Bristol has a fantastic reputation for its independent arts scene. The city holds a brilliant array of bookshops, many tucked away down quiet streets. Some double up as art galleries and others open their doors at night to become spaces for musicians to take centre stage, however, all possess a certain charm that is only experienced when entering a space that holds unadulterated love for the written word. So, whether you’re looking for a new recommendation, a specialist title or an antique first edition, here’s a list of Bristol’s best bookshops for you to get lost in.
Beware of the Leopard Books
The love for literature runs deep in this second-hand bookshop, as you can tell from the title which is lifted from Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Located in St Nicholas Market, this store is split between two stalls standing opposite each other. With 25,000 books on site, this is not a bookshop for a quick dip, but instead a proper browse. Nestled happily in the covered market, the Beware of the Leopard is two seconds away from an abundance of mouth-watering food stalls to keep you well-fed, as well as well-read.
Bloom & Curll
Bloom & Curll is a magical haven of wonky shelves and books piled up in stacks with hand-crafted, cut out and illustrated section signs resting on top. Here, you’ll find a mixture of new and second-hand books, a strong literary criticism selection, a fantastic children’s book corner and a fiction section that is jam-packed with gems. Beautiful, unpretentious and gloriously higgledy piggledy, this bookshop oozes charisma and truly feels like one of a kind.
Tucked away in vibrant Old Market, this bookshop stocks titles on politics, history, feminism and environmentalism. Hydra is also a music venue and meeting space, serving some of the best coffee in Bristol. With comfy sofas, friendly staff, vegan cakes and a joyous selection of board games, this is a perfect place to spend a cosy afternoon.
A specialist store with an emphasis on contemporary art and culture that sits quietly in Bristol’s modern art gallery, the Arnolfini bookshop holds a brilliant array of magazines and periodicals on art, design, literature and film.
Dreadnought has a huge range of second-hand books, and specialises in history but also boasts a fantastic variety of other titles. The owner, John Sidwell, tells us about some of the best things about being in the second-hand book-trade:
‘Something I have really come to appreciate as I continue in the trade is how much people’s book collections evoke their character. I predominantly source stock in bulk from collections that have often been built up over a lifetime. Going through such a collection is itself a delight but furthermore it feels as if another soul has been brought in to inhabit the shelves alongside those already residing there. My favourite aspect of the job is hunting for stock. I will receive calls to view collections but can never be sure what to expect. Occasionally I will return disappointed but usually there will be some stuff of interest and sometimes real gems. There are often interesting discussions to be had as well.’
First opened in Bristol selling vintage clothes, vinyl and a grand selection of books above the much-loved Friska coffee shop, RISE has re-opened as a small pop-up on Park Street. With a smaller but refined selection of books, RISE stocks classics and select new releases.
Chic, cool and carefully curated magazines, interior design books and travel guides sit in this beautiful store alongside stationery and a great selection of unusual greeting cards.
HERE started out as a two-week pop-up store in Stokes Croft in 2003, and it’s been there ever since. It’s a creative space for art lovers and bibliophiles to peruse. The relationship between art and literature is key here, with many of the books illustrated by the artists showcased on the walls. Speaking about how he selects the artsy stock, Ben from HERE states: ‘It’s just become instinctive now […] Generally, it’s combination of my own interests, and experience of what our customers like. In some cases, I may even have a specific person in mind for a book, I just keep them aside until their next visit.’
The Last Bookshop
Located halfway up Park Street, this small bookshop started out in Oxford. Their name is inspired by a humorous rebuke to those who thought books would become outdated or obsolete with the rise of Ebooks. A bright orange shopfront and a logo with a blazing book surrounded by flames adds to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the store. Owners Jake Pumphrey and Nick Walsh reflect: ‘It is a time of huge change for the industry and printing certain genres may not remain a viable option for publishers. Nevertheless, we believe that there will always be a market for printed books, just a smaller one.’
Books for Amnesty
One of the friendliest bookshops in Bristol, this second-hand store is run by a team of knowledgeable volunteers. With a wide selection of classics, poetry, non-fiction, children’s books and foreign language literature, great finds are guaranteed in this brilliant Bishopston store. The best thing about it? All proceeds go straight to charity.