Europe's 10 Most Beautiful Bookstores

Photo of Varia Fedko-Blake
6 October 2016

Because if you can’t get lost in a book, you might as well get lost in a bookstore: From Venice to Santorini, and Berlin to St. Petersburg, these libraries have long provided ample room to err about, provided as they are with breathtaking architecture and intricate interiors. Be inspired by our list of Europe’s 10 most beautiful examples, and, you know, by a book or something.

Libreria Acqua Alta | © Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar/Flickr

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

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Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

The Venetian Libreria Acqua Alta is one of the most original libraries in the world, boasting an enormous selection of books and setting them out on any inch of available space that can be found in the labyrinth of interconnected rooms. Thousands of new and used titles occupy antique shelves and falling-apart furniture, as well as boats and full-sized gondolas. This eccentric bookshop quite literally overflows with books, with literature covering the floors, the walls and even comprising a functioning staircase in the quaint back courtyard. Whilst browsing through the colorful kaleidoscope of book covers, make sure to acknowledge the welcoming and knowledgeable owner, Luigi Frizzo, and his four resident cats.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Sestiere Castello, 5176/B, Venice, Italy +39 041 296 0841

Atlantis Books, Santorini

Located in an idyllic location in the heart of Oia’s whitewashed town on the island of Santorini, Atlantis Books is a charming independent bookshop founded by a group of friends in 2004. When in this part of the world, take the time to peruse through a generous selection of fiction and non-fiction in numerous languages, relaxing in the cool of the basement bookstore. Run by a welcoming collective of international artists and writers, the Greek villa also organizes numerous literary evening events, as well as theatre performances and open-air cinema viewings. Over the years, it has become an integral part of the Greek expat community – no wonder, as for many, the bookstore in the heart of the Mediterranean proves to be the ultimate sanctuary.

Livraria Lello & Irmão | © A wandering minstrel/Flickr

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto

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Livraria Lello & Irmão Staircase | © Alegna13 / Wikimedia Commons

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto

Located in the heart of Porto, prepare to be blown away by Livraria Lello & Irmão, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. Trading literature since the 1880s in the premises of a neo-gothic building, featuring stunning Art Nouveau architecture near the Praça dos Leões, it is definitely a must when visiting the city. Designed by Xavier Esteves and officially inaugurated in 1906, the magnificent interior is comprised of beautifully carved wooden surfaces, a winding staircase, exquisite copper, glass bookshelves and delicate stained glass windows – with this in mind, it is no wonder this establishment is a recurrently a contender for the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Alongside hundreds of Portuguese titles, bookworms can pick up many French and English books at Livraria Lello.

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Rua das Carmelitas 144, Porto, Portugal, +351 22 200 2037

Shakespeare & Co., Paris

Bookstore, Building
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Shakespeare and Company | © jimmyweee / Wikimedia Commons
Just around the corner from Paris’s Latin Quarter and Boulevard Saint-Germaine, stands one of the most famous independent bookstores in Europe, Shakespeare & Company. Generations of notable literary patrons have frequented the early 17th century building overlooking the south side of the Notre Dame, from Voltaire to Ernest Hemingway – not to mention over 30,000 aspiring artists staying in the bookstore in exchange for manning the tills during the day. Established by Sylvia Beach in 1919, the current location was opened by George Whitman in 1951 and today, Shakespeare and Company is run by his daughter, who continues the bookstore’s tradition of providing a welcoming retreat for writers and visitors alike. Stop by in the early morning to avoid the crowds and browse through thousands of English-language titles.

Dominicanen, Maastricht

Bookstore, Building, Church
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Courtesy of Cook & Book
Maastricht in the Netherlands is home to Dominicanen, previously known as Polare, a fantastic bookstore located in the unique setting of a 700-year-old former Dominican church, boasting breath-taking gothic architecture and a minimalist interior design. Amongst the ornate frescoes, stone arches and dark vaults of the building, the bookstore offers a spectacular collection of titles, beautifully arranged on multi-story black steel shelves and counters. Not only does Dominicanen carry the largest selection of English titles in the city, but it also offers apt opportunities for relaxation and quiet reading – grab a coffee and take a seat in the accompanying café to fully acknowledge the splendor of the huge space.

Cook & Book, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert

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Daunt Books
Daunt Books | © J B/Flickr
Despite the name, Cook & Book does not only specialize in cookery titles but is in fact a wonderfully innovative concept merging the delights of reading and food. Within its extensive complex of nine rooms, diverse selections of literature are intertwined with restaurants serving various cuisines. Undoubtedly, this is a revolutionary approach to book retailing – whether dropping by for an afternoon meal with friends, or simply to pick up a new title, Cook & Book is sure to offer a very memorable experience and will dramatically transform the way you view your average bookstore.

Daunt Books Marylebone, London

Library, Bookstore
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Alexandra Book Café
Alexandra Book Café | © Sarah Stierch/Flickr
Located in an original Edwardian building, Daunt Books is largely considered to be one of the best and most beautiful travel specialist bookstores in London. Browse through thousands of titles in an outstanding interior, complete with oak balconies, classic wooden counters, a skylight ceiling and intricate stained-glass windows. For avid travelers, this place is a dream and offers a plethora of guidebooks, maps, language aids and travelogues organized by country, as well as hundreds of titles on history and politics. Naturally, there is also a wide-ranging selection of fiction, biography, crime, poetry and short stories on hand. With the atmosphere of an old-fashioned library, Daunt Books is a hidden gem in the center of the capital.

Alexandra Book Café, Budapest

Bookstore, Store
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Just off of Budapest’s luxurious Andrassy shopping street, the Alexandra Book Café occupies a large space on the second floor of the former Paris department store. Adorned with glistening chandeliers, stunning frescoes and numerous paintings by Károly Lotz, this is most certainly a very grandiose set-up for a bookstore. Amidst the art nouveau design of the café, located within a large ballroom, read to your heart’s content whilst savoring the surprisingly well-priced selection of pastries and sipping on a coffee. For a glimpse of what Budapest looked like a century ago and to experience its old-world splendor, look no further.

Shakespeare and Sons, Berlin

Bookstore, Store
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The Berlin branch of Prague’s Shakespeare and Sons is at the heart of the German capital’s literary scene. Stocking a large selection of English and foreign language books, it is a fantastic spot to while away a lazy afternoon, browsing the piled-high bookshelves and enjoying the fresh bagels served in the adjoining café. Notably, the coffee beans are also supplied by the renowned Bonanza Coffee Heroes, a coffee lover’s haven in Prenzlauer Berg. The small bookstore has gained a loyal following in recent years and it’s easy to see why – the atmosphere makes you feel right at home.

House of Books, St. Petersburg

Building, Cathedral
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The Singer House is an impressive building located at the intersection of the Nevsky Prospekt and the Griboyedov Canal. Whilst the historical landmark offers a spectacular view of the Kazan Cathedral from its wide windows, this object of Russian cultural heritage is also home to the renowned House of Books, or Dom Knigi. Belonging to the Petrograd State Publishing House, the store began operating in 1939 and remained functioning during the Leningrad Blockage until November 1942. Upon reopening in 1948, the House of Books has continued to be one of the largest bookstores in St. Petersburg, catering to all tastes with over three floors of bookshelves, spanning all subjects from fiction to travel writing. When you have finished purchasing and browning, plant yourself by the windows in the Café Singer on the second floor and take in the breathtaking view of the Prospekt and the Cathedral.