Travel is one of life’s great privileges. The opportunity to experience a new place is probably what inspired St. Augustine to say, “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.”
Historic sites and great restaurants are always must-sees, but so are beautiful bookstores – both the sprawling architectural masterpieces and the quaint shops tucked away in beautiful settings. When planning your itinerary, a quick online search should point you in the direction of bookstores loved by both tourists and locals. Or ask people in the coffee shops or museums you visit for recommended book shops.
Most importantly, save room in your suitcase for a few new reads. After visiting these spots, you’ll be glad you did.
Zhongshuge in Chongqing, China
Imagine walking through M.C. Escher’s mind-bending staircases, except you’re also surrounded by books. This is the thrill of visiting China’s ninth and newest Zhonshuge bookstore in Chongqing. Mirrored ceilings expand every room, creating the illusion of endless bookshelves. Keeping readers in mind, the store also has beautiful cave-like reading rooms. Go for the architectural genius, stay for the endless browsing.
3F-4F, Zodi Plaza, Yangjiaping District, Chongqing, China.
Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, Italy
The “acqua alta” (high water) bookstore is no stranger to Venice’s frequent flooding. But like all hearty Venetians, they cope. Books are stacked high off the floor in shelves, bathtubs, and gondolas and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the owner will. A short ten-minute walk from Piazza San Marco, the bookstore is tucked away on a small side street, making its doorway feel every bit as magical as what’s inside: a mix of new and very old books, intrepid book hunters like yourself, and a few cats.
Calle Longa SM Formosa 5176 / b, Venice, Italy; online at facebook.com/libreriaacquaalta.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina
This bookstore is often at the top of many “Most Beautiful Bookstores” lists, and for good reason. Set in a meticulously preserved 100-year-old domed theater, the massive store sells more than 120,000 titles. Visitors can sit in a gold-trimmed theater box and enjoy a book, or sip cortado on the wide stage that has been converted to a café.
Avenue Santa Fe 1860, C1123 CABA, Buenos Aires, Argentina; online at turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar.
Cook and Book in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium
Cook and Book isn’t just a bookstore, it’s an adventurous literary experience. First, it’s comprised of nine bookstores, each with their own themed décor: Comics, Children’s books, Travel, Fine Arts, Music, the Greenhouse, the Roman room for history and politics, the Cucina, and the English bookshop for all things British. Then, there are not one but two restaurants, each with a full bar. On any given night, one of the bookstores is hosting a concert or a seminar. It’s a community bookstore in the truest form.
Place du Temps Libre 1, 1200 Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, Belgium; online at cookandbook.be.
Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, Louisiana
In the heart of the French Quarter, this charming bookstore sells new and rare titles. For six months in 1925, Faulkner himself lived in this apartment house, and today’s bookstore has quite a collection of books by and about the man. Rumor has it his ghost haunts the shop, but knowing New Orleans’ fondness for ghost stories, we can’t confirm or deny it.
624 Pirate Alley, New Orleans, Louisiana; online at faulknerhousebooks.com.
Cafebrería El Péndulo in Mexico City, Mexico
A few blocks from the heart of Mexico’s national museums, Cafebrería El Péndulo is a book lover’s retreat. There are actually six branches of El Péndulo around Mexico City, but if you only get to visit one, make it the one at Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco. It has two sprawling stories of books, natural light, balcony views, a garden of plants, a gourmet café, and even a pub. You could stay there all day.
Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco, Polanco IV Secc, 11560, Mexico City, Mexico; online at pendulo.com.
The Honesty Bookshop, Hay Castle in Herefordshire, UK
Hay Castle, a medieval home near the border of England and Wales, is being renovated after surviving centuries of fire damage, world wars, and neglect. But it’s The Honesty Bookshop on the grounds of the estate that has captured our hearts. Since the 1960s, visitors to Hay Castle who browse this tiny outdoor bookshop are invited to take what they want. The only instructions: “All books are £1. There is no till; money is simply left in the collecting box.” For true book lovers, nothing is more beautiful.
Hay Castle, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire, HR3 5DG, United Kingdom; online at haycastletrust.org.
Poplar Kid’s Republic Picture Book Store in Beijing, China
Whether you’re traveling with children or not, Kid’s Republic is a wonderland not to be missed. The first floor is a big activity room, the bookstore is on the second floor, and a ribbon of color twists through the entire place – a literal path to inspiration. Designed exclusively for kids to discover their next favorite book, there are no organized bookshelves. Instead, young readers are allowed to simply grab a book and sit anywhere they like as they enjoy it.
Chaoyang District, Beijing No. 39 East Third Ring Road West, SOHO, Building 131 362 shops; online at poplar.com.cn.
Atlantis Books in Oía, Santorini, Greece
Built into the side of a cliff in beautiful Santorini, the Aegean Sea offers an incredible backdrop for reading. The owners are living our dream: Oliver and Craig visited the island for a week and decided on the spot to open its first bookstore. That was 2004, and the store is still as popular as ever. Seven languages are represented on their shelves; they’ve even started their own press.
Nomikos Street, Oía 847 02, Greece; online at atlantisbooks.org.
Montague Book Mill in Montague, Massachusetts
Boasting “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find” this used book store is worth the pursuit. Thousands of used books are packed into a converted 1842 gristmill overlooking the scenic Sawmill River about 15 miles north of Amherst. This is the type of bookstore that begs you to stay a while and browse, or if you’d rather have some guidance, the well-read employees are always ready with a recommendation.
440 Greenfield Road, Montague, Massachusetts; online montaguebookmill.com.