London’s best bookshops

After news of bookshop closures across the land, we celebrate London’s greatest in this useful guide

For the list of bookshops in your area, and to add your own favourites, scroll down

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking,” the comedian Jerry Seinfeld is purported to have said.  

Raise the subject of bookshops in the office or pub and you will likely hear more gratuitous comments. Everyone has a favourite. For many people, browsing the shelves of a musty ramshackle bookshop is a private and beloved experience.

But for how much longer?

In an age of two-for-ones, supermarkets and Kindle, both independent and chain booksellers are struggling to keep afloat. More than 800 have closed in the past five years announced the Bookseller Association on Tuesday.

Yet ironically for many bookshop lovers, it is the bookshops’ inability to keep up that keeps the shoppers returning. When I visit my local secondhand bookshop I feel as though I have entered a time warp. And I am not just talking about the books.

Health and safety has bypassed these bastions of bygone eras. I enjoy balancing on a rickety wooden stall to reach an obscure collection of John Ashbery poems. Equally, I delight in the non-assisting assistants who turn their noses up at me. Anywhere else and this would be abhorrent, but for some reason I quite enjoy it. 

Apparently I am not alone.

Dylan Moran’s sitcom Black Books was set in a shambolic London bookshop and followed the lives of its hostile owner Bernard Black. It ran into three series and picked up an award from the British Association of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The miserable Black (played by Moran) was voted 19th place in Channel 4’s The World’s Greatest Comedy Characters poll.

Then there’s Notting Hill.

The 1999 blockbuster was set around The Travel Bookshop in Blenheim Crescent. Notwithstanding the enormous success of the film, just recently news that the bookshop was to close sparked a global campaign supported by the literary editor of GQ magazine Olivia Cole, TV presenter Ben Fogle, Alec Baldwin - even the writer of Notting Hill himself, Richard Curtis, joined in.

So LondonlovesBusiness.com thought it time it gathered some of the best of London’s bookshops in one place.

There are deliberate omissions. We hope you will fill them in in the comments section below.

Central London

Claire de Rouen Books: Photography and fashion, 121-125 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EW.

A book shop devoted entirely to photography and fashion. Coffee table book porn like no other. A must visit.

Clerkenwell Tales: New/mixed titles, 30 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE.

Lovely local independent bookseller.

Foyles: New/mixed titles. 113-119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EB.

The flagship store of the five-strong chain, Foyles provides a good, broad selection of titles.

Judd Books: Secondhand/academic titles, 82 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AG.

This Bloomsbury-based shop is a favourite among students and lecturers.

  • What have we missed? Add your favourites in the comments section below

Stanfords: Travel titles,12-14 Long Acre, WC2E 9LP.

So much more than a travel bookshop, Stanfords specialises in maps and globes too. Really big globes that you easily lose half an hour gazing at.

 

North London

Housmans Bookshop: Radical literature, 5 Caledonian Road, King’s Cross, N1 9DX.

Radical booksellers since 1945, Housmans regularly holds events in the shop and sells a wide range of literature. Its collection of political books, pamphlets, magazines,

The Photographers’ Gallery Bookshop: New and used contemporary art and photography, third floor, 7-9 William Road, NW1 3ER.

With the Ramillies Street gallery currently undergoing renovations, photo lovers can either order books online or call 0207 087 9323 to arrange to its collection at the William Road offices.

 

South London

Clapham Books: Secondhand/mixed titles, 120 Clapham High Street, SW4 7UH.

Taken over and overhauled in 2006 by a couple who wanted to save the ailing bookshop. Clapham books has since gone from strength to strength.

Copperfield’s Books: Secondhand/mixed titles, 37 Hartfield Road, SW19 3SG.  

Run by Joe and Jane Thubron, this specialist secondhand bookseller boasts no fewer than 42,000 titles, with 8,000 in storage.

Woolfson & Tay: Suggested by @Llamagretch, new/mixed titles, 12 Bermondsey Square,SE1 3UN.

A book store, gallery, café and event space all in one. (That’s four reasons to visit).

East London

Whitechapel Gallery Bookshop: Contemporary art, photography, architecture and theory, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX.

Managed by Walther Koenig Books Ltd, the Gallery bookshop offers a wide range of titles on modern and contemporary art, photography, architecture and theory.

Dalston Oxfam bookshop: Suggested by LondonlovesBusiness.com editor Sophie Hobson. Secondhand/mixed titles, 514-518 Kingsland Road, E8 4AH.

Great place to pick up last year’s bestseller that you never got around to reading, while giving something to charity too. Double wammy goodness.

West London

The Lion and the Unicorn Bookshop: Children’s books, 19 King Street, Richmond, TW9 1ND.

King of children’s literature Roald Dahl opened the store in 1977, and it has since gathered a devoted following. So much so it has its own eNewsletter, The Roar!

The Pitshanger Bookshop: New/mixed titles, 141 Pitshanger Lane, W5 1RH.

The grown-up shop to its bookstore for children – The Owl & the Pussycat – Pitshanger is a proud bookseller flying the flag high for independents and local writers and poets. Part of their staff includes Katty the Keeshond, a six-year-old Dutch Barge dog.  

  • What have we missed? Add your favourites in the comments section below

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • The socialist bookshop on Bloomsbury Street is excellent for certain political titles. Sort of disorganised too, which makes browsing a lot more interesting. You never know what strange tract you'll stumble across.

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  • Thanks Charles, we needed a political one in the list. There's Politicos too, which unfortunately is only online now, www.politicos.co.uk, but still a great source.

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