Paradise for book lovers: the most beautiful bookstores in the world

Will traditional bookstores remain in the future, dominated by e-books and online stores? These 10 most amazing shops in the world inspire faith that paper books will never go away.

Polare, Maastricht

Today, few people doubt the electronic future of books, which will be sold exclusively through online stores, but then what awaits the good old bookstore? The future of one of the most famous bookstores in Europe is in question today. When the Dutch book chain Polare declared bankruptcy in February 2014, one of the chain’s most beautiful bookstores in Maastricht was in jeopardy.

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The decision to close the store was put on hold for a while, and it now operates under the name Boekhandel Dominicanen (“Dominican Bookstore”), but employees have launched a fundraising campaign to save the store from closing. The Polare bookstore is located in the building of the 13th-century Dominican cathedral, which in 2006 was converted into a store by the architecture firm Merkx+Girod (now Merk X). This is a real temple of books, which turns reading into a religious act.

El Ateneo, Buenos Aires

Visitors to this famous Argentinian bookstore literally fall from the stage to the pages of the book. Initially, this building was designed as a theater, and in 1919, the stage of the Teatro Grand Splendid, and from 1929, films began to be shown here. El Ateneo is definitely a bookstore for readers who appreciate drama.

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The building’s theatrical interior – a ceiling decorated with frescoes, decorative carvings and a red velvet curtain – has retained its original splendor. And visitors can comfortably settle down in the theater boxes of the bookstore.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

Will this bookstore ever become the world’s only underwater bookstore? Its name translates as “The Flooded Bookstore”, and its location on the banks of a Venetian canal imposes a special responsibility on the staff. During the regular floods, the shop owner puts on rubber boots and moves books from the floor to the bathtubs and to the top shelves.

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Justine Kibler, who took this picture in November 2013, says: “Venice is flooded. People walk the streets of the city up to their ankles in water and most of the houses are closed. Only Libreria Acqua Alta is open. The bookstore seems to be in its element.”

Librairie Avant-Garde, Nanjing

Nanjing Avant-Garde Bookstore – considered by many to be the most beautiful bookstore in China – is built in a former government parking lot that also served as a bomb shelter. In order not to get lost in the huge (4,000 square meters) space under the Wutishan Stadium, visitors walk along the road with a yellow stripe.

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Between the columns painted with poems by famous authors, there is a counter lined with old books, and next to it is a copy of the Rodinów Thinker. Another branch of the bookstore occupies the building of the Nanjing Presidential Palace. However, this underground department managed to accommodate itself with no less luxury.

El Pendulo, Mexico

This branch of the Mexican book chain Pendulo (“Pendulum”) offers a sophisticated way to escape the Mexican heat. Visitors can flip through the pages of books located on the endless shelves of the two-story store, or enjoy live music in the cafe. In 2013, the chain celebrated its 20th anniversary by releasing a thousand books with the inscription “This is a free book. Read it and leave it in another public place.”
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Livraria Lello, Porto

This famous charm of the city was opened in the former Chardron library at the end of the 19th century. In the center of her room, the interior of which is made in the art nouveau style, there is a curved staircase with decorative wooden carvings, which is in harmony with the exquisite wall panels and columns. Stained glass windows with plant motifs and a glazed roof with the monogram of the store’s founder, José Lello, give the bookstore similarities with a temple.
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Bart’s Books, California

Barth’s Books store – which is considered to be “the largest open-air bookstore in the world” – was founded in 1964 by Richard Bartinsdale. He left the bookcases outside to sell off the books he no longer needed. Passers-by could choose a book and leave money in a coffee can.

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Now the bookstore has almost 1 million books, most of which are still sold under the “honest word of mouth” system. The bookstore is also known for its wonderful apple orchard, under the cover of which visitors enjoy reading.

Shakespeare & Company, Paris

“Down the old stairs you get into a room that looks more like a clothier’s shop.” These words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats are quoted on the website of the store “Shakespeare and Company”, which is definitely a little more than a regular bookstore.

Named after the bookstore that Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce frequented in the 1920s, the shop on the left bank of the Seine is no less legendary.

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In 1950, the American George Whitman opened the bookstore, and after his death in 2011, it became the property of his daughter Sylvia. The shop was a meeting place for writers of the “beatnik generation”, in particular, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

The owner allowed traveling artists and writers to stop in the shop, and also lent books to anyone who wanted to. Today, the walls of the bookstore preserve the spirit of the artists of the past.

Corso Como, Milan

The Corso Como shop, which hides behind an inconspicuous facade, combines a bookstore, a cafe, a hotel and a rooftop garden. The stylish design of the building instantly reveals the type of activity of its founder – the former editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, Carla Sozzani.

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Founded in 1991, the shop specializes in books on art, architecture and fashion displayed on designer furniture, creating an extraordinary haute couture flea market atmosphere.

Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

The tiny Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye is a paradise for book lovers. An annual literary festival has been held here since 1988, which former US President Bill Clinton called “Woodstock for intellectuals”.

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Along the narrow streets of the city there are more than 30 bookstores, the most amazing of which is a second-hand shop at the foot of the ancient Norman castle. Visitors can enjoy the view of the medieval building while sorting through the old volumes on the shelves near the castle entrance. All proceeds from the sale go to the restoration of the historical monument.