Ahh, bookstores, always a sanctuary, especially in densely packed European cities. As someone who writes books and loves reading them, it probably comes as no surprise that I also love bookstores. So, put on your cheaters, pour a cup of tea and let’s explore a world of exposed bricks, sagging stacks, dog-eared tomes and impossible-to-correctly-refold maps at my favorite European bookstores.
The Abbey Bookshop, Paris, France
Why I love it: The slovenly chaos
Europe’s most adorably disorganized bookstore is a labrythine of used books, mostly English-language ones, thanks to its irascible Canadian owner (who must be, ahem, Quebecois). On the Left Bank at 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, an alleyway a few blocks from the historic Shakespeare & Co., this atmospheric hole in the wall requires some elbow grease and a sense of adventure to browse its haphazard stacks. Bonus: Free coffee…with or without purchase.
San Ginés Book Shop, Madrid, Spain
Why I love it: Its inexplicable location
Turn a corner while leaving Madrid’s Plaza Mayor and a world of chain retail shops greets you, but not before stumbling upon Europe’s most surprising second-hand bookstore. The San Ginés Book Shop is an outdoor book stand reminiscent of Paris’ bouquinistes. Specializing in large-format, Spanish-language coffee-table and art books, it’s a lovely nook worth exploring, even if you can’t read the books or fit them into your backpack.
Library Under the Treetops, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Why I love it: It’s so serenely Slovenian
Okay, technically, not a bookstore. But Slovenia’s outdoor lending libraries pop-up every summer all over the city. They’re positively charming! Each installation has comfortable folding chairs and a few shelves of free books. I found one along the Ljubljanica River promenade, tucked under a leafy oak among bustling café tables. What a perfect spot to sip a beer and take an armchair journey…within a journey.
Stanfords, London, UK
Why I love it: Europe’s best travel bookstore
When my wife, son and I first stepped inside Stanfords, it felt like coming home. I was born for this place. Stuffed with every travel book, map and accoutrement (there it is again) imaginable, Stanfords is a travel geek’s paradise. Unfortunately, it moved from its iconic Covent Garden location a few years ago, its home since 1853, to a smaller, spiffier space at 7 Mercer Walk.
H. de Vries Books, Haarlem, The Netherlands
Why I love it: It’s dreamy (*bats eyelashes*)
Haarlem is like Amsterdam’s bookish cousin—a short train ride but a cultural world away. Whereas Amsterdam caters to tourists and vice, Haarlem is a locals’ city serving university students, professionals and families. (Okay, it also has a kickass brewery and several noteworthy sites.) So, an idyllic and sprawling bookstore fits right in. Exposed brick arches, time-worn ceiling beams and crystal chandeliers give this place an atmospheric warmth I’ve never felt in another bookstore. I’d live there if they’d let me sleep on the floor.