Ten of the best bookshops in London
'Books choose their readers, not the other way around. I believe that booksellers are the matchmakers,' said Cecelia Ahern. Well, we've tracked down the matchmakers
Things we look out for:
1. So many books it makes you dizzy
2. Squashy armchairs at different heights. Cram into a miniature chair in the kids' corner and read
3. Staff who say 'This one's really good' even if you've pulled out an obscure Hungarian author. Because they really have read and loved it
4. Delicious Folio editions
5. Second-hand books with hand-written dedications
6. Art books so weighty they might break the coffee table.
Here are some of the best London bookstores. (We couldn't stop at 10…)
Lutyens & Rubinstein
21 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2EU
This small shop has a great location in Notting Hill. It's cosy, friendly and quiet. Lutyens & Rubinstein has its own literary agency, too, where they look after a list of authors. Perhaps an accompanying literary agency should be the mark of a good bookshop? Here, they certainly know how to act as a touch point for authors, books, publishers and public alike. Every book is specially chosen for the shop and the children's section has some precious finds. That this small shop appears all over the internet's top 10 bookshop lists speaks volumes.
London Review Bookshop
14 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 2JL
Its Bloomsbury setting evokes Life in Squares and intellectual London. This is the heavyweight, a big bookshop with its own café. Step inside and you'll not only get great books, but you've also just found your next culture hub. The London Review, unsurprisingly, provides some of the most thorough and thoughtful book reviews and this shop always stocks the books it has featured. It's the darling of the literary community and the staff are excellent. There are talks on-site, too. You'll find yourself in good company at the café, especially with the university just around the corner.
John Sandoe Books
10 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea, London SW3 2SR
On a quiet street just off busy King's Road, John Sandoe specialises in the 'remarkable'. Their new books often come in signed editions and elegant volumes. Every month or so there's a talk centred around a recently published book, usually with the author. John Sandoe comes to our list much praised by writers and browsers alike.
100 Fulham Road (Headquarters), Chelsea, London SW3 6HS
For collectors and admirers, Peter Harrington Rare Books wears its adjective well. A jungle of endangered species hide in the shadows: they currently have an £18,000 set of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in their Summer catalogue and they once sold a Shakespeare Folio from 1623.
But it's not just a taxidermy of dusty leather: Disney collector items and wonderful ancient maps make for pleasing browsing. The headquarters are on the Fulham Road, but we also liked the branch at 43 Dover Street. Here is the ultimate, negative reply to the e-book.
6 Croxted Road, West Dulwich, London SE21 8SW
A much-loved local bookshop on an unassuming shopping parade with a clout that reaches far further than southeast London, thanks to some stunning talks.
Dulwich Books boasts two reading groups and their staff make considered book recommendations. Definitely worth a visit.
Word on the Water – The London Bookbarge
Regent's Canal Towpath, King's Cross, London N1C 4LW
London's only floating bookshop (bookship?) was recently saved from closure and offered a permanent mooring here on Regent's Canal, where it looks pleasingly ramshackle against the regenerated Granary Square. A curiosity and a piece of anarchy, often with live music and a resident dog.
Daunt Books: best for travel
83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW
Remember how you pitied William Thacker in Notting Hill for his unsuccessful travel bookshop? Well, here's a travel bookshop that actually has success. Madonna has just been sighted toting her Daunt Book canvas bag in Havana, so we may have reached peak Daunt branding. But despite it being the ubiquitous fashion accessory, the original Marylebone shop on Marylebone High Street has to be mentioned for its lovely interior. Daunt's is worth a visit for the raised oak walkway alone in the gallery, itself a journey of discovery. The books are grouped by country so you can immerse yourself in, say, Elena Ferrante and Umberto Eco, then Italo Calvino, before buying a colourful Wallpaper Guide to your destination Italian city. If books are portals into other worlds, then travel bookshops like Daunt's present ultimate escapism.
Tales on Moon Lane: for children
25 Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, London SE24 9JW
Near Herne Hill, if the name of this magical children's boo shop doesn't charm you, the window displays will. But make sure you step inside, too, to find children's books from throughout the ages. It's run by an ex-teacher who supplies local schools with resources. At the moment, they're showcasing books to help children understand immigration. Thoughtful curation and caring staff.
Samuel French's Theatre Bookshop: for all things dramatic
52 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 5RJ
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn't the only play script out there. But if you've read it, you know how easy scripts are to consume (so that's how actors decide on what films to star in!) This theatre book shop near Warren Street is for specialists and browsers alike. Go actor-baiting or rub shoulders (and scarves) with some am-dram types. It's the perfect place for spotting characters: the theatre of the bookshop is here in more ways than one.
Serpentine Gallery: for art books
Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA
Art galleries in London have really upped their retail game and now make surprisingly great places for searching for Christmas gifts and whimsical treasures – and, of course, art books. The Tate Modern, National Gallery, even smaller galleries like Whitechapel, have gloriously weighty art books on show, often in displays as carefully curated as the galleries themselves. We like the Serpentine Gallery bookshop. It's a bit of a squeeze, being far smaller than, say, The National Gallery. But we defy you not to buy an art book after spending time in their free, and often astoundingly progressive, exhibitions.
Libreria at Second Home, 68-80 Hanbury Street, London E1
Want to feel inadequate? Second Home is the membership-only workspace (or 'creative accelerator') in East London (decorated by 'there are no straight lines in nature' curved spaces, plants and trees, and 'roaming members' like the co-founder of Jawbone and the editor of Wired). In February they opened a very stylish bookshop inspired by the fictional library of Babel, where books are grouped around themes including mothers, Madonnas and whores (not to be confused with the chick lit section). Closed on Mondays.
Charing Cross Road: best book street
You've been Punk'd: window display at Foyles
Charing Cross Road is still the booksellers road, despite rising rents: there's the formidable cool of the art book shop Koenig, then second hand rummaging to be had at Henry Pordes and Any Amount of Books. Finally, there's the massive five floors of Foyles at Tottenham Court Road tube. If you want your shopping to be a five-volume saga rather than a short story, then this is the road for you. Want even more? Smaller shops and specialist second hand dealers can be found nearby on Cecil Court.
Black Books: best for... being totally fictitious
Image courtesy BBC
A cantankerous, drunken Irishman, Bernard Black, and his put-upon assistant Manny, somehow manage to run a London bookshop, despite the customers being too afraid to come in and Bernard being allergic to tax returns. This BBC series grew from an incredibly likeable cast of misfit characters who never seemed to read. Wish it was still here. But glad there are better places for browsing.