London is home to some of the world’s best bookshops, from large chains to tiny independents and a lot of secondhand shops. With so much choice, how’s a girl supposed to decide where to fall in love with that magical book that’s just waiting for her to discover? Well, to help you on your way to finding that perfect match, here’s a guide to some of my favourite spots for browsing books and cover judging in London and what they are best for.
London’s Best Second Hand Bookshops
For bargain hunters, London’s second hand and charity bookshops offer inexpensive reads, hidden gems and rare editions.
Skoob, hidden in a basement at the back of The Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury, specialises in second hand academic and scholarly titles across all subjects, plus a great section on classic and more modern sci-fi fiction. A real joy to get lost in.
Best For: Academic Books and Sci-Fi.
When I’m in the mood for some second-hand academic books, this is my first port of call, with a huge range of arts, history and fiction all within its basement setting. Their second-hand sci-fi/fantasy range is also a hidden gem.
Not too far from Skoob is Judd Books, known for its extensive selection of used fiction, history and art, plus its cozy vintage shop front.
Bookshops – The charity shop chain Oxfam has multiple locations across London, including ‘books only’ branches in Islington and Holborn, but the Kensington High Street charity shop is known for its good section of titles too.
Best For: Second-hand Surprises.
When I’m feeling lost for what to read, this place always hits the spot, with browsing galore and so many books that may have passed you by, or just inspire you on the spot.
Any Amount of Books
Soho – This iconic Charing Cross Road bookshop lives up to its name, with stacks and stacks of used books covering every subject and every inch of floor space! A good spot to browse for international books as well. Its central location near Leicester Square means it can get quite packed with tourists.
Best For: Rare old, vintage second-hand classics and international books.
This Charing Cross spot is a constant treasure trove of older books for me, and I’ve also found some great first editions and rare copies to boot.
This south London gem has a frequently changing selection of used and ‘remaindered’ books across all sections and retro decor. Its star attraction has to be its inhouse cat Popeye, who wanders the store, but often sits by the door welcoming customers. This does mean, however, that dogs aren’t allowed, but it’s still an incredibly worthwhile visit.
Best For: Secondhand fiction (and Cat!).
Whenever I’m in the mood for some masterful fiction, this is my haven, with a huge range of genius authors ready to be explored.
Independent Bookshops In London
While London has its share of big chain bookstores, it also boasts lots of charming, one-of-a-kind indie shops. Here are some of my favourites.
John Sandoe Books in Chelsea – This beloved local shop opened in 1957 and retains its old-fashioned charm, with a thoughtfully curated literary fiction, poetry and arts selection in a charming little shop just off the King’s Road.
Best For: Cozy Vibes & Great New Books.
This little hidden spot offers great selections of new and older books, all within a cute little victorian-style interior.
Specialising in maps, travel books and guides, Stanfords has been equipping adventurers and explorers since 1853 and still features its iconic map floors despite its relocation in 2019, definitely worth visiting to roam the world from above!
Best For: Maps & Travel Books.
When I’m itching for travel, this is the place for me, really getting stuck into planning with maps at the ready and a great piece of travel writing to get my inspiration going.
The cute patterned carpets and literary-themed decor at this 18th century store make for quite the grand book experience. But it’s not just about the furnishings, they have a strong offering in fiction, history, cooking and children’s books too.
Best For: Book Signings and Decor.
Great for signings with big authors, and I can’t get enough of its lavishly designed carpets.
Bookshop Chains In London
While independent bookshops abound in London, there are also some chain stores that are still worth stopping to put a bookmark in.
Waterstones is all over the city, but I have to give a shout out to their Piccadilly flagship shop! This massive, five-story Waterstones bookshop is a must-see for any book lover visiting London. Don’t forget to check out the cafe in the basement, the fifth floor bar/restaurant with stunning views, and, my favourite, the great selection of graphic novels.
Best For: Graphic Novels.
This Book Temple has a lot to offer, but for me, it’s the huge range of Graphic Novels that really do it, all set around a centrepiece display area.
Daunt Books – Daunt specialises in travel literature and guidebooks, and I never leave without a book from the Balkan section. Its Marylebone High Street location is the most famous and photogenic, but Daunt has other locations across London as well, including near St Pauls in the City, Holland Park and Hampstead.
Best For: International Books.
When I first stumbled into Daunt Books, I wasn’t sure what their niche was. Turns out, they had Bosnian authors, and are now my favourite venue to explore their international section.
Foyles – This London institution has been selling books since 1903. Browse through multiple floors of books at their Charing Cross Road flagship store and enjoy their fifth floor cafe, or try out their other branches at Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo Station and Westfield.
Best For: Manga.
If I’m on a manga buzz, then Foyles is one of the first places I hit up, with its extensive manga section, complete with dedicated shōnen, shōjo, seinen, josei and gegika areas and cute paper lanterns and blossom trees.