Livraria Lello
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27 Most Beautiful Bookstores Around the World

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Livraria Lello
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Bound to Please

If a book is "a dream that you hold in your hands," a bookstore is like a palace of possible worlds you could fall into. Though not typically as ornate as churches or state buildings, many bookstores have décor and architecture shoppers will want to get lost in (just as they do in their literary selection). Below we list some of the most remarkable and memorable bookstores from around the world, with a few words about what makes each special — beyond, of course, the books.

Related: 20 of the Coolest Bookstores in America

The Montague Bookmill
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The Montague Bookmill

Montague, Massachusetts
The Montague Bookmill occupies a former gristmill overlooking a cascading waterfall in the picturesque New England village of Montague. Built in 1834 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the beautifully restored red clapboard structure also houses two restaurants, a music shop, and the Sawmill River Arts Gallery. Though out of the way, the complex is beloved by college students and bibliophiles of all ages for its natural ambiance, literary selection, and seasonal live performances.

The Last Bookstore
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Cărturești Carusel Bookstore

Bucharest, Romania
Built in 1903 and falling into disrepair under Communist rule, this elaborate former bank building gained new life as the "Carousel of Light" bookstore after renovations by the original owner's grandson began in 2007. Now among the world's most beautiful retail shops, the 10,000-square-foot store is customized to every inch with spiral staircases, curved balconies, Grecian support pillars, natural lighting, and a teahouse on the top floor.

The Last Bookstore
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The Last Bookstore

Los Angeles
As California's largest used and new bookstores, The Last Bookstore boasts roughly 250,000 books distributed across 22,000 square feet in the midst of bustling downtown L.A. When not too busy perusing the collection – which includes vinyl records and graphic novels – shoppers can delight their senses at the Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore, featuring local artists' gallery shops and gravity-defying installation art built from old tomes.

Related: Clever and Creative Gifts for Book Lovers

El Ateneo Grand Splendid
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El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Grand Splendid was once a performing arts theater, then a movie house, and now a bookstore, but in all incarnations there's no denying the building's breathtaking opulence. The frescoed ceilings, spectator boxes, red curtains, and finely carved trimmings encircle shelves upon shelves of books, mostly in Spanish, while the former stage serves as a coffee shop with live piano music.

Livraria Lello
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Livraria Lello

Porto, Portugal
Most churches can barely hold a candle to artistry of Porto's Livraria Lello bookstore. The art nouveau storefront leads to a two-story neo-gothic interior almost overwhelming in its detail, incorporating a curvaceous forked stairway, monogrammed stained-glass windows and ceiling, and busts of Portuguese literary icons. There's a café upstairs, and the store draws extra crowds due to its appearance as a location in the Harry Potter films.

Boekhandel Dominicanen
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Boekhandel Dominicanen

Maastricht, Netherlands
History abounds at this bookstore in a 13th century Gothic church, once used to store equipment and personnel belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte's invading armies. In 2005, it was renovated to its current form with three stories of stacked black steel bookshelves, incorporating historic elements such as a cross-shaped reading table within the cavernously ornate interior.

Henry Miller Memorial Library
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Henry Miller Memorial Library

Big Sur, California
This nonprofit bookstore doubles as a performance venue and community arts center paying tribute to author Henry Miller, who was instrumental in popularizing the Big Sur area's bohemian vibes and natural beauty. The cabin-style interior has a coffee and tea shop, cozy fireplace, and books suspended from the ceiling like seagulls, while outside pathways wind through towering evergreen forests and book-centric art installations rust in the Pacific ocean breeze.

Libreria Acqua Alta
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Libreria Acqua Alta

Venice, Italy
This "Book Store of High Water" copes with Venice's constant flooding by keeping its books all in waterproof basins, transforming the location from a liability to a decorative asset. The self-proclaimed "most beautiful bookstore in the world" has those waterproof bins, clawfoot bathtubs, and even a full-size gondola to preserve its overwhelming literature selection when the water rises, forcing the resident stray cats to hang out atop the shelves.

Baldwin's Book Barn
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Baldwin's Book Barn

West Chester, Pennsylvania
The four stories of this former 1822 barn are now packed to the ceilings with hundreds of thousands of maps, antiques, paintings, and books rare or ubiquitous. Guests can feel like they're stepping back into early U.S. history while sifting through artifacts of the era, with no rush to vacate the homey atmosphere that includes stone walls, a wood-burning stove, and numerous reading nooks.

