Google+

BBC Culture

Ten of the world’s most beautiful bookshops

  • Polare, Maastricht

    As a start-up that aims to sell fiction through online subscription is hailed as the future of books, what place is there for the humble bookstore? The future of one iconic seller is currently uncertain. The Polare bookstore in Maastricht came under threat when Polare declared bankruptcy in February. It remains open for the time being under the name 'Boekhandel Dominicanen' but staff have launched a crowdfunding campaign to save it from closure. Converted from a 13th Century Dominican church in 2006 by architects Merkx+Girod (now Merk X), Polare is a temple of books that raises reading to a religious experience. (Photo: Merkx+Girod)

  • El Ateneo, Buenos Aires

    Visitors can go from stage to page at this Argentinian icon. First built as the Teatro Grand Splendid in 1919, before becoming a cinema in 1929, El Ateneo appeals to the dramatic reader. With frescoed ceilings, ornate carvings and plush red stage curtains, it has retained its original splendour: customers can sit in the theatre boxes to browse in comfort. (Photo: Carlos Toledo/catoledo

  • Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

    Could this be the world’s only underwater bookstore? Translating as ‘high water bookshop’, its canalside spot means an extra level of organisation for staff: the rubber boot-wearing owner has to move his books from the floor to bathtubs and higher shelves during regular flooding. Justine Kibler, who took this picture when she visited in November 2013, said: “Venice is flooded. People are wading along the streets in a foot or two of water and the buildings are boarded up. But the Libreria Acqua Alta is still open for business. In fact it’s in its element.” (Photo: Justine Kibler)

  • Librairie Avant-Garde, Nanjing

    Called China’s most beautiful bookshop, Nanjing’s Librairie Avant-Garde was built inside a former government car park that had also been a bomb shelter. To find their way into the 4,000 sq m underground space beneath Wutishan Stadium, visitors follow a yellow-striped road; inside, a replica of Rodin’s The Thinker sits alongside a cash till made out of old books, and pillars with famous literary verses carved into them. Another branch of the shop is housed inside Nanjing’s Presidential Palace – this one has managed to bring the palatial underground. (Photo: PR)

  • El Péndulo, Mexico City

    This branch of Mexcian bookstore Péndulo offers a cultivated way to avoid the heat of Mexico City. Customers can leaf through shelves spanning two storeys or sit at the cafe listening to live music. In 2013, the chain celebrated its 20th anniversary by ‘releasing’ 1,000 books stamped with the message “This is a free book. Read it and return it to another public place.” (Photo: Aquiles Carrattino/aqui_c)

  • Livraria Lello, Porto

    This Portuguese landmark opened in the former Chardron Library at the turn of the 19th Century. Its Art Nouveau space is dominated by a curving staircase with ornate wooden carvings to match its intricate wall panels and columns. Stained glass windows with plant motifs and a skylight showing the monogram of the store’s founder José Lello add to the churchlike appearance. (Photo: Michal Huniewicz/M1key.me)

  • Bart’s Books, California

    Bart’s Books – which calls itself “the world’s greatest outdoor bookstore” – was set up in 1964 by Richard Bartinsdale, who left book cases on the street to sell titles he no longer wanted. Passersby could leave money in a coffee can. Now, the store has nearly 1m books – many of which are still sold through an honour system – as well as a courtyard where browsers can play chess under the shade of an apple tree. (Photo : PR)

  • Shakespeare & Company, Paris

    “I must go down where all the ladders start in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” Featuring the WB Yeats quote on its website, Shakespeare & Company is a place that does more than sell books. Named after a bookstore frequented by Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce during the 1920s, the shop on Paris’s Left Bank has become equally legendary. Opened in 1951 by the American George Whitman – and run by his daughter Sylvia since his death in 2011 – it became a gathering place for Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs. From the start, Whitman allowed travelling artists and writers to lodge at the shop, which is also a lending library; the spirits of past authors haunt its crowded walls. (Photo: John R Rogers)

  • Corso Como, Milan

    Hidden behind an unassuming facade, Corso Como was founded in 1991 by former editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue Carla Sozzani. She brought her fashion nous to the complex that combines book and design stores with a cafe, hotel and roof garden. The bookstore mixes art, architecture and fashion titles with designer furniture to create a flea market with its own high-end Milanese twist. (Photo: PR)

  • Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

    The tiny Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye is a bibliophile hotspot: its literature festival, set up in 1988, was described by former US president Bill Clinton in 2001 as "the Woodstock of the mind". More than 30 bookshops line the narrow streets – but the most striking is a set of shelves in the grounds of the town’s Norman castle. Customers can admire crumbling Medieval masonry while perusing second-hand titles; all proceeds go to the castle restoration. (Photo: Bronwen Lee/digibron)

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.