From massive independent bookstores to grand libraries to fascinating events and festivals, these cities are brimming with literary activities for every bibliophile. Read our guide to find out where your book-loving heart will lead you next.
From renowned independent bookstores to literary events, Austin is a lively city that book lovers will thoroughly enjoy. Any visit to Austin must include a stop at BookPeople, an independent gem voted best bookstore in Austin for over 15 years. With two floors, bibliophiles can spend hours on end perusing the shelves for the next book they plan on devouring. The city also hosts several events throughout the year, including the Texas Book Festival, which represents many authors and genres delighting anybody who visits. The Harry Ransom Center, which features literary exhibits, is another must-visit for book lovers.
BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX, USA, +1 512 472 5050
So many incredible authors, including Jack Kerouac, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sylvia Plath to name but a few, are associated with Boston, whether it be their place of birth or where they lived and found inspiration. With so much literary talent coming out of this city, Boston is no doubt a wonderful area to explore the literary scene. Today, the city features many libraries, including the venerable Boston Public Library, and bookshops providing book lovers with hours upon hours of curiosity. One of the must-visit bookstores is the Brattle Book Shop, which deals in used books, making it an ideal stop for customers on a budget.
Brattle Book Shop, 9 West St., Boston, MA, USA, +1 617 542 0210
While Charlottesville may not be as large as many of the cities featured on this list, the home of the University of Virginia offers a lot of literary activities, making it a great destination for readers. There are various writing classes offered for budding authors, exciting events, including the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, which features exhibits, panel discussions, readings and much more, plus the town has bookshops sure to stimulate the mind of any book lover. Daedalus Bookshop, which features used books in many genres, is one highlight found in Charlottesville.
Daedalus Bookshop, 121 4th St., NE, Charlottesville, VA, USA, +1 434 293 7595
Iowa City, Iowa
The literary scene in Iowa City is thriving. Between the University of Iowa, whose graduates and faculty members have earned several Pulitzer Prizes in literature, the celebration of writers and the great bookstores, this college town was the third city to become a UNESCO City of Literature. A wonderful and well-deserved distinction, it is the only City of Literature in the USA, making it a truly unique destination for any book lover. And while the bookstores are not as plentiful as in other cities on this list, the shops they do have are impressive, including the multi-story Prairie Lights.
Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City, IA, USA, +1 319 337 2681
Los Angeles, California
While one might think of film-making when it comes to Los Angeles, this Southern California city, including its surrounding areas, is also a paradise for literary buffs. Dozens of independent bookstores specializing in a wide variety of genres from film to food to travel and more can be found throughout the city. One great option for book lovers is Skylight Books, an eclectic shop showcasing fiction, a variety of art books from film to music, regional culture and history, and much more. Literary events abound throughout the year as well with popular celebrations such as The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which is the largest book festival in the country.
Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA, USA, +1 323 660 1175
Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
The birthplace of iconic authors such as Anne Tyler and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Minneapolis and St. Paul, also known as the Twin Cities, have a great literary history. Even today, Minneapolis was recently named the ‘Most Literate City’ in the USA according to a survey, knocking Washington, D.C. into the number two position. Home to small presses, the area also possesses several independent bookstores that will delight any book lover. For the largest selection of books sold by an independent dealer, visitors will want to head to the Minneapolis-based Magers and Quinn Booksellers, which sells a variety of new, used, rare and collectable books. Literary tours are offered as well, including a walking tour of the area where Fitzgerald grew up.
New Orleans, Louisiana
From Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner to Anne Rice, the literary scene in New Orleans is varied, creating an intriguing place where book lovers can explore both the past and the present of the region’s books. Bibliophiles can meander the streets of the French Quarter, where they will find charming old bookstores — be sure to visit the cozy Faulkner House Books — and spend hours combing the shelves for unique finds, or they can frequent one of the stimulating literary events held throughout the year. For example, The New Orleans Literary Festival, which honors Tennessee Williams’ memory, is an annual celebration with literary, theatrical and cultural elements.
Faulkner House Books, 624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, LA, USA, +1 504 524 2940
Portland is a beautiful city with something for everyone, from art lovers to foodies to bookworms. From a park displaying sculptures of characters from Beverly Cleary books — the iconic children and young adult’s author grew up in Portland — to independent bookstores big and small, this Pacific Northwest city is brimming with literary opportunities. Bookshops of all sizes are thriving, proving that residents and tourists alike love their books. One of the most popular choices for books in Portland is Powell’s, and it is easy to see why — the store stocks over one million books in their flagship store, ensuring that there is something for every reader (update: unfortunately the store closed permanently recently).
Powell’s, 1005 W. Burnside St., Portland, OR, USA, +1 503 228 4651
New York City, New York
New York City is the largest city in the USA and it should thus come as no surprise that it would be a book lover’s paradise. The city is home to numerous great publishing houses, incredible libraries — the New York Public Library is a must-visit — plus many fantastic independent bookstores that will keep bibliophiles busy for days on end. From cookbooks to children’s books to fiction to non-fiction to travel to name but a few, the subjects showcased throughout the city are endless. For those short on time, Strand, which is one of the best loved independent stores, boasts ’18 miles’ of books, including new, used and rare varieties, making it a great one-stop destination.
Strand, 828 Broadway, Manhattan, NY, USA, +1 212 473 1452
San Francisco, California
The City by the Bay has long been a popular destination with bibliophiles. For those book lovers who have an interest in the Beat Generation, the North Beach area is not to be missed. Head to City Lights, the iconic independent bookshop brimming with books on world literature, the arts, and progressive politics, before exploring the neighborhood to find hangouts that were popular with Jack Kerouac and his contemporaries. San Francisco also has an outstanding nine-day literary event known as Litquake, which is the largest independent festival of its kind on the West Coast.
City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 362 8193
One of the most literate cities, the Pacific Northwest gem, Seattle, is brimming with independent bookstores that will delight anyone’s imagination. While many of them are general bookshops with something for everyone, there are several specialty shops with a specific target group in mind. Readers visiting The Emerald City will find a variety of unique bookstores dealing in everything from mysteries to cinema to anti-authoritarian to travel and much more. A book lover’s visit to Seattle would not be complete without stopping by The Elliot Bay Book Company, an iconic establishment featuring approximately 150,000 books.
The Elliot Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave., Seattle, WA, USA, +1 206 624 6600
Best known as a political hub and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. is also a great destination for any lover of books. A bibliophile’s paradise, The Library of Congress with its collection of over 160 million books and other materials is the largest library in the world and every year since 2001, they present the National Book Festival. A one-day event with best-selling authors giving talks, panel discussions, book signings and more to readers, the festival is one of the best literary celebrations in the USA. Independent bookshops abound in the city as well with Politics and Prose, which is known for its great selection of books and events, being one highlight.