Zhongshuge Bookstore
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Zhongshuge Bookstore

Locations Throughout China
Zhongshuge operates several distinct bookstores in China, all of which look more like a book-and-architecture lover's fantasy than reality. In Chongqing, there are hourglass-shaped shelves in the lobby and an Escher-esque "ladder hall" with a labyrinth of tiered stairs adjoining the shelves. In Yangzhou, black mirrored floors lead through an apparently never-ending "tunnel of books" to the children's reading room featuring an LED-lit night sky on the ceiling above. In Chengdu, the bookcases form pillars and archways that seem to go on forever, thanks to the mirrored ceilings above.

Related: The Most Iconic Staircases Around the World

Semicolon
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Semicolon

Chicago
Just opened in 2019, this combo bookstore-slash-art gallery is abundant in style, with a literature selection curated like the shop's art, with covers on full display and unique shelving categories such as "Books That Make You Think" in lieu of the typical genre distinctions. The walls of the main level are decorated with colorful street art, while a downstairs space hosts regular gallery displays featuring innovative local artists.

Related: The Most Beautiful Main Street in Every State

Cook & Book
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Cook & Book

Brussels
This supermarket-sized bookstore on the outskirts of Brussels is split into eight sections with eye-catching and thematically appropriate décor for each. There's an Airstream trailer in the travel section, superhero toys among the comic books, vinyl records in the Rock 'n' Roll room, and a full greenhouse for the nature books. Its British and cooking sections are also worth mentioning, but the kitschy installation art is unforgettable all throughout the store, leading to an outdoor dining area.

Barter Books
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Barter Books

Alnwick, England
Set in a former Victorian railway station, this secondhand bookshop and tourist attraction features shelves framed by stone archways, glass cases for antiquarian titles, a model railway, and an open fireplace to warm up in wintertime, as well as the onsite Station Buffet for classic British pastries and tea. (The store's owners are credited with rediscovering the "Keep Calm and Carry On" propaganda poster that's become such a ubiquitous design since 2000.) It employs an old-fashioned barter system in which used books can be brought in and traded for store credit.

Related: Stunning Photos of Historic Train Stations Across America

Atlantis Books
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Atlantis Books

Oía, Greece
Basically everything you could hope for from a Grecian bookstore, Atlantis Books is an aqua-accented hole-in-the-wall of a whitewashed façade neighboring the Aegean sea. A vine-laced staircase leads to the partially outdoor maze of books from international authors translated into English, with colorful murals and inspiring quotes decorating the walls. To get comfortable, there's a patio out front and several indoor sitting areas where you can curl up with a good book, not to mention one of the store's resident felines.

Daunt Books
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Daunt Books

London
Allegedly the world's first custom-built bookshop, the flagship location of Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street features Edwardian architecture with natural skylights, oak galleries, and original prints from British textile designer William Morris. Here as well as at other Daunt Books locations throughout London, the focus is on travel literature, with rare firsthand guides, historical texts, phrasebooks, and more organized geographically by the relevant country. 

Shakespeare and Company
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Shakespeare and Company

Paris
This English-language bookstore gained fame as a hub for Paris' literary community during the roaring '20s, a "Lost Generation" including Hemingway and Joyce. The original location shut down during World War II, but the modern store picked up where it left off: as a free reading library for the public, a boarding house for aspiring writers and artists, an event space for live readings, and even a popular outpost for sidewalk buskers. The space itself is packed to the ceilings with antiquarian hardcovers, lavish seating, stray cats, inspiring quotes, and too many other historic and artistic touches to count — exactly what you'd want from a Parisian bookstore.

Related: 20 Beautiful Libraries Around the World

Cafebrería El Péndulo
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Cafebrería El Péndulo

Mexico City
A palm tree towers through three stories of the flagship Centro Cultural Helénico, setting the tone for this mini chain of cafes/bookstores throughout North America's largest city. At all of the unique, multistory locations, vines and other greenery curve around the handrails and hang from the ceilings amid shelves packed with Spanish- and English-language books and music. 

Word on the Water
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Word on the Water

London
Word on the Water is a 1920s Dutch Barge with a cargo of books, books, and more books, spanning from literary classics to contemporary children's novels. Since overcoming canal regulations that force it to keep changing locations, the floating store is anchored on Regents Canal near the offices of King's Cross, where it warms visitors with its wood-burning stove in winter and delights with a wide variety of musical performances and live readings from its rooftop garden in summer. 

