Travels in Europe: Bookstore Browsing


This is the third in a series of posts about how travel, reading, writing and communicating intersected during my five month European backpacking trip.

Bob Dylan played softly in the background as we leafed through magazines and dunked homemade chocolate chip cookies into our hot tea. After about an hour, I went wandering through the bookstore, selecting a few titles to bring back to our comfy corner in the café part of the shop. We splurged on another pot of tea, split a slice of carrot cake and spent several more hours reading and writing letters to folks back home. Of all the bookstore visits I made during my European travels, that afternoon at Massolit Books and Café in Krakow was by far the very best. (Here’s an interior photo and praise from others who love it there too.)

Over half of the 25+ bookstores I visited were either entirely or partially English-language shops. But even the ones with shelves lined only with Hungarian, German or Dutch books warranted stops along the way. No matter the language (or location), I absolutely love strolling through bookstores, thumbing the spines and scanning titles, especially colorful collections that make up the travel sections of many shops. Sometimes I’ll stop to make a purchase, but often I simply browse the aisles and find a quiet spot to sit and read or write for a short while.

The two Vale Novak bookstores I visited in Ljubljana also ranked high on my favorites list for this trip. At the shop on Wolfova I bought my very first Moleskine from a soft-spoken Slovenian woman. When I commented on how much I enjoyed the store, she handed me a small map with directions to their other location just a few blocks away. “Please go take a look,” she smiled. “It’s different and I think you will like it.”

If you love fashion and design as much as books, then you shouldn’t miss it either. The shop on Zidovska contains several floors brimming with books, belts and handbags — hip clothing by American Apparel shares space with volumes on architecture, food and fashion. I can’t recall seeing a specific travel section, but I might have missed it as I drooled over stylish goods much too rich for my backpacker budget. What I do remember vividly are the oversized photos of Madonna, Alain de Botton and Jamie Oliver that I passed as I left — bewildered, impressed and empty-handed. (FYI, one bookstore in Ljubljana that does have a travel section is Kod & Kam; the entire tiny corner shop is a guidebook and map store.)

Here are a few more of my favorite European bookstores, followed by a list of almost all the others that I visited. It’s a non-comprehensive mix of independents and chains.

More Favorites:spuiadam.jpg

Germany: (Berlin) Every city should have a bookshop like The Berlin Story which feels like you’ve just walked into a life-size history lesson.




Czech Republic: (Prague) Anagram is fantastic, located in a quiet courtyard behind the Tyn church. And although I missed their two Prague locations, Shakespeare and Sons in Cesky Krumlov was another pleasant and peaceful surprise.

The Netherlands: (Amsterdam) I loved the Friday book market at Spui (which transforms to ArtPlein on Sundays) and Athenaeum Boekhandel located off the same square. Another well-stocked shop, The American Book Center, has a blog about their pending move to a Spui location.

And the rest:

Belgium: (Bruges) De Reyghere

Croatia: (Dubrovnik) Algoritam

France: (Lyon) Decitre

Hungary: Lira and Libri (Some stores of this chain have computer terminals available for Internet use.)

Italy: (Florence) McRae Books and La Feltrinelli

Poland: (Warsaw) American Bookstore

Portugal: (Lisbon) Bertrand Livreiros

Spain: (Madrid) Casa del Libro (Granada) Libreria Praga and Metro (These two are located right near each other on Calle Gracia.)

Have a favorite European bookstore of your own not on this list? Please tell us about it in the comments.

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10 thoughts on “Travels in Europe: Bookstore Browsing

  • Lucy Mallows

    Next Apache is at Panenska 28; mobile: 0903 818 169; Fabulous cafe set in an old Evangelical Lyceaum building with arched ceilings and creaky wooden floors, there are rumours that Ludovit Stur lived here. Created by Canadian Ben Pascoe, the cafe and bar has a magnificent collection of second-hand books, one computer where you can check your email and a gorgeous sunny courtyard in which to sip a beer and read the newspapers. They serve two Fair Trade and 2—4 exotic coffees. The staff are super friendly and helpful and there are often live jazz performances. The name has an interesting origin and comes from Pascoe’s attempt to memorise the Slovak language as it’s his version of ‘Nech sa paci’ (meaning ‘there you go’) which what waiters say when they bring your dinner or hold open a door. He also has a good way of remembering the Slovak for ‘cheers’ (Na zdravie) which is ‘nice driveway’! Open Mon—Fri 09.00—22.00, Sat—Sun 10.00—22.00.
    This is from my update to my Bradt City Guide to Bratislava (ISBN 1 84162 1420) available on Amazon and a fabulous read!

  • Lucy Mallows

    Ooops, mind wandering.
    For those of you who fancy a delicious coffee or beer, the Next Apache bookstore and coffee house is in BRATISLAVA, CAPITAL OF THE WONDERFUL, FABULOUS AND UNDER-APPRECIATED SLOVAK REPUBLIC.
    Try a chilled half litre of superb Slovak beer and pick out a bargain book.
    Don’t forget your Bradt City Guide to Bratislava when you go…

  • Kelly

    Celeste: I only listed bookstores that I actually visited on my trip, but thanks for mentioning Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, I’ve heard great things about it but have not yet made a visit.

    Lucy: I regret skipping Bratislava for several reasons and now you’ve given me another one! Thanks for letting us know about Next Apache.

    Keep em’ coming folks 🙂

  • lisa

    how about the Akademiska Bokhandeln in Helsinki? While not a charming, quaint find (its part of Stockmann’s — a huge Finnish chain of department stores), I was SHOCKED to see the selection they had.
    Keskuskatu 1, Pohjoisesplanadi 39
    PL 128
    00101 HELSINKI

    I found it infinitely useful. And there is a coffee shop with free internet downstairs.

  • Fernando

    Hi, the bookstore you mentioned in Madrid is a large chain store that is extremely lacking in English books. A great shop for buying new and used English books in J&J Books and Coffee. Great selection, great prices, friendly staff. A bit hidden but just a great bookstore and coffee shop all together.

  • Adrian Vonhew

    did you just do random book stores across europe or did you have a list. not many people look at books anymore. all there want is E-Books. Paper in better then E-books at least when the battery run out. I can still read my books.