It may be easier than ever to download and order your new books off the internet, but why not explore London’s independent bookstore scene instead? With cosy alcoves and niche offerings, London is full of independent shops that hold just as much character as the titles stacked in their windows. Entering into these literary havens of adventure and magic is to embrace a slower world. Reviews and recommendations are murmured in hushed tones and the air is permeated with the smell of musty books, usually accompanied by the faint bitterness of someone’s coffee. It’s an act of mindfulness and escapism even before finding the right story.
Here’s where to go:
John Sandoe Books, Chelsea
Asking for a recommendation from the staff at John Sandoe Books is a little like going to see Ollivander for a wand in Harry Potter. A couple questions on what you’ve read and enjoyed and suddenly a book is produced that is the perfect fit. Tucked down Blacklands Terrace, just off Kings Road and Sloane Square, John Sandoe Books occupies three small adjourning eighteenth century shops. A general bookstore with a bias towards the humanities, the shop, since its conception in 1957, has only grown in size and following. The walls are wonky, floorboards uneven and there are only a few window seats and randomly placed wooden stools on which to sit, every other available space is occupied by books. Which instead of chaotic or disorientating, feels exactly as it should be.
John Sandoe Books, 10-12 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea, London SW3 2SR
Heywood Hill, Mayfair
At the cosy Heywood Hill, every title is worth a look just to see what has managed to gain a position in this selective shop. With incredibly informed and very welcoming staff, the Heywood Hill is unsurprisingly renowned for its personal and tailored literary services. One of London’s most famous bookshops, with a Royal Warrant to Her Majesty The Queen since 2011, a scene set here in John Le Carre’s, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the old domain of Nancy Mitford during the Second World War, this bookshop is intertwined in the fabric of London’s literary history and for any bibliophile is worth a visit.
Heywood Hill, 10 Curzon Street, London W1J 5HH
Persephone Books, Holborn
Situated conveniently next to a coffee shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Holborn is Persephone Books, a publisher and bookseller of 132 works of ‘forgotten’ fiction and non-fiction written by (mostly) 20thcentury women writers. The shop is light and airy with the signature grey jackets of their books contrasting against the bright textiles of the end covers. Each end cover (and matching bookmark) corresponds to the feeling of the book. Light and bright textiles for an uplifting read, and dark for the more serious selections. It is all part of the Persephone mission, to package and lift authors and books you most likely have never heard before, out of anonymity and ‘insignificance’ and into the spotlight. It’s also a great place to go when gift shopping for something a little different.
Persephone Books, 59 Lamb’s Conduit St, London WC1N 3NB
Organised in themes such as ‘wanderlust’ and ‘enchantment for the disenchanted’, Libreria’s aim is to help readers discover books more intuitively. The small narrow space just off the thoroughfare of Brick Lane, is doubled by the giant floor to ceiling mirror at the back of the shop. One I’ve seen many a distracted browser walk straight into. With a range of books, stacked on undulating bright yellow shelves, punctuated by little nooks in which you can sit and read. Libreria is a modern offering of a bookshop that has the same sense of calm and discovery as ones of old, but that also with no clear categories, print workshops, socio-cultural focused events and an important no-phone policy, is enticing to the younger crowd.
Libreria, 65 Hanbury St, Spitalfields, London E1 5JP
Word On The Water, King’s Cross
Floating on the water not far from Kings Cross, Word On The Water or The London Bookbarge, as it can also be known, is London’s quirkiest bookshop. Situated in a 1920s Dutch barge, that has dark wooden floorboards and shelves that wouldn’t be amiss in any London Library, the shop stocks a mix of new and second-hand books in a variety of genres. With music playing, sometimes simultaneously from the deck and inside the hull, this ‘bookbarge’ has a relaxed atmosphere that continues to delight bibliophiles everywhere. It’s also dog (and cat) friendly.
Word On The Water, York Way, Granary Square, N1C 4LW London
Daunt Books, Marylebone
The story of Daunt Books is one many independent bookshops would like to replicate. Founded in 1990 in the Edwardian premises of their Marleybone store, Daunt Books has now expanded to six different London locations alone. Their bookshops are openly spaced and shelves categorised principally by country, regardless of genre (of which they have a wide range). An ideal place to browse for the travel writing, the long galleried main room at the heart of their Marylebone flagship has also become a must-go spot for the exploratory Instagram crowd. It’s no wonder that Waterstones and now the struggling Barnes and Nobles have enlisted the founder, James Daunt, to help turn their fortunes around. Each, no doubt, hopes to inject some of the magic that independent bookshops always invoke.
Daunt Books, 84 Marylebone High St, Marylebone, London W1U 4QW