Charming and Unusual Bookstores Around the World

Curl up with a new book—or catch a reading or concert—at these thriving independent bookstores from Mexico City to Melbourne

Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal (© LEMAIRE Stephane/Hemis/Corbis)

Rumor has it J. K. Rowling was inspired by Livraria Lello while writing Harry Potter (and teaching English) in Portugal. It doesn't take long to appreciate Lello's potential as muse: a stained-glass atrium puts the spotlight on the bookshop's deep-red staircase, spectacular enough to stop you in your tracks.

It’s one of the distinctive bookstores that—against industry odds—continue to thrive across the globe. For travelers, these shops go beyond well-curated selections of books: they pack in an abundance of beauty, quirky character and local history within their walls. And they serve as community hubs, where you can tap into the creative pulse of a destination.

In Paris, the romance between Left Bank fixture Shakespeare & Co. and the city's literary set dates back to the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. And it continues to attract luminaries like Zadie Smith, who recently read to a packed house.

Brooklyn, sometimes described as New York's Left Bank, has become the borough of choice for many local writers—and for independent bookstores. One of the most intriguing is Powerhouse Arena, where readings, book launch parties, temporary art exhibits and conversations with contemporary literary voices are hosted in an amphitheater-style seating space with soaring 24-foot ceilings.

As British author Neil Gaiman once said, "A town isn't a town without a bookstore." Our favorites live up to that assessment, whether located in a converted church, bank, home or even a former bomb shelter.

See eight destinations below and the full 15 on Travel + Leisure.

Barter Books, England

This Alnwick bookshop attracted attention for its role in discovering and producing the now ubiquitous World War II Keep Calm and Carry On poster. Housed in an old Victorian railway station, Barter Books has a cozy living room vibe, thanks to rugs, crackling fireplaces in the winter, toys for kids, a model railway acting as a link between the book columns of the central room and comfy seats amid a vast selection of secondhand books on a variety of subjects. It's even more irresistible once you hear the owners' backstory: U.S.-born Mary and British-born Stuart Manley met on a transatlantic flight.


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