1. Words on the Water, London, England
Location: 1920s Dutch barge on Regent’s Canal
This quaint floating bookshop was founded by Paddy Screech, Jonathan Privett, and Stephane Chaudat nearly a decade ago. Initially, the shop alternated locations due to canal regulations, but after breaking the rules and squatting in the same location for 6 months, the canal trust relented and agreed to give Words on the Water its permanent spot.
The store’s website notes this is largely thanks to a vocal campaign led by the shop’s supportive customers. Words on the Water houses an array of books from cult classics, to contemporary fiction and children’s books, and visiting definitely looks like an enjoyable experience for any book lover.
2. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Location: Historic Theater in Buenos Aires
The lovely Grand Splendid was built in 1919 and served as a performing art theater, a cinema, and now - a bookstore. The building still retains its frescoed ceilings, ornate theater boxes, rounded balconies, and red stage curtains, making for a fun and unique shopping experience.
The building’s reincarnation as a bookstore actually saved it from destruction in 2000, as it was scheduled to be torn down just before the popular book chain Grupo Ilhsa decided to lease it. The musical roots of the Grand Splendid aren’t completely lost either, as it often holds live piano performances.
3. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
Location: Former bank
The marble pillars and mile-high ceiling remain from the old bank, but the walls of this store are now lined with artful displays of books. And artful is not just a phrase. Used and damaged books have been stacked in a variety of creative ways, a selection of hardbacks has been arranged by color rather than author, and bookshelves have been randomly placed throughout the store - making it perfectly designed for exploration. If you look in the back you may notice an old bank vault, which is now stocked with books.
4. Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
Location: Floating Over Venice's Canals
The name of the store translates into “Book Store of High Water”. Being located in Venice, the store had to face frequent floods from the canals, so the owners came up with an original solution. The book collections are stored in waterproof basins, bathtubs, and even a gondola that floats during a flood. This is far from being the only whimsical touch; the steps leading outside are made of water-damaged books and the “fire escape” is a door leading into the canal.
5. Atlantis Books, Santorini, Greece
Location: A Cave House
It all began with two English college students, Oliver and Craig, who spent their summer holidays on the picturesque Greek isle of Santorini in 2002. Inspired by the beauty of the place and after drinking a considerable amount of wine, the two decided they should open a book store there. And so they did. After graduating in 2004, the two gathered a group of like-minded friends, and the whole gang drove from London across Europe to Santorini. The shop, Atlantis Books, has been open ever since and the owners have joked that one day their children would run it.
6. Zhongshuge Bookstore, Chongqing, China
Location: A labyrinth of stairs and mirrors
It is the interior design of this book shop which makes it unusual - it was made to resemble a kaleidoscope, with mirrored ceilings that reflect colorful rooms. Unlike previous stores we featured on the list, Zhingshige is massive: 1,300 square-meters in area (approx. 14,000 sq.ft) and made up of no less than 4 levels. According to the designers, the inspiration for the unique shop came from traditional Chinese lanterns and lampshades. The most intriguing aspect of the space, however, are the stairs zig-zagging across the walls of books.
7. Waanders In de Broeren, Zwolle, Netherlands
Location: A 15th-century church
This Dutch bookshop, located just northeast of Amsterdam, took up residence in a renovated Gothic cathedral dating back to the 1600s. The design of the store was calibrated to preserve the church’s original architecture and ornaments, including its elegant ceiling paintings and the organ.
“We wanted all the additions made, in respect to the church, to be modest,” explained the architects. The shop has been operating since 2005, and the unique atmosphere of the building is undoubtedly still present.
8. La Caverne Aux Livres, Auvers-Sur-Oise, France
Location: An old postal train car
This decommissioned postal train car in Auvers-Sur-Oise, France, has been transformed into a funky little bookshop. Its name translates into "The Cave of Books", and it’s very fitting, as the shop may not look like much from the outside, but stepping inside is like discovering a cave of wonders. The interior of the train car is filled to the brim with books from all genres and eras - a bibliophile’s dream.
9. Bart's Books, Ojai, California
Location: An outdoor garden
The store has been opened by Richard Bartinsdale in the 1960’s, when he found his personal collection was becoming overwhelming. In these days, when more and more facilities are trying to accommodate customers outdoors to stay safe from the novel coronavirus, Bart’s Books is especially relevant. It is considered to be the biggest outdoor bookshop in the US.
Bartinsdale initially used coffee cans instead of a register; the honor system is still in place today. With this cool setup, and some books as cheap as 35 cents, this shop is definitely worth a visit.
If you found this article interesting, why not share it?