With an endless collection of books online and bookstores closing left and right, bookstores are becoming something rare and lonely. The experience of going to a specific place to buy a book is being erased by the commodity of buying a book with just a click of a button. Fortunately there are bookstores that aren’t just stores or gathering spots but beautiful, fascinating destinations in their own right. What makes them stand out among ordinary bookstores is the fact that many carry not only beautiful architectures but also great atmospheres offering an amazing visiting and shopping experience.
Here are a few of my favorites bookstores around the world that are worth a trip out of your travel itinerary.
• El Ateneo Grand Splendid | Buenos Aires, Argentina
First a theatre, then a cinema and now one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen. Hidden on busy Av. Santa Fe, this building whole structure (including stage, balconies and parterre) has been maintained as it was once. So you may sit in the balconies to read a book or gaze around.
The beauty and magnificence of this space is unique. Millions of books fill the 4 levels of the building including a large selection of English language books. A café is set up on the former stage where you can take some books to read in case you doubt which one to pick.
This is one of the places you cannot miss when visiting Buenos Aires, no matter if you are looking to buy a book or just to appreciate the architectural beauty of the site.
Address: Av Santa Fe 1860 | Barrio Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
• Más Puro Verso | Montevideo, Uruguay
In the walkway of Sarandi that wends its way from the Plaza Independencia to the Mercado del Puerto there is a magnificent building that houses this lovely library with a cafe/restaurant on the second floor. Built by Architect Leopoldo Tosi in 1917 this building housed the optical firm of Pablo Ferrando . It combines 19th Century English styled iron and glass structure with a French classicism on its upper levels.
The whole atmosphere is quite impressive. The restaurant on the top floor is the perfect place to rest and relax after an afternoon of sightseeing, the food is great and reasonably priced. There are couches by the window where you can sip a café and watch the people in the street below. The prevailing collection of the bookstore is Spanish, which may be an inconvenient for some and an opportunity for others who wish to learn the local language.
Address: Sarandi 675 & Bacacay Paetonal Sarandi | Montevideo, Uruguay
• Livraria Lello & Irmão | Porto, Portugal
Also known as Livraria Chardron or simply Livraria Lello this is a bookstore located in central Porto, Portugal. Along with Bertrand in Lisbon, it is one of the oldest bookstores in the country. The facade and much of the interior are decorated in Art Nouveau, with some features of the Gothic. This bookshop, frequently rated among the top bookstores in the world, provided inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (the grand ornate staircase is replicated in Dumbledore’s office.) Aside from the design of the bookshop there are a heap of books (in different languages) to choose from.
I visited it in January 2015 and the entrance was free but now there is a 3€ fee to get in which can be refundable if buying a book. I had the chance to visit it on a day where there where not many tourists, so I had the chance to relax and appreciate the craftsmanship and gorgeous atmosphere of this lovely bookshop.
Address: R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
• Shakespeare and Co. | Paris, France
This is a tiny, crowded and magical place located just off the Seine across from Notre Dame Cathedral. The place itself has a great history that combines two independent bookstores. It all begins in 1919 with Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate from New Jersey, opening the first one at rue de l´Odéon. This bookstore was the gathering place of many then aspiring young writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. Unfortunately the bookshop had to be closed in 1940 during the German occupation. A few years later in 1951, the second bookshop was opened by George Whitman in its actual location in the 5th arrondissement. It was originally named “Le Mistral”, but was renamed to “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach’s store.
Today the shop has become a popular tourist attraction that offers both regular and second-hand books specializing in English-language literature. Though it is generally crowded this place is definitely word a visit. All the interior space is occupied by a book, you will definitely bump into strangers and knock over a few books form the stacks around every corner while making your way up the stairs where you will find an old piano that can be played by any enthusiastic visitor. There is also a café that runs in partnership with Bob’s Bake Shop where you will find American-style baked goods and vegan and gluten-free dishes. The atmosphere here is from a past time, no wonder why this place has been featured in different films such as in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset, and in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
Address: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
• Cafebrería El Péndulo | Mexico City, Mexico
As its name implies, the Cafebrería El Péndulo began as a combination of coffee shop and bookstore, located in the Condesa neighborhood, in the year 1993. Since its original conception other cultural and artistic events were integrated, from an exquisite collection of records and art films, to cultural activities of all kinds, such as concerts, book presentations, live music, poetry readings, stand-up comedy and literary courses. Over time, El Péndulo evolved into a bookstore chain with 6 stores locations throughout Mexico City. All of them feature the same architectural elements implemented to achieve a unique atmosphere and an identity and brand style: open and bright spaces, eclectic décor, coffee bar, living rooms, tables and music. Good for lunch or dinner with friends, you can also have a cocktail or eat between shelves with books or near a piano listening to live music.
My favorites are El Péndulo Polanco and El Péndulo La Roma, but in the 6 you will find a great ambient and a wide book collection.
Address: POLANCO: Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco / ROMA: Av. Álvaro Obregón 86, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte. / ZONA ROSA: Calle Hamburgo #126, Cuauhtemoc, Zona Rosa, Mexico City