These bookstores would make perfect settings for fiction stories.
Sometimes it feels like there are no places in real life that stack up to the fictional settings of our favorite stories. And then there are bookstores. All book stores have a touch of mystique about them, but some feel like they could be the backdrop to the beginning of their own books.
What better place to let your mind roam than through a labyrinth of books? Whether you're a writer crafting a unique setting for your characters or a book-loving adventurer seeking unusual places to travel, these bookstores will spark your imagination. Here are a few of the most imaginative bookstores in the world:
Most Beautiful Bookstores
Atlantis Books, Snatorini, Greece - This bookstore has a beautiful view, overlooking the town of Santorini and the pristine Aegean Sea. But what makes this bookstore truly special is the fact that you can rent a cat to sit with you while you read!
El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico is a great place not only to buy books, but to read. With vines curving up the staircase and trees everywhere, it’s like a garden set inside a bookstore.
The Academic Bookstore, Helsinki, Finland - Created by an architect, Alvar Alto, the Academic Bookstore is a lesson in modernist design and a true work of art to behold.
The Last Bookstore, L.A., California, USA - This unique bookstore arranges their books in strange ways, with gravity defying bookshelves and more!
Libraria Alta Acqua, Venice, Italy - This bookstore has a unique way of showcasing its books, arranging them in boats and bathtubs. They even feature furniture made of books!
Librairie Avant Garde, Nanjing, China - This is an underground bomb shelter converted into a bookstore and parking lot. The Christian owner of the bookshop has added to the stoic feeling of the store with giant crosses and other religious insignia.
Liveria Lello, Porto, Portugal - This beautiful bookstore adds a magical feeling with majestic, red stairs, grand bookcases, and an overall beautiful design. J.K. Rowling called it her inspiration for Flourish and Blotts bookstore in her Harry Potter series and the store calls itself “the most beautiful bookstore in the world.”
Saraiva, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Books are beautiful on their own, but when there’s a row along the whole top level of a book store of books arranged in a giant rainbow, the true beauty of the books shines through!
Zhongshuge Bookstore, Chongqing, China - This bookstores is designed to resemble a kaleidoscope, with colorful rooms and ceilings reflecting colors off of mirror and stairs all around. It’s a truly amazing design!
Book Row, New York, USA - This used to be a street hosting 50 bookstores, but it no longer exists today. What a site it would have been to see!
College street, Calcutta, India - This street of book vendors is known as a colony of books. The stalls of bookstores stretch 1/2 a mile with books in many languages, making it feel like a world festival of books!
Fjaerland Book Town - Old sheds, houses, and hotels house books in this town set near an iceberg. As the land floods in summer, the books are transferred to another part of town and back again after the floods clear - it’s a lot of work, but worth it for the sake of these precious books.
Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, Wales - This actually is a literary festival hosted by the small town of Hay on Wye, which has over 40 bookstores!
The Largest Bookstores
Bart’s Books, Ojai, USA: With 1 million books, this is a large bookstore, but with the books set outside of what used to be the original owner’s house and beautiful scenery all around, it’s more than a bookstore. If the sheer volume of books is not enough, there is a discount shelf with 35 cent books and cans set aside so that guests can pay anytime they’re ready.
The Book Garden, Tehran, Iran: This bookstore makes the claim of being the largest bookstore in the world, being on a lot of over 700,000 square feet. The top of the bookstore is a vast garden and the store contains more than just books, including a restaurant, prayer room, art gallery, and cinema. This might be more like a book mall than just a store.
The Bookshop, Wigtown, Scotland - This bookstore features half a mile of shelving!
The Jazzhole in Lagos, Nigeria - this is the largest collection of books and artifacts representing black culture around the world
John K. King Used and Rare Books - With four stories of books this is easily one of the largest bookstores in the USA, but it also qualifies as set in a strange places, considering it was once a 1940’s glove factory. The store is also home to 2 dogs and 2 canaries.
Powell’s Bookstore - they call themselves a city of books and it’s no wonder, with over a million books, this store also claims to be the largest bookstore in the world.
Strand Bookstore, Manhattan, USA - With 18 miles of books, this is one of the largest bookstores in the world.
Waterstones, Picadilly, England - 8 miles of bookshelves makes this the largest bookstore in Europe.
Set in Strange Places
Barter Books, Alnwick, England - If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On,” you’ll be interested to know that it was coined in this bookstore. Located in a train station, the store features model trains running atop its bookshelves and lines of poetry written on banners along the shelving, too! You can still barter books here, as the name suggests and purchase on credit. The store also includes a cafe with locally sourced foods and a toy room for children.
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Mastricht, Netherlands is set in a 700 year old church repurposed into a gorgeous bookstore.
The Book Barge, London, England - This book store set on a boat used to travel before finding a permanent place in Lichfield & environs, in London, England.
