Atlantis Books, Santorini

Craig Walzer of Atlantis books in Santorini
Craig Walzer of Atlantis books in Santorini © Bill Geourgoussis

“It actually began as a joke,” says Craig Walzer of Atlantis Books, the iconic shop he and five friends founded in the town of Oia on Santorini in 2004. An American studying abroad, Walzer visited the picturesque Greek island off-season with his friends and mused half-seriously about starting a store full of the literature they all loved. Thus, what began as a pipe dream – pieced together using shelving scavenged from Santorini’s beaches and junkyards, and books left behind in various hotels by travellers – is now a true bibliophiles’ destination. Based in a classic 19th-century Venetian captain’s house, the shop is a study in Cycladic perfection: whitewashed walls with azure-blue details outside and floor-to-ceiling shelves inside, crammed to capacity to maximise space. There is, of course, a sizeable Greek-interest section, including beautiful cloth-covered editions of The Odyssey (€22) – “on an island in Greece, it makes perfect sense,” says Walzer. Christina Ohly Evans

The Babel Library, Mallorca

La Biblioteca de Babel in Palma de Mallorca
La Biblioteca de Babel in Palma de Mallorca

Fans of Latin-American philosophical literature will get the reference to Jorge Luis Borges’s 1941 book The Library of Babel, but otherwise there is little to distinguish La Biblioteca de Babel from one of the many popular bars in Palma de Mallorca. Outside tables host a chic clientele drinking wine against the backdrop of the Basilica de San Miguel de Palma and, at first glance, there is not a text in sight. Yet venture a few steps beyond the street tables and a treasure chest of fiction awaits in a space framed by wooden beams, seemingly curved bookshelves and strategically placed bottles of wine. Charlene Prempeh

Blackwell’s, Oxford

Blackwell’s on Broad Street in Oxford
Blackwell’s on Broad Street in Oxford © Alamy

Founded in 1879, Blackwell’s has been selling books to Oxford students and residents since the first lightbulb was invented. The flagship store, which is set over four floors of a grand 18th-century building on historic Broad Street, began as an academic retailer, and has sold university reading materials to everyone from Margaret Thatcher to JRR Tolkien: Ulric van den Bogaerde, who manages the academic department, remembers standing in the middle of the travel section and “suddenly being surrounded by Secret Service men”, before realising that Bill Clinton was strolling around the shop, reliving his days as an Oxford student. The space has long since expanded beyond the purely pedagogic and is now a one-stop shop for all literary needs, and there’s always a selection of recently signed books from the readings hosted by the shop, which have seen designer Vivienne Westwood, astronaut Chris Hadfield and novelist Margaret Atwood take to the stage. Other notable names in the visitor’s book include Mikhail Gorbachev, Muhammad Ali and David Attenborough. Baya Simons

Dujiangyan Zhongshuge Bookstore, Sichuan

Dujiangyan Zhongshuge bookstore in Sichuan, southwest China
Dujiangyan Zhongshuge bookstore in Sichuan, southwest China © Shao Feng

Dujiangyan Zhongshuge debuted last year in south-west China, the newest outpost of the Chinese bookseller and the latest designed by architecture firm X+Living. For each space, the firm looked to the surrounding landscape for inspiration: here it was the Dujiangyan irrigation system, which dates to the third-century BC and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Boat-shaped tables for displaying books are set on shiny black-tile floors. Those tiles, and the 80,000 books sold here, are the only straight lines to be found in the more than 10,000sq ft space: the layered design, described by many as “surreal”, consists of curved staircases and walnut bookshelves, round columns and arched doorways, all magnified and multiplied by a mirrored ceiling. Dujiangyan, Sichuan, China Rima Suqi

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina

El Ateneo is housed in a former theatre
El Ateneo is housed in a former theatre © Alamy

Housed in a gilded 1919 building that was once a theatre and then a cinema before being converted into a bookstore just over 20 years ago, El Ateneo Grand Splendid probably draws more bibliophiles to its Recoleta location for its decor and architecture than its 120,000-plus, mostly Spanish language books on offer. Much of the 21,000sq ft interior is original, from the Nazareno Orlandi frescoes that adorn the ceiling to the ornate decorative mouldings. The stage, where some of the country’s most famous flamenco dancers once performed, now has a bar and seating from which to enjoy a coffee while reading or people-watching. RS

