The Best Bookshops in London
August 19, 2014, Article by Ben Willis in Books
The bookshop of today is a very different beast to its chunky, crumb-flecked cousin of yesteryear.
With print book sales in decline, they’ve had to evolve – becoming thriving hubs in communities and offering book-lovers ‘that something special’ that online retailers and supermarkets simply can’t.
So here’s a list – in no particular order – of our favourite bookshops in London at the moment – from Charing X Road to Dulwich, East London to Crystal Palace. There are many more, of course, but we can only count to seven, sorry:
Location: Dulwich (duh)
Dulwich Books is literally the best independent bookshop in the whole of this fair land we call the United Kingdom (and Ireland), having been awarded Independent Bookshop of the Year at this year’s Bookseller Industry Awards. And it shows, too: with a jam-packed events programme (including big names such as Sarah Waters, Antony Beevor and John Lanchester, to name but a few), a busy children’s section, along with an owner who truly loves books (that’s right, we know who you are, Sheila…). Dulwich Books really is the place to be if you love literature and happen to find yourself south of the Thames. Go there now, silly.
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Location: East London
When you plonk a bookshop on one of the most famous streets in London – nestled amongst vintage markets, Mexican-themed bars and second hand furniture shops – it’s safe to say there is a certain weight of expectation placed upon your head. The options seem endless: do you kit the place out like an Amish stable; an ironic ode to 80s glam rock; a ramshackle Victorian pump station, perhaps? Thankfully Brick Lane Bookshop manages to be hyper-cool without selling its soul – a classic and impressive window display featuring the books they love, and a bustling, intimate shop floor with tables stacked with the latest tomes, along with classics, local history (which Brick Lane has in spades), as well as maps and stationary. A truly welcome break from the vintage shops, dive bars and street market on a weekend.
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Location: Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace has much to offer, including an average football team, its own bus station, and the athletics track where Michael Caine filmed the “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” scene in The Italian Job. But it’s for a very different reason that we venture to this often overlooked residential area of South London. The Bookseller Crow on the Hill is a cracking shop with a brilliant atmosphere, well stocked with signed editions and with an impressive events calendar. Co-owner Jonathan is also well worth following on Twitter, too:
Follow The Bookseller Crow on Twitter
Location: Central London
With branches scattered across the capital like little nuggets of bibliophile gold, Foyles is a perfectly nice chain of bookshops. However, the real big gun in their artillery is in fact a bloody huge one: their new flagship store on Charing Cross Road, which opened earlier this year. Imagine Narnia, but full of books. And then double it. Over 200,000 titles on four miles (FOUR MILES! That’s like from Wakefield to Dewsbury!) of shelves, and with a team of over 80 clued-up booksellers, if you can’t find the book you’re after here, it probably hasn’t been written yet.
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Location: Central London
Some readers are happy with a battered old second-hand paperback, and good luck to them. But for the true book connoisseurs out there, there’s only shop to visit in this great city. Operating in the West End since 1999, Goldsboro Books are specialists in signed first edition books, and visiting their shop is always an absolute treat. Shelves full of beautiful books, with the really special stuff kept safely in little cabinets. Just don’t forget your credit card, because you won’t be able to resist spending a fair bit. Oh, and they all also do a cracking launch party, with:
a) a guarantee of no rain
b) plenty of wine
c) (if you’re lucky), an appearance from owner Dave Headley’s awesome dog Mia
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Awesome on Twitter; a fantastic author events programme; beautiful wooden floorboards: all seemingly incongruous items, but all of which can be said about West End Lane Books in North London. Perched on West End Lane (hence the name, we imagine…) near West Hampstead tube station, this is a bookshop for true book-lovers old and new. Even the lovely Mariella Frostrup gave them the thumbs up. Join their book club to receive discounts on club picks, or just wander about in that beautiful fug of wood and books – it doesn’t matter, it’s all perfect.
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Location: Stoke Newington
After you’ve grabbed a pint of Vicar’s Surprise Craft Ale with Jonty in Dalston and helped Jemima carry her antique toboggan back to her Hackney squat-cum-juice bar, you deserve to head over to Stoke Newington and their thrilling book emporium. It sounds like a cliché, but I have genuinely never been there and not bought something. It’s always a good place to go when the Stokey literature festival is on – they’ll have all the speakers’ books on display so you don’t have to pretend you’ve read them. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay them is that I have on more than one occasion bought a book directly off the back of a staff recommendation. Lovely stuff.
Follow Stoke Newington Bookshop on Twitter
Are we missing some of the Best Bookshops in London? Let us know then, for God’s sake: