Travels in Europe: Bookstore Browsing


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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.

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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.

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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.