I have to admit that I have a book problem. Not only do I read all the time, but if I like a book, I like to keep it. My home is like a library. And then there are bookstores. I can spend hours browsing, reading the backs of books, and can’t wait to read all the new additions on the reading shelf. I’m not picky about new or used books, but I’m a sucker for a nice shop which adds to the pleasure of browsing.
When it comes to travel, not only do I like to take books that have been used or written by someone in my destination, but I also keep an eye out for special bookstores that might be worth a visit. The same goes for libraries, book-inspired hotels, bookstore-cafes, and environments that bring me back to books I liked.
If you have a similar ailment, you will enjoy my list of must-see travel destinations for any bookworm. It’s an eclectic mix of everything book-related, and it’s only a short list because if I included all of my favorite places, they would fill a book …
1. Oxford, England
Oxford is an old city of learning with a bookstore or library literally on every corner. But one of the most exciting places I’ve ever visited is the Bodleian Library. The main research library in Oxford and the second largest library in Great Britain after the British Library with around 13 million manuscripts including two copies of the Gutenberg Bible – the first printed book in history and the most valuable book in the world – is simply magnificent.
Founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602 after the Reformation destroyed most of the libraries and ancient manuscripts, he devoted his fortune and connections not only to building a library with stunning architecture, but also to bringing together documents, manuscripts and books from the learned world. from ancient papyrus rolls from Egypt that are around 3,000 years old to hand-printed books in Latin.
You can learn about its architecture and history on a tour, including Divinity Hall, known as the infirmary in the Harry Potter films and one of its quirks with a door designed by Christopher Wren, an architect, of the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Pro tip: Visit Blackwell’s Books, right across from the library – located in an old building, the exterior belies the cavernous interior and wide selection of books. Be prepared not to show up for a couple of hours.
2. Buenos Aires, Argentina
I’m not kidding, once I got to Buenos Aires this place was my first stop on a long to-do list. But even though I’ve come to love the city and there is a lot to recommend, this remains a firm favorite. Opened as a theater in 1919, the place developed into a cinema in 1929, but fell into disrepair over the years and was threatened with demolition. Luckily, it was saved and experienced the most magical reinvention of all: it supposedly became the most beautiful bookstore in the world, the Ateneo Grand Splendid. Every bit of the former theater is filled with books, the stage is sometimes used as a café, sometimes for events, the former boxes are reading corners and the overall product not only makes every reader’s heart beat faster, but is also enormously photogenic.
Pro tip: Buenos Aires is a city full of great bookshops. You can also check out Libros del Pasaje, a café-bookstore in trendy Palermo.
3. London, UK
London is a book lover city, period. It starts with Sherlock Holmes being present everywhere, including his own museum, all the way to Charing Cross Road – which isn’t just the star of the great book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Banff, but it is still home to many bookstores today – my favorite bookstore of all time, Daunts in Marylebone. But a tiny little alley off Charing Cross Road, not far from bustling Leicester Square and quite hidden, is simply the best travel destination for book lovers: Cecil Court. This short alley, nicknamed Bookseller’s Row because of the 20 antique shops next to each other, is said to be also have been the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
Pro tip: If you love travel, check out Stanford’s, just a five-minute walk away, which sells maps to every place in the world, guidebooks, travel trinkets and, yes, books.
4. Bath, England
The city of Bath, with its honey-colored Georgian architecture, could be straight out of a novel by Jane Austen. Because the author not only lived here, but also wrote several books in Bath. You can go on walking tours to the best places and there is the Jane Austen Center where you can learn more about the writer and her life or you can walk around and soak up the atmosphere. I love to visit Sydney Gardens which is just across from Sydney Place 4, where Austen lived and worked, or visit the Assembly Rooms mentioned in her books and many later versions of the film.
Pro tip: For a journey back in time, enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea in the historic Regency Rooms.
5. New York, USA
When you travel you probably have to stay somewhere else, and where better than a hotel with 6,000+ books? The aptly named Library Hotel in New York makes it difficult to leave the hotel. Even walking from one end of the corridor to the other can take some time. Books are everywhere, in the rooms, in the lobby, in Writer’s Den and of course in the reading room. Maybe you just miss out on exploring New York City.
Pro tip: Like a good crime thriller? Head straight to the Mysterious Bookshop, which is floor-to-ceiling stocked with crime fiction and mystery novels.
6. Zurich, Switzerland
If you have gotten thirsty or even hungry, visit the wine library in Zurich. As part of a hotel, the Wine Library is a room that serves as a breakfast room, lounge and wine bar and has a whole, very high wall full of books. The building, a former brewery, is breathtaking and blends the old with the modern, but the wine library is one of the nicest places in Zurich to sit back and relax or meet a friend – with a glass of wine and a book in hand.
Pro tip: If you don’t speak or read German and need some reading material, head to Pile of Books, a quaint little bookstore dedicated to English books.
7. Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest is one of those capitals that doesn’t see many overseas visitors, but it should. An ancient city with a terrible recent history that is full of interesting places to discover. And here, after the Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, I discovered one of the most Instagram-capable bookstores of all time: the beautiful Carturesti Carusel, located right in the old town. On three floors, connected by a stunning white spiral staircase, you will find books, gifts, even a café and reading hideout and a good English book department. You can also get some nice bookmarks when you make a purchase.
Pro tip: Not far from the bookstore, have a coffee at Dianei 4, which is quite a nice and unusual cafe.
8. Hay-on-Wye, Wales
The small town of Hay-on-Wye is located near the border between England and Wales and is known worldwide as the “Book Town”. Tons of bookstores line the streets, there is even an open one in the street with an honesty box attached in case you want to take one of the books with you.
Then there is the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, which conquers the city for two weeks every June and receives the biggest and most interesting names in literature for readings, lectures and book signings.
Pro tip: If you come to Hay, make it a Thursday when the 700 year old market takes place. It offers fresh products and useful little things in beautiful surroundings.
9. Paris, France
Paris has so many places associated with writers who lived and created here, from Hemingway to Fitzgerald, from Henry James to Oscar Wilde, that finding their special places would and does fill books. Then there are the iconic bookstores like Shakespeare & Co, which are so popular that they have turned from a bookstore into a sideline. But there are other, hidden book lovers, places to enjoy away from the crowds too. For example, the Richelieu-Louvois National Library is right in the heart of the city and is so beautiful that it makes your heart beat faster. You can either read along or just stand and look at it.
Or, for English books, head to the pretty, if crowded, Abbey Bookstore, where the owner Brian usually offers you a coffee.
Pro tip: A slightly different bookstore can be found on the houseboat L’eau et les Rêves, Water and Dreams, anchored on the Canal de l’Ourcq. There is a café-bar on deck, while books and regular art and literature events take place below deck.
For bibliophiles who love too TravelExpected, look at these authors and the books they wrote.