The world’s greatest bookshops
San Francisco’s City Lights bookshop is central to the city’s cultural scene (John Borthwick/LPI)
Bookshops are a traveller's best friend. They provide convenient shelter and diversion in bad weather, they are a reliable source of maps, notebooks and travel guides, they often host readings and other cultural events, and if you raced through your lone paperback on the first leg of your trip, the bookshop is the place to go for literary replenishment. Here are our picks for the best spots to browse, buy, hang out, find sanctuary among the shelves, rave about your favourite writers and meet book-loving characters.
1. City Lights Books, San Francisco, USA
Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books is still one of the world's coolest bookshops, almost 60 years after it opened for bohemian business. Once a meeting point for American literary icons, from beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg onwards, it is still central to the city's vibrant cultural scene. The shop offers three floors of tomes, including those published by City Lights, as well as weekly readings and events. More than the nearby Beat Museum, this is the place to feel the boho buzz that once inspired Kerouac et al to drive across America to the Bay Area.
Check www.citylights.com for details of upcoming events; and you can do that pretty much anywhere in wi-fi-blanketed San Francisco.
2. Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
It is grand, it is splendid and it is a strong contender to be the world's most beautiful bookshop. Occupying a 1920s theatre in downtown Buenos Aires, El Ateneo has kept the sumptuous auditorium's original furnishings and added books. Beneath the painted ceiling, shelves have been built into the spectator balconies. When you have finished gawping at the ornate carvings and it is time to put finger to page, the former theatre boxes are now intimate reading rooms. There is a cafe on the stage, between red velvet curtains, and the final firework in the literary spectacle is the round-the-clock opening hours.
Librería El Ateneo Grand Splendid is located on the south side of Ave Santa Fe, 50m west of Ave Callao.
3. Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
A little over 100 years old, this art nouveau gem in Portugal's second city remains one of the world's most stunning shops - perhaps of any kind. Competing for attention with the books are wrap-around, neo-Gothic shelves, featuring panels carved with Portuguese literary figures. A track, used by the staff for transporting stock in a cart, leads from the entrance to the lolloping red staircase, which winds up to the first floor like an exotic flower. Books are available in English as well as Portuguese, and there is a small cafe upstairs beneath the stained-glass skylight.
You can continue the Art Nouveau tour of Porto at Café Majestic and streets such as Rua Galeria de Paris.
4. Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France
Where did the American beat poets go to share cigarettes and profundities when they were in Europe? Shakespeare & Company of course - located in Paris' Latin Quarter, a tome's throw from Notre Dame Cathedral. George Whitman, the eccentric American bibliophile who opened the cosy store in 1951, has handed the reins to his daughter as he approaches 100. Nonetheless, much of Shakespeare & Co's creative, chaotic spirit remains. It is still a prime spot to fill your rucksack with paperbacks, hang with the Left Bank literati and admire the packed shelves, wooden beams and poetic posters.
Nearby transport links include St-Michel (metro line 4) and St-Michel Notre Dame (RER lines B and C). Visit http://shakespeareandcompany.com for more information.
5. Daunt Books, London, England
London is an armchair explorer's dream, offering high-quality, travel-focused book dens such as Stanford's (www.stanfords.co.uk) and The Travel Bookshop (www.thetravelbookshop.com). Our favourite is Daunt Books. The mini-chain stocks a lot more than guides and maps, and everything - from biographies to fiction - is handily arranged by country. The green Daunt Books sign is found in five well-heeled enclaves of London, but the Marylebone branch is the original and best. Occupying an Edwardian bookshop, its long oak galleries with polished floors and shelves, graceful skylights and William Morris prints create a peaceful atmosphere. It is the perfect place for some serious browsing.
The branches at 83 Marylebone High St, Chelsea, Holland Park, Hampstead and Belsize Park are open seven days a week. Visit www.dauntbooks.co.uk.