Edinburgh is a town of many overlapping histories, so it is somehow apt that there is such a multitude and diversity of independent bookshops in and around the Scottish capital, representing every kind of literary genre under the sun. Here is our guide to the best paperback stores, cafe combos and general treasure troves of the written word to be discovered in Edinburgh.
Looking Glass Books
Nestled in amongst the residential and office blocks of the Quartermile development adjacent to the Meadows is Looking Glass Books, a café/bookshop combo named in homage to the eponymous heroine of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The space is custom made for cosy hideaways on rainy Edinburgh afternoons with its bunting decor, checkered floor and curated selections of travel, history, YA, and new fiction. Take a cuppa back to one of the luxurious armchairs and wallow amongst the eclectic audience of bookworms who regularly drop into the shop. Additionally, Looking Glass schedules regular author talks and book club events. Flying visitors can also shop for quaint literary-themed gifts, so make sure to pick up that Penguin Books jacket cover mug for your niece’s birthday while you’re there.
Opening Hours: Sat – Thurs: 9am – 6pm
36 Simpson Loan, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, +44 131 229 2902
Golden Hare Books
Golden Hare Books
In the heart of picturesque Stockbridge is Golden Hare Books, a charming celebration of novels, children’s books and art & design. Golden Hare’s modus operandi is to display a discerning, curated selection of ‘the finest voices in international literary fiction and poetry; the most stimulating and provocative non-fiction of all kinds; the most inventive and original in contemporary art and design; and a children’s department that will enchant and enrapture youngsters and adults alike’. With additional regular events such as book launches, poetry nights and book group evenings, you’ll surely agree with Golden Hare’s own sentiment that they are dedicated ‘not just to the love of reading, but also to the book as beautiful, life-enriching object of desire in its own right’.
Opening Hours: Mon – Sun: 10am – 6pm
68 St Stephen St, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, +44 131 629 1396
The Edinburgh Bookshop
The Edinburgh Bookshop
Similarly, the Edinburgh Bookshop enjoys a privileged and cosy position in the hip Bruntsfield precinct. It’s also probably the bookshop with most prestige in the industry – the shop is included in The Independent’s “50 Best Bookshops” and has won a clutch of awards including UK Children’s Bookshop of the Year 2014 and Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year 2014 & 2015. The recognition is in no small part due to the Edinburgh Bookshop’s strong ethos, an emphasis on ‘unusual intelligent and topical selections of titles to offer the customer a clever and refreshing choice’. Other reasons for why this bookshop stands out are its writers’ workshops, story-time for under-5s on Thursday and Friday mornings, its support for adult bookgroups and upfront in the shop window, a steady supply of signed copies of bestsellers.
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri: 10am – 6pm; Sat: 9am – 6pm; Sun: 11am – 4pm
219 Bruntsfield Pl, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, +44 0131 447 1917
The Old Town Bookshop
Throughout the capital, you can find small, tidily decorated, minimalist bookstores; the Old Town Bookshop is resolutely not one of those, and all the better for it. Situated on the winding Victoria Street (leading down to some of the capital’s best pubs in the Grassmarket – where better to take your newly purchased book haul?), the Old Town Bookshop is an old-school delight with mountainous piles of paperbacks to walk between and several antique collections acquired over the shop’s thirty years in the business. A true bookworm’s dream (it’s one of the few stores on this list that requires a good afternoon to navigate and digest completely), one can easily drop in for five minutes and end up walking out with an edition dating back to the 1600s, a map, an artwork or a £2 paperback.
Opening hours: Contact shop
8 Victoria St, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Catering to two varieties of obsessive personality, Elvis Shakespeare is a specialist dealer of rare vinyl and paperbacks. From their base on Leith Walk, you can browse the store’s extensive selection of recordings – covering every genre under the sun from alt country to trip hop – and books, with just as many literary genres available. What’s more, impromptu concerts and live readings are the norm for Elvis Shakespeare – customers may end up entering the shop to browse, and leave having participated in a jam session with the desk clerks. Elvis also posts CDs and books worldwide through their online store.
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 10am – 6pm
347 Leith Walk, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, +44 131 561 1363
Word Power Books
Another Edinburgh trailblazer for all the small indies sticking it to big corporate sellers is the extensively stocked Word Power Books. In fact, a subversive streak has been at the heart of the store’s philosophy since owner James Kelman opened it in 1994 and is continued in its commitment to supporting small presses and new writers, as well as its central role in organising the Edinburgh Independent Radical Bookfair. Word Power remains a vital player on the Edinburgh book circuit and is well worth a delve into for its huge stockpiles of literature outwith the mainstream, offering alternative viewpoints on current affairs, gender and the environment.
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 10am – 6pm; Sun: 12pm – 5pm
43-45 W Nicolson St, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, +44 131 662 9112
One of the few specialist genre bookstores in the capital, Transreal Fiction exclusively stocks science-fiction, fantasy and related speculative fiction genres. Along with the wide array of books to beam you to other dimensions, the store also has a strong line in specialist magazines and plush alien toys. The owner, Mike, also possesses one of the richest treasure troves of sci-fi knowledge in Edinburgh and will happily engage in afternoon-long chats with customers.
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 11am – 6pm
46 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE, UK, +44 131 226 6266