3 must-visit bookshops for true literature-lovers

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Upstairs at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England

There’s nothing like getting lost in a bookshop – no matter the size. And if my girlfriend looses track of me while shopping, she knows that the section dedicated to travel literature might be a good place to start looking.

I’m (luckily) from a generation that grew up without Kindles and Ipads, and probably that’s why I still love a good old fashioned pile of pages to turn with my fingertips – and also why I love to go hunting for atmospheric bookshops on my travels.

In recent years I have come across quite a few of those around Europe, but here I will just present my absolute favourites for now, found in France, England and Spain.

Even their names are amazing! So take a look….

Shakespeare & Co. – Paris

This is one of the first places I have to go whenever I’m in Paris. An iconic bookshop set right across the Seine from Notre Dame and on the edge of the lively Latin Quarter. Inside you’ll be surrounded by books from floor to ceiling, while narrow stairs lead up to the first floor where aspiring writers known as “tumbleweeds” are living while helping out at the shop. A concept that gives this place a magical bohemian feel, and more than 30.000 people is thought to have stayed at the shop since it opened.

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Facade-shot of Shakespeare and Co. from my last visit in 2012

The story behind the shop and its name has been material for several books alone, as the original Shakespeare and Co. was opened back in 1919, by an American woman named Sylvia Beach. A popular bookshop and hub for literary legends like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Sadly this shop closed down in 1941 during war times and never reopened, but was later “replaced” in 1951 by a similar shop named “Le Mistral” – later to be renamed Shakespeare and Co in 1964. It was run by American George Whitman in Rûe de la Bûcherie where it still remains today, now run by his daugther Sylvia Beach Whitman, who was named after the original shop’s owner.

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The antiquarian part of Shakespeare and Co. in Paris

The shop is a unique combination of an antiquarian part, new and second hand books, a reading library – and recently also a café, which has been added since I last visited Paris. I love everything about this place, from its name to its iconic facade, its atmosphere, its history and its tumbleweed-concept – plus the fact that it has been featured in two of my favourite movies; Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris.

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Books from ceiling to floor

When you visit, don’t forget to have your books stamped with the official Shakespeare and Co. stamp – indicating that the books where bought at this magical address.

Shakespeare and Co.
37 Rûe de la Bûcherie
75005 Paris, France

SEE ALSO: My 3 favourite sunset-spots in Paris

Desperate Literature – Madrid

I have earlier presented this charming little book-hub here on the blog, but it certainly deserves to be on this list too. Although not associated, Desperate Literature have brought the “Shakespeare & Co magic” to downtown Madrid, hidden in the small street of Calle Campomanes – just a few minutes walk from the capital’s major attractions.

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A typewriter for writing poetry inside Desperate Literature in Madrid

Here its leading its own little life, managed by a couple of passionate literature-lovers; Charlotte and Terry (who used to work at Shakespeare & Co.) – and it’s frequently used as an intimate venue for small concerts, poetry readings and book launches. It’s brimful of books and atmosphere and features some lovely details, like a chess board and an old typewriter if you should feel inspired to type.

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Why not bring a czech mate for a game of chess?

The great selection of books is International and contains new crisp publications as well as second hand gems, ranging from classics to art, sci-fi, poetry, philosophy, travel and much more, while you’ll also find a cosy kids corner.

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The lovely entrance to Desperate Literature in Calle Campomanes

I loved to drop in here from time to time when I was living in downtown Madrid, for a place to get lost for a while, an escape from the big city buzz – and a refreshing contrast to big passion-drained book-empires.

Desperate Literature
13 Calle Campomanes
28013 Madrid, Spain

inspiration to Madrid HERE

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights – Bath

It was by pure coincidence that I came by this lovely bookshop one day while wandering the streets of Bath – after having lived in this beautiful city in Southern England for almost two months. At first sight the quirky name caught my attention, and when I entered to explore the shop, this place quickly placed itself firmly on this list.


The well-stocked travel section of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights

It’s easy to see this shop was built on pure passion for books, and for creating the right atmosphere around selecting and buying your books. This place is like a maze of words and letters, spanning three floors from the basement to the upstairs living room-like enterior. A shop where you feel “wrapped” in inspiration no matter where you look – even when you go to the toilet(!), as they’ve been colourfully decorated with a comic book theme, exactly like the Tintin-covered wall at the stairway.

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You won’t find a much more entertaining toilet than this

Upstairs you’ll also find comfy reading chairs in front of the fireplace, and free coffee and tea on offer, while browsing for your next literary adventure. A small room in the corner is designed to function as a “fitting room” for trying out your books – and don’t even get me started about my favourite part, the travel section. Downstairs the colourful kid’s section includes wonders like a reading tree and a bath tub full of books.

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This reading tree adorns the children’s section

This award-winning shop was created by two lawyers (Nic and Juliette) who changed their careers and opened Mr. B’s in 2006 – taking the prize as the UK’s “Independent Bookshop of the Year” twice in its short life span. Simply impressive! A part of the success comes from unique ways of selling books, whether on markets, in themed bundles or by appointing specific members of staff to personally select a monthly book for “subscribers”.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights
14-15 John Street
BA1 2JL, Bath, England

Which bookshops are your favourites in Europe?
Please share your tips in the comments below…

SEE ALSO: 10 spots to soak up the beauty of Bath

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By Brian Schæfer Dreyer