Edinburgh is a magnet for book lovers. It’s home to some of the world’s most influential writers and to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and many happy hours can disappear exploring the masterpieces that are packed into Scotland’s UNESCO City of Literature.
Whether you’re in it for the hunt or craving a casual browse, check out our bibliophile’s guide to Edinburgh and start exploring its most beautiful bookshops.
Golden Hare Books
Places such as Golden Hare Books keep the physical book alive in our digital era. This bespoke book emporium is filled with an expertly curated selection of literary finds, from fiction to signed editions. With ‘a love and appreciation for book design at its heart’, the sleek layout lets the books shine, sparking all manner of curiosities. While the children’s section is unrivaled, the contagious community spirit of Golden Hare exists in the regular events and author signings. Golden Hare even has a podcast called ‘Bibliophile’. This ‘resource for bookish recommendations’ is run by the shop’s own Julie Danskin and Alice Tarbuck, who cover every topic in the literary world from the hottest new books to top tips for getting out of a reading rut.
Found within McNaughtan’s Gallery, it’s easy to lose track of time in Typewronger Books with its retro chairs, vintage typewriter selection and new and indie press reads. This unique book browsing experience is made even brighter with pots of fresh coffee and the odd origami animal upon arrival. Although new to the capital’s reading scene, it feels like home straight away thanks to founder Tom’s extensive book knowledge and bookselling background. The personalised book subscription service caters to avid readers looking for a steady flow of hand-picked finds.
McNaughtan’s Bookshop & Gallery
Founded in 1957, McNaughtan’s Bookshop & Gallery is Scotland’s oldest second-hand and antiquarian bookshop. This atmospheric space is packed with charm and rare, collectable and second-hand books. It’s also the only open shop in Edinburgh to serve as a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, the oldest trade body in the antiquarian literary realm. The gallery (currently home to Typewronger Books) features original artist exhibitions and there is always warm tea or wine upon arrival. Consider this a go-to when searching for old and elusive titles.
A visit to Edinburgh is only complete after a good rummage in this iconic literary shrine. A strong contender for Scotland’s most beautiful bookshop, Instagram-famous Armchair Books provides a rare glimpse into a bibliophile’s wildest fantasies. Days can be lost exploring the floor-to-ceiling shelves bursting with thousands of second-hand books. Standing alongside the impressive English literature collection are a wealth of genres, ranging from fairy tale and philosophy, to popular science and everything else in between.
The Edinburgh Bookshop
Found amid Bruntsfield’s offering of charming shops, The Edinburgh Bookshop is a firm favourite. This cosy place was named Scottish Independent Bookshop 2018 at the British Bookseller Awards and was also shortlisted for Children’s Bookshop 2018 and UK Independent Bookshop 2018 – a testament to the literary gold inside. A number of signed copies sit alongside both local and international finds, any of which make for the perfect present for your favourite book-lover. Bookish people can take advantage of the frequent events, including story readings for children.
Till’s Bookshop is a treasure trove of second-hand literary finds of all kinds. The pleasing layout and the overflowing cases, rich in titles, make browsing a breeze. Anyone stuck on what to read can ask the owners, who are forever up to speed on the best new picks. This tried-and-true book sanctuary has established a loyal following over the years and is a pilgrimage site attracting book fans from far and near. After all, visiting Till’s is just like getting hooked on a good book — once you start, you can’t stop!
As home to the independent Scottish book publisher Word Power Books, Lighthouse is more than just a bookshop. It’s a vehicle for challenging the socially constructed status quo and a politically-engaged hub for titles involving radical, left wing Scottish politics, intersectional feminism, revolutionary history, environmentalism, LGBTQ writing and more. A self-confessed ‘oasis for curious minds’, ‘Edinburgh’s radical bookshop’ hosts numerous talks and discussions worth getting involved in. Whether translated fiction, poetry, tattoo art or cookery books, Lighthouse is brimming with niche literature; you’re guaranteed to find something new on these shelves.
Readers with a fondness for sci-fi and fantasy should look no further than Transreal Fiction. This well-stocked specialty bookshop plays host to a vast collection of gems, from rare paperbacks to signed copies from authors including Laura Lam. Transreal’s owner is knowledgeable and always on hand to recommend up-and-coming titles from the greatest science and speculative fiction writers. If sci-fi is your thing, then expect to enter an unforgettable book daze in this beautiful bookshop.
With its maze of second-hand fiction, non-fiction and collector’s editions, Edinburgh Books is in a league of its own. Formerly West Port Books, this quirky Edinburgh icon has catered to the city’s book enthusiasts for over twenty years. And just when you think you’ve explored every nook and cranny, the four additional basement rooms are revealed. One such room, rented by Alba Musick, is bursting at the seams with sheet music. Voracious readers can delight in the collection of antiquarian books, compelling titles and the old maps selection.
Elvis Shakespeare is almost as famous as the pair of legends it’s named after. Playing to all passions, the shop has an eclectic assortment of literature and rare vinyl. It focuses primarily on punk music, as well as alternative, indie and dance from the 1980s onwards. Although not as extensive as other Edinburgh purveyors, the book collection is varied and well worth a browse. Keeping the physical book and vinyl alive, Elvis Shakespeare is a true blast from the past.