Leakey's Bookshop
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Leakey's Bookshop

Inverness, Scotland
In 1979, the 17th century St. Mary's Gaelic church in the Scottish Highlands was repurposed into one of the UK's literary highlights. The store's selection — closed to the public during a resurgent coronavirus pandemic — includes antiques, art prints, and more than 100,000 secondhand books, with sections on hunting, cookery, topography, and Scottish history. The outside looks as holy as it ever did, and the interior boasts classic features such as an iron staircase and hand-carved wooden pulpits illuminated by stained-glass windows.

Related: Holy Makeover: 20 Former Churches That Have Been Born Again

Book and Bed
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Book and Bed

Tokyo
If you can't make it for long through a book without shutting your eyes to sleep, Book and Bed is for you. Opened five years ago in a Tokyo high-rise, this bookstore-themed hotel offers cheap accommodation in hostel-style bunks surrounded by thousands of English- and Japanese-language tomes. Books hang from ceilings above wooden shelving with ladders and cozy reading nooks built right in, near views of the big city lights. While its books aren't for sale, a night of sleep-reading here can cost as low as $32 for a compact compartment measuring just 80 by 33 inches – not bad for Tokyo.

Related: The Coolest Themed Hotel Rooms Around the World

Alexis Bookshop
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Alexis Bookshop

Bratislava, Slovakia
Without the historic pedigree of other internationally acclaimed bookstores, Alexis instead makes creative use of modern architectural design. The whole store takes the form of a gradually climbing staircase with bookshelves lining either side; each step doubles as a sitting area for readers while browsing or for spectators during regular talks and events.

Librairie Avant-Garde
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Librairie Avant-Garde

Nanjing, China
What was once a subterranean parking lot and bomb shelter spanning 41,000 square feet makes the perfect setting for one of the world's largest collections of books for sale. Like a sacred space for booklovers, the store features support pillars etched with poetry, a replica of "The Thinker" at the entrance, and yellow traffic markings leading to a giant wooden crucifix, in tribute to the area's Christian heritage. It serves as a popular gathering space as well with open-plan seating areas, onsite café and gift shop, and frequent live events.

Livraria da Vila
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Livraria da Vila

São Paulo
A façade of bookshelves sealed with glass swivels open during business hours to allow entry to the Livraria da Vila, Brazil's most boldly designed book haven. Inside, the atrium-style bookstore has three levels of unsealed bookcases to browse through laid out just as creatively, with book-lined staircases and ceiling openings, among other unforgettable features.

Related: Gorgeous Painted Stairs Around the World

Munro's Books
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Munro's Books

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
A highlight of Victoria's eminently charming old town district, Munro's is probably Canada's best, or at least most distinguished, bookseller. It's in a neoclassical stone building designed for the Royal Bank of Canada in 1909, but now decorated with custom tapestries inspired by classic literature that stretch toward the 24-foot coffered ceiling.

Les Bouquinistes
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Les Bouquinistes

Paris
Rather than a single bookstore, the Bouquinistes refers to more than 200 independent booksellers that can be found in the retail stalls lining the banks of the river Seine. Inspiring similar outdoor booksellers in international locales such as Tokyo, Beijing, and Ottawa, the Bouquinistes offer some of the most picturesque browsing of any retailers, specializing in antiquarian books as well as trading cards and Parisian art prints.


Honesty Bookshop
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Honesty Bookshop

Hay-on-Wye, Wales
Often described as "the town of books," the Welsh hamlet of Hay-on-Wye is one of the UK's major destinations for bibliophiles, with more than 30 bookshops squeezed into less than a square mile. While every shop is worth a visit, particularly during the book-centric annual Hay Festival, perhaps most memorable is the open-air, 24-hour Honesty Bookshop. Leaning shelves stocked with books are built into the fortified stone ruins of the medieval Norman Castle. Though modest in scope, the experience of browsing here blends charmingly into the town's historic atmosphere, with verdant fields and pastoral British architecture surrounding.  As the name suggests, shoppers use the honor system to pay for books costing no more than 1 pound apiece, with all proceeds going toward the castle's maintenance and restoration.

Related: 50 Incredible Castles Around the World

Bart's Books
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Bart's Books

Ojai, California
As the world's largest outdoor bookstore, Bart's Books has evolved from one man's storage solution for his excess literature into an expansive yet informal lending library. While not as aesthetically ambitious as some other stores, Bart's has a beauty all its own owing to the sunny Southern California skies, landscaped outdoor seating areas, and rustic community-oriented approach, letting patrons browse and buy books (including specials priced at 35 cents) at all hours on the honor system by depositing change into mounted coffee canisters.

Related: The Most Beautiful College Campuses Around the World