The Best Independent Bookshops In the UK and Ireland

Books on display
Books on display | © Adolfo Félix / Unplash

The British Book Awards, or Nibbies, have revealed the shortlist for the 2018 Independent Bookshop of the Year. Comprising eight different regions, an outstanding bookstore from each has been voted the best in its area, and will go forward to the final shortlist where one will be crowned the best independent bookshop of the year. Whether you’re in London’s east end, county Kildare in Ireland or up in the winding streets of Edinburgh, a space of literary sanctuary is never far away.

1. Pages of Hackney – London


Pages of Hackney 1 Credit Toby Peters of Marmalade Panic
Courtesy of Toby Peters of Marmalade Panic
An unobtrusive little bookshop on the Lower Clapton Road, Pages of Hackney makes a rather extraordinary addition to this very ordinary street. It is worth the journey; the shop is light, bright, full of friendly staff and bursting with contemporary and classic fiction, travel books and cookbooks, children’s books, and much more. The basement is full of vintage and second-hand editions of Penguin Classics, science fiction, philosophy and art books. For music lovers, there’s also a choice selection of vintage vinyl to enjoy. Cosy armchairs mean you’re welcome to stay and read the day away.

2. Five Leaves Bookshop – Midlands


Fives Leaves Outside
© Five Leaves Bookshop

Five Leaves Bookshop is based in Nottingham town centre, and is known for its radical and literary roots, specialising in social history, politics, landscape and cityscape, fiction, international writing, poetry, LGBT and counterculture. As well as running its own mini literary festival Bread and Roses, Five Leaves puts on weekly events with regular speakers and readers. Visit Five Leaves for all your independent press needs.

3. DRAKE The Bookshop – North


Drake Bookshop 2
© DRAKE The Bookshop

DRAKE The Bookshop is a family-run business in Stockton-On-Tees, which was founded two and a half years ago. Their focus has been on creating a community hub in Stockton for reading, writing and all things books, particularly for schoolchildren and young bookworms. As such, they regularly hold reading groups for young readers, and play a role in both Stockton Book Festival and Stockton Children’s Book of the Year. Their unique selling point is perhaps their use of creative methods to bring stories to life: they even conducted a live Twitter Q&A with Simon Mayo for a Teen Reader book group.

4. Red Lion Books – South-East


Red Lion 2
© Red Lion Books

Situated on the High Street, Red Lion Books is the only independent bookshop in Colchester. Owned and run by Peter and Sarah Donaldson, the shop has been serving the community since 1978. The shop champions quality, always thoughtfully selecting and displaying a curated list of bestsellers and classics. Red Lion Books also supports four different book groups, runs regular events and has even set up a gallery space for art work. If you want to experience the heart of Colchester’s cultural ecosystem, Red Lion Books is it.

5. The Book Hive – East


The Bookhive 2 Credit Joanna Millington
© Joanna Millington
Norwich’s multi-award winning independent book shop. The Book Hive stocks hand-picked books, including bestsellers, modern classics and many rare titles. Favouring a more original approach to displaying their books, The Book Hive foregoes traditional ‘sections’, allowing for an experience that you won’t find in many other bookshops. The store is set within a beautiful three-story building with large curved glass windows looking onto the street, and it regularly hosts events such as book signings, launches and readings. It has won many awards, and even has its own on-site publishing house, Propolis.

6. Westbourne Bookshop – South-West


Westbourne 1
© Westbourne Bookshop

Westbourne Bookshop has been trading in Westbourne, Bournemouth since 1994. The shop is owned by the Angel family, who also run Gullivers Bookshop in Wimborne Minster, and after receiving a James Patterson Grant, Westbourne was renovated into the beautiful, wood-filled space it is today. Westbourne Bookshop is a “busy general bookstore with a popular children’s section and an inviting, friendly atmosphere, helpful staff and a dog called Poppy.”

7. Woodbine Books – Ireland


Woodbine Books 2 Credit Brian Byrne (
© Brian Byrne /

Woodbine Books is located in the picturesque town of Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. A small independent bookshop, it stocks a diverse range of classics, bestsellers and inde titles along with greeting cards, journals, book accessories and coffee. Since it opened in September 2016, Woodbine Books has focused on becoming a community hub, and according to the shop, they pride themselves on offering personal recommendations to customers, tracking down hard-to-find books and going that extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction.

8. The Edinburgh Bookshop – Scotland


Edinburgh Bookshop 1
© The Edinburgh Bookshop

The Edinburgh Bookshop is an award winning independent bookshop, which has been serving many different communities within Edinburgh’s bustling literary scene, since 2007. Though modest in size, the shop offers a wide range of around 6000 books, and houses an all-important sofa, a corner for storytelling and permanent supply of stickers and dog biscuits. According to the bookshop, the small team runs on the joy and inspiration of books, and cups of tea. Go here for refreshing and original book recommendations.

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