Bookshops of London
London is a city steeped in literature, so it’s only right that it has some of the best bookshops in the world for you to visit. From the latest highstreet bestseller to ancient tomes and hard-to-find first editions, London has enough to keep a bookhound happy for a lifetime. Whether located on Charing Cross Road, the street renowned for its specialist and second-hand stores, or elsewhere in the capital, here’s our pick of the best:
Probably the most famous of the bookshops on Charing Cross Road, Foyle’s (or more properly W & G Foyle Ltd.) was founded in 1903 and was for many years a quirky, some would have said infuriating, bookshop, as much as an attraction for its way of conducting business as for its books. To buy a book one would have to queue three times: once to collect an invoice, once to pay the invoice and then finally to collect the book. All the books were shelved by publisher, leading to some to describe Foyle’s as though “Kafka had gone into the book trade”. Since 1999 Foyle’s has modernised considerably, and has even expanded to a stores outside of London and online. The modern Foyle’s is five floors across an almost unmatchable depth of subjects, with a café and a jazz music venue/shop in house too. Foyle’s has to undergo a move in the next few months — the lease on its shop has been sold — and will relocate to a site just down the road. It will be interesting to see how the move affects the store.
Located on Marylebone High Street, Daunt Books brings back some of the quirkiness of the old Foyle’s, thankfully without the accompanying pain. The books are all arranged by country, leading to some exciting browsing experience (you went looking for Russian literature, you leave reading a Russian cook-book). It’s a delight to look at too, with long oak galleries and bold green signs. It’s been so successful they’ve opened a café next door, along with more branches across the capital.
Founded in 1797, Hatchard’s is London’s, indeed Britain’s, oldest bookshop. Owned now by Waterstone’s, the largest chain of bookshops operating in the UK, they no longer specialise in rare or antiquarian books other than those by or concerning Winston Churchill. The chief appeal of Hatchard’s is its attraction to authors: many well-known and popular authors us the shop for booksignings. We would particularly recommend the Hatchard’s Christmas Customer Evening, where numerous writers, spread over the five floors of the shop, come to sign books for their fans. Hatchard’s is located at 187 Piccadilly.
Located at 58–60 Charing Cross road, Henry Pordes is a jewel of a bookshop. They sell second hand books, with a large collection of rare and antiquarian books available, including a many desirable first editions. There is something inside to suit every taste and wallet, and a visit is always worthwhile when in central London if only to enjoy the old-fashioned, polite and knowledgeable staff.
PBFA London International Antiquarian Book Fair
Ever year around summer the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) holds a huge bookfair in the centre of London, usually in the region of Earl’s Court. Independent booksellers from around Britain and around the world come to show their wares. Even if you have only a passing interest in rare books it’s fascinating to see the collections of beautiful old books.
Outside the BFI Southbank
If you’re passing along the South Bank you can’t miss the second-hand booksellers set up on tables outside BFI Southbank, sheltering underneath Waterloo Bridge. There are a few rare books and prints for collectors, but it’s more of a place where you can buy old paperbacks at a good price. Cash only though!