened as a theater, and that’s not hard to guess from its design.
The theater opened in 1919 and could host around 1,000 people and did host some notable shows and movies. But in 2000, it became a book and music shop.
Despite the changes that were made to accommodate the books in the bookshop, it still retains the same feeling of grandeur it had as a theater.
While some would have likely still preferred the building to continue as a cinema and theater, you can’t really complain when a bookshop looks this beautiful.
Bookshop Dominicanen in Maastricht, the Netherlands
After seeing a bookshop in a theater, how about a bookshop in a church?
The Dominican church was established in the 13th century, but stopped being a church two hundred years ago and spent decades with various, often bizarre purposes. For instance, between being a church and becoming a library, it also served as a reptile house, a bicycle shed and a ‘carnival’ temple — with many people from Maastricht reportedly enjoying their first kiss at the town carnival in the church.
But nowadays, there’s not much kissing going on in the church. The bookshop hosts a wide range of books and also sells coffee and lunch. It’s also a very active cultural space, hosting regular lectures, performances, and debates. It’s also a popular tourist attraction, drawing many tourists that aren’t even interested in books. But for book lovers, no doubt, the Bookshop Dominicanen is a holy place.
Book and Bed in Tokyo, Japan (Shinjuku)
We’ve already seen quite a few different bookshop settings, but Book and Bed brings something new to the equation: it’s not only a bookshop but also a hostel.
You basically get a bookstore you can stay in. There are over 4,000 books in the large room, but unlike other book places, where you buy the book, here you basically buy time to spend with the books. It’s basically a paid library and accommodation.
There are a couple of different Book and Bed places in Tokyo, but the Shinjuku one has a uniquely cozy vibe that makes it by far our favorite. So whether you want to browse a few books before buying them, cozy up with something good to read while exploring Tokyo, or simply try out a unique type of accommodation, this is definitely not a place to miss out on.
The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, USA
If you’re looking for a place that sells new and used books, it doesn’t really get better than this. The Last Bookstore is California’s largest bookshop and aside from having an enviable collection, they also create a lot of striking displays using books.
In addition to the already famous book tunnel, the bookshop features creative displays and book sculptures which attract a lot of visitors.
The bookshop’s name is also a nice bit of wordplay: in a world where people read fewer and fewer books, and where online reading is taking over, this is still a haven for those who like good old-fashioned books.
Zhongshuge in Hangzhou, China
It’s hard to find a modern bookshop that’s more impressive than Zhongshuge. An oval reading room that integrates large shelving units with modern lighting and reflections makes for a truly immersive experience.
The place is large enough, but the clever use of lighting and mirroring makes it seem even more imposing. It’s almost as if you’re entering a new universe, transcending into the world of books. Not everything is dark: some sections of the store are white, and here too, lighting and reflection make the whole thing even more impressive.
In addition to the corridors and oval room, there’s also a room for children with special attractions, as well as, of course, a lot of books on all sorts of topics.
Atlantis Books in Oia, Greece
We’ll bring our list to a close with the most serene bookshop you’ll likely ever see. What, you’ve never bought books by the gorgeous seaside?
The bookshop lies on the main street of the village of Oia, in Santorini, an island in the Greek Aegean Sea. It was opened in 2004 by a group of adventurous young students from England, Cyprus, and the US. “We found an empty building in Oia, drank some whiskey, and signed a lease. We found a dog and a cat, opened a bank account, built some shelves and filled the place with books,” the people who founded the bookshop recall. “We adopted a new dog and a new cat along the way. Some of us have gotten married and had kids of our own, so we’re still laughing about how our children will run the shop someday.”
The store is a maze of books in several languages (English, Greek, French, and Italian, to mention just a few). You can find everything from modern fiction to ancient poetry and philosophy. Sprinkled along the beautiful white walls of Oia in the midst of beautiful scenery, this bookshop is an oasis in and of itself. Oh, and don’t be surprised if you still spot a cat or two sleeping between the books.
Buying a book and reading a book can be two very different hobbies, and anyone with a large stack of unread books knows this feeling. At the end of the day, books are books though, regardless of where they’re bought.
All bookshops are special, and from the small mom-and-pop shops to the large libraries with huge collections, they’re all important. Still, there’s no reason not to appreciate the beautiful bookshops and how, like books themselves, they too can transport us to different worlds.