BrazenBooks - If you’d rather not travel, you could browse this bookstore in a home. Specifically in an apartment in New York, New York, this bookstore feels like a secret spot for finding your next fictional adventure.
LaCavern aux Livres, Anvers-sur-Oise, France - This unique bookstore is set on a train!
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina - One of my favorite ideas, the owners of an old movie theater converted it into a majestic bookstore which still has a stage for hosting events
Munro’s, Victoria, Canada - The largest indie bookstore in Canada is also an old bank where overstock is kept in vaults. The store is the brain-child of Nobel-winning author Alice Munro.
Selexy Domininicanen, Maastricht, The Netherlands - This bookstore was a church, then a warehouse, then used for bike storage before finally becoming a bookstore.
Words on the Water, Regent’s Canal, London - Set in a 1920’s Dutch Barge, this bookstore is one of a kind.
Bookstores that are not quite bookstores
Books Actually, Singapore - this bookstores has more than one location. It’s all over Singapore, in fact, in the form of vending machines. That’s right - it’s a bookstore in a vending machine! The machines are meant to introduce foreigners visiting the country to Singaporean authors.
Books for Cooks, United Kingdom - This is both a bookstore and a restaurant, with the kitchen upstairs preparing recipes from the cookbooks it sells below.
Tell a Story, Portugal is a book vendor in a van. They travel around the country with books in English by local writers in an effort to introduce tourists to Portuguese authors. They also encourage visitors to tell their own story, by offering postcards and pens to customers.
The Bookworm, Beijing, China - Have a cocktail and enjoy a music evening at this bookstore
Cook & Book, Brussels, Belgium- This red and black bookstore has eight unique, if not eccentric, rooms with 800 vintage design books on the ceiling, a cafe, and unique objects in each room.
Libreria Palazzo Roberti, Bassano del Grappa, Italy - This bookstore is a converted 18th century palazzo, still hosting concerts and photo exhibitions.
The Paddyfield Bookstore, Xiadi, China - Set in an abandoned house overlooking a paddy field in an 800 year old village, this bookstore houses 7,500 books and hosts exhibitions, music acts, and theater shows, making it much more than a bookstore!
Bookstores for Literary Elites
City Lights Books, San Francisco, USA - Founded by Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the 1950's, this book shop was the first to sell only paperbacks and was a meeting spot for talented writers and poets. It's now a tourist attraction cited for it's role in literary culture.
Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France is a writer’s hangout, with several famous writers congregating to discuss the craft.
Bookstores open 24 hours
1200 Bookshop, Guangzhou, China - This bookstore is open 24 hours and has a bar, kitchen, and couches, making it the perfect place for a midnight read along with your midnight snack.
Book & Bed, Tokyo, Japan - If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a bookstore, Book & Bed is both a hostel and a bookstore with 5,000 books.
Join the conversation:
Read more articles about these and other unusual bookstores:
.15 Magical Bookstores Around the World. (2018, April, 8). Trafalgar. https://www.trafalgar.com/real-word/best-bookstores-around-the-world/
15 of the Most Unbelievably Beautiful Bookstores in the world. Arch 20. https://www.arch2o.com/unbelievably-beautiful-bookstores-world/
Ahlin, C. (2017, March, 20). The 10 Most Unconventional Bookstores in the World. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/the-10-most-unconventional-bookstores-in-the-world-44840
Avakian, T. (2017, Aug. 29). Inside the Massive New Bookshop That Could Be the World's Biggest. Travel and Leisure. https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/book-garden-largest-bookshop-iran
Bausells, M. (2014, Oct. 10). Weird and Wonderful Bookshops Worldwide, in Pictures. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/gallery/2014/oct/10/weird-and-wonderful-bookshops-worldwide-in-pictures
Childers, C. (2017, Jan, 30). 50 Must-Visit Beautiful Bookstores on Six Continents. Book Riot. https://bookriot.com/50-must-visit-beautiful-bookstores-on-six-continents/
Delulio, C. (2017, Nov. 6). The 11 Most Unique Bookstores in the World. Fodors Travel. https://www.fodors.com/news/photos/the-11-most-unique-bookstores-in-the-world
Oulton, E. (2017, Feb, 27). 12 of the Biggest Bookshops in the World For When You Want to Lose Yourself in Literature. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/12-of-the-biggest-bookshops-in-the-world-for-when-you-want-to-lose-yourself-in-literature-40100
Temple, E. (2018, March, 15). The 10 Most Famous Bookstores in the World. Literary Hub. https://lithub.com/the-10-most-famous-bookstores-in-the-world/
Wilson, M. (2020, Aug, 7). Bookstores Built in Strange Places Around the World, from Boats to Bank Vaults. Insider. https://www.insider.com/bookstores-built-strange-places-around-world