Feature: Summer Tour, