Coffee and literature have a centuries-old relationship, and London’s historic coffeehouses date back to the Age of Enlightenment and the dawn of print news culture in the early 1700s. Though coffeehouses in the traditional sense have all but disappeared, many of London’s bookshops are now combining fiction and flat whites, offering visitors pleasurable, relaxed and bespoke browsing experiences. Here are the best bookshop cafés to visit in London.
Located in the up-and-coming borough of Leyton, Phlox Books is an independent bookshop specialising in books, booze and coffee. Serving delicious espressos and flat whites from Dalston-based roasters Allpress alongside their thoughtfully curated selection of titles old and new, Phlox Books is a truly authentic East London experience. Open until 8pm on weekdays (except Wednesdays) and until 10pm at the weekends, Phlox has a distinctly social atmosphere, and you can even enjoy a local craft beer or tall glass of wine. Be sure to check out their lively events programme, which includes musical performances, book launches and special seasonal one-offs.
Named after a roadside inn where merchants and nomads used to stop and rest, Caravanserail has a uniquely inviting and hospitable atmosphere. A hybrid French and English bookshop, Caravanserail also functions as an event space and gallery, hosting a new exhibition each month in partnership with Whitechapel Gallery. It stocks the finest European literature in translation, a selection of graphic novels and children’s books, and freshly brewed coffee completes the experience.
Overflowing with rare books, first editions, vintage prints and old maps, Halcyon Books is the archetypal second-hand bookshop. The staff are experts in their field, and Halcyon both buys and sells books, so feel free to turn up with any antiquarian classics you no longer need. Coffee, cakes and soft drinks are served here, so you can spend hours getting lost in Halcyon’s shelves, which stock over 40,000 works of literature.
The London Review Cake Shop embodies the quintessential British bookstore café and harks back to London’s long-lost literary coffeehouses. Visitors will want to peruse every corner of the snug interior, as well as the handpicked selection of books that surround the shop’s walls. The Cake Shop is a favourite for locals due to its delicious treats; try pairing up a millionaire slice with a selection from their extensive and exquisite tea menu or a freshly brewed Monmouth filter coffee. Notable for the impressive list of events that it hosts, this bookshop is not to be missed for anyone seeking a traditional London experience.
Grab a bite at the British Library Bookshop before exploring the library
From Celtic tote bags to stunning coffee-table books, the British Library Bookshop offers an eclectic mix of books, magazines, stationery and gifts. Located in the spacious entrance hall to the library, it sits adjacent to the Origin Coffee bar, which stocks a range of mainstay espresso blends as well as single-origin filter coffees. Serving doughnuts, pastries and small cakes, the Origin coffee bar is the perfect place to stop before getting lost in the library bookshop’s endless wonders.
The flagship Foyles store in Soho sprawls across six floors and is a true hub for books in London. On the fifth floor is the Foyles café, serving quality food and coffee at slightly steep prices. The space is kitted out with sleek wooden furniture and stylish hanging lightbulbs. With over 200,000 books, the café provides a comfortable retreat in which to sit down with your latest literary purchase, as well as the ever-alluring promise of free Wi-Fi. Near the café, which closes half an hour before the store, is a cultural exhibition that changes every three months.
Cheap books, delicious treats and wonderful coffee are all contained in this charming not-for-profit social enterprise. Located in Shoreditch’s tree-lined Calvert Avenue, Paper and Cup is the perfect place for a quick snack, a catch-up with friends or to pick up a second-hand book for next to nothing. With its painted blue entrance, colour-coded bookshelves and bimonthly art exhibitions, Paper and Cup has an irresistibly quaint and friendly atmosphere.
As the name implies, this small bookstore café is dedicated to cookery, satisfying the tastes of cooks of all levels, from budding novices to confident chefs. Upon entering, you are greeted by bright walls lined with the best in gastronomic literature, and a modest but elegant kitchen in the back. The café is the main attraction, with a fixed menu that changes daily, serving lunchtime delights as well as warm pastries and coffee. Located just off the Portobello Road, Books for Cooks is an unmissable attraction for lovers of books and food alike.