Jazzhole, Lagos

Pianist Duro Ikujeno in the Jazzhole in Lagos
Pianist Duro Ikujeno in the Jazzhole in Lagos © Sebastian Barros

Nestled on the ground floor of a squat building in the bustling Lagos neighbourhood of Ikoyi is the Jazzhole, which is a popular and well-established bookshop certainly – customers include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole. But, as the name suggests, the shop is also part record store, part café, part community space and, during the pandemic, an intimate performance venue for Afrobeats star Tiwa Savage, whose performances were broadcast around the world by New York Public Radio. With its eclectic stock of fiction, essays, cookbooks, art, records and more, it’s a port of call for those seeking obscure tracks from the ’70s, classics by Chinua Achebe, a weighty tome on Nigerian history or a night of live music. 168 Awolowo Rd, Ikoyi 106104, Lagos, Nigeria Cherish Rufus

What’s your favourite bookstore in the world?

Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll publish your nominations in a forthcoming story…

Kitab Khana, Mumbai

When the motorcycles, shouting hawkers and stalls sizzling with frying snacks get too much, Kitab Khana – a spacious, wood-panelled bookshop in a colonial-era building in Mumbai’s southern Fort neighbourhood – makes for welcome respite from the heat and bustle. The store, named after the palace libraries kept for Mughal emperors (it means “a home for books”), stocks an intriguing variety of Indian and international authors, including collections in languages such as Hindi and Marathi, with staff on hand to provide guidance and cosy nooks in which to read. A programme of regular talks and readings and an in-house café round out the offering. The shop has made a recent comeback after a fire last year devastated its interior and destroyed tens of thousands of books. Benjamin Parkin

Ler Devagar, Lisbon

Those seeking cultural delights in Lisbon head to the Belém district, where Unesco World Heritage sites such as the Torre de Belém and Jerónimos Monastery sit alongside the undulating lines of the Amanda Levete-designed Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology at the edge of the Tagus river. Such a pilgrimage could also include a visit to Ler Devagar, a bookshop housed in the creative hub Lx Factory. The elegantly industrial store boasts impossibly high ceilings stacked top to bottom with books (50,000 of them, used and new), while exhibitions, theatre and talks make for a glorious literary feast. CP

Librairie les insolites à Tanger, Tangier

Librairie les Insolites à Tanger
Librairie les Insolites à Tanger

Librairie Des Colonnes, with its 70-year pedigree, is arguably more famous; but the smaller Librairie Les Insolites à Tanger, opened 11 years ago by Cannes-born Stéphanie Gaou, has a special charm. The bookstore-gallery-events locale, situated on a quiet, traffic-free side street, brings in Moroccans and expats of all sorts for readings, discussions and the simply browsing of the hundreds of titles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish that line the bold yellow shelves, are piled on chairs and are sometimes arranged on café tables. The store’s terrace views extend over the Strait of Gibraltar (there is also, in fact, a lovely café). There might be Shakespeare in Spanish and a French literary journal. There’s definitely Paul Bowles and Daniel Rondeau – the American and French chroniclers, respectively, of the city. 28 Khalid Ibn El Oualid, Tanger 90000 (+212 5393 71367) Maria Shollenbarger

Marfa Book Company, Marfa, Texas

Marfa Book Company, founded in 1998
Marfa Book Company, founded in 1998 © Alamy

Long before the glitterati turned Marfa into a buzzy tourist destination, when most visitors to this west Texas town were art and design obsessives making pilgrimages to experience everything Donald Judd, there was Marfa Book Company. Founded in 1998, it has grown in scope with the town’s appeal, and offers an edited yet impressive selection of art, architecture and design books, as well as limited-edition prints and objects. Marfa Book Company has its own imprint, regularly produces exhibitions, performances and readings and even founded the city’s annual Agave Festival. RS

Open House, Bangkok

Open House, on the sixth floor of Central Embassy in Bangkok
Open House, on the sixth floor of Central Embassy in Bangkok © SpaceShift

It’s on the sixth floor of Central Embassy, a 37-storey skyscraper, part luxury-hotel (Park Hyatt), part shopping mall – because this is south-east Asia. But don’t be put off by the escalator climb: you’d come to Open House for the soaring, light-suffused, wall-less space alone. The store weaves its way between more than a dozen restaurant outposts and seating areas across the entire floor of the building; its bespoke library walls climb 20ft towards the ceilings, and are accessed by slick glass-and-steel stair units. Not that the book selection itself isn’t vast and varied enough to warrant a visit, with more than 20,000 titles comprising English-language and Thai fiction and non-fiction, tons of regional history and reference books, as well as art and architecture tomes, some of them very rare. There’s also an art-supply section, hand-made Thai and Japanese wrapping papers, prints and stationery. Level 6, 1031 Ploen Chit Road, Bangkok (+662-160 5949) MS

Otherwise, Rome

Otherwise bookshop, opened four years ago in Rome
Otherwise bookshop, opened four years ago in Rome

It was as hotly contended a topic as has hit my email and DM queues in some time, but for English-language fiction, non-fiction, history and art titles, Otherwise, a stone’s throw – literally, if you’ve a good arm – from the Piazza Navona, takes the prize. (I’m a fan too, so counted my own vote.) Opened four years ago by the owners of Italian bookstore Altroquando (which is just across the street, and tops the local list for Italian book heaven) in collaboration with independent Roman publishing house Edizioni E/O (which includes Elena Ferrante among its authors), Otherwise’s bright interior is dense with vignettes. These are organised by a staff who know a lot about almost everything on the floor – they write up little recommendations that are both displayed throughout the space and posted on their website. American and British fiction is as up to date as it gets here; there’s also a second-hand-book corner and an excellent cross-section of young adult and children’s fiction and literature. Plus book clubs, occasional live readings and the odd music performance. MS

Peter Harrington, London

Peter Harrington’s store on Dover Street
Peter Harrington’s store on Dover Street
Peter Harrington stocks 20,000 antiquarian gems
Peter Harrington stocks 20,000 antiquarian gems

What began in 1969 as a stall in Chelsea Antiques Market run by Peter Harrington and his brother has developed into a two-shop operation and a thriving e-store. Today, the Chelsea headquarters of this world-renowned antiquarian dealer isn’t a “dusty old bookshop with some grumpy old man peering over his glasses”, jokes Harrington’s son Pom, now the owner, but a smartly converted set of townhouses lined, floor to ceiling, with vintage books, and staffed by a team of young, approachable and knowledgeable booksellers. The extensive stock – some 20,000 books – has included gems such as a 1937 copy of Gone With the Wind inscribed by Vivien Leigh to a friend before she was cast as Scarlett O’Hara in the film, and A Tale of Two Cities with an inscription to George Eliot by Charles Dickens. BS

Powell’s, Portland

Powell’s first opened in Chicago in 1970 before moving to its home in Portland
Powell’s first opened in Chicago in 1970 before moving to its home in Portland
Powell’s claims to be the “largest independent new and used bookstore in the world”
Powell’s claims to be the “largest independent new and used bookstore in the world” © Darius Kuzmickas

Powell’s began life in Chicago in 1970, when graduate student Michael Powell decided to start his own used bookstore, borrowing $3,000 to lease a space. It was an instant hit, and when his father Walter came to help out one summer, he enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to bring the idea back to his hometown of Portland. Powell’s Portland eventually became the HQ, and now lays claim to the title of “largest independent new and used bookstore in the world”, housing 1m titles. Its founding USP – used and new, hardcover and paperback all on the same shelf – is still somewhat unusual today. Alongside the exhaustive edit of books, Powell’s boasts an own-brand range of gifts, including a unisex fragrance, Powell’s By Powell’s, which uses musky notes of violet, wood and biblichor to evoke the scent of a bookshop. BS

Printed Matter, New York

Printed Matter was established by a group of artists including conceptualist Sol LeWitt
Printed Matter was established by a group of artists including conceptualist Sol LeWitt

Established by a group of artists (including American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt) 45 years ago, Printed Matter is a source for “publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right”. The list of current and former board members of this not-for-profit includes some of the most important American artists and art dealers of recent years, including Kiki Smith, Richard Prince, Barbara Gladstone, Christopher Wool and John Waters. The shelves of the larger Chelsea location and newer, smaller spot on St Mark’s Place just inside the Swiss Institute are stocked with a plethora of products including books, zines, postcards, buttons, T-shirts, CDs and more. Some names are recognisable – Ed Ruscha, Guido Guidi – but most are not, making for a refreshing and stimulating browsing experience of avant-garde works. RS

The Schomburg Shop, New York

Conceived primarily as an independent bookstore to honour and celebrate black writers, the sun-drenched, street-facing Schomburg Shop is set within the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture. A division of The New York Public Library founded in 1925, the Center is named after the black historian and activist Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. The original store opened more than 15 years ago, but a 2017 redesign gave rise to new flexible fixtures that lend themselves to literary discovery: adaptable white shelves and neon beams to vertically divide the book sections. The expansive book collection includes titles such as Woke Baby ($7.99), a lyrical instruction on toddler empowerment, alongside (H)afrocentric: Volumes 1-4 ($20), a comic-book series tackling gentrification, racism and police violence. CP

Shakespeare and Company, Paris

Shakespeare and Company in Paris
Shakespeare and Company in Paris © Horst Friedrichs. Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers by Horst A Friedrichs & Stuart Husband

Perhaps most famous of all bookshops is Shakespeare and Company, the bohemian-spirited English-language booksellers situated moments from the Seine on Paris’s Left Bank. It was first opened as Le Mistral in 1951 by George Whitman, who subsequently rechristened it Shakespeare and Company in homage to Sylvia Beach’s original bookshop of that name in Odéon that closed during the war. The warren-like 17th-century building has played host to readings by authors ranging from Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs to Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers, while some claim James Joyce to be buried in the cellar. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are stocked with the latest literary releases, while a rare and used section features treasures such as an inscribed edition of John Berger’s erotic historical novel G (€800) and an illustrated set of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (€250). Most charming of all, the shop still runs Whitman’s “tumbleweed” policy, allowing writers, artists and intellectuals seeking refuge to live on the premises – literally sleeping among the shelves – on the condition that they work a few hours a day in the shop, and “write a single-page autobiography for George’s archives”. BS

Strand Bookstore, New York

Strand Bookstore, founded in 1927 in an area of New York then known as Book Row
Strand Bookstore, founded in 1927 in an area of New York then known as Book Row © Strand Bookstore
The Strand Bookstore boasts “18 miles” of books
Strand boasts “18 miles” of books © Horst Friedrichs. Bookstores: A Celebration of Independent Booksellers by Horst A Friedrichs & Stuart Husband

Founded in 1927 in an area of the city then known as “book row”, the Strand is a must-visit for book lovers in NYC. Located in a historic building and still family owned, the Strand is the city’s ultimate destination for new, used and rare books – more than 18 miles of them – plus literary gifts and goods. On any given day, locals and tourists alike browse the carts outside for treasures at bargain prices, while interior designers and aesthetes take advantage of the Strand’s famous “books by the foot” programme where one can purchase books in the same colour family or in curated collections ranging from pocket classics to vintage cookbooks and Victorian-era novels. RS

Tronsmo Bokhandel, Oslo

Tronsmo Bokhandel was “the best bookstore in the world”, according to Allen Ginsberg
Tronsmo Bokhandel was “the best bookstore in the world”, according to Allen Ginsberg

“The best bookstore in the world”, according to Allen Ginsberg. Decorated with quirky, colourful artworks by artists such as illustrator Anette Moi, the bright, light-filled two-storey shop is stocked with an alternative collection of books – ranging from Norwegian bildungsromans to feminist texts and queer literature – comics, music, postcards, films and more. Even though it’s situated in a neighbourhood teeming with bookshops, Tronsmo still manages to stand out from the crowd. As they put it, you won’t “bang your head on advertising posters or stumble across stacks of bestsellers as soon as you walk in the door”. CR

Tsutaya Books, Tokyo

Tsutaya Books at Daikanyama T-Site in Tokyo
Tsutaya Books at Daikanyama T-Site in Tokyo
Tsutaya Books also boasts music, videos, stationery and a bar in its library
Tsutaya Books also boasts music, videos, stationery and a bar in its library

Tokyo is full of fascinating shops, including the cluster of around 180 used bookstores in Jimbocho, but for the global traveller, nothing quite matches the Tsutaya Books flagship store at Daikanyama T-Site. It is primarily a bookstore but much more beyond that, spread across three sleek buildings on the crest of a hill in the fashionable shopping district of Daikanyama. After wandering through its six departments – including books in translation, music, videos and stationery – you can sip an Old Fashioned at the bar in its library space, which is lined with a huge collection of vintage Japanese and American magazines, to add a touch of midcentury glamour. John Gapper

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Sylvia Beach founded the original Shakespeare and Company

Letter in response to this article:

The ‘best of’ bookshops barely scratch the surface / From Russell Bishop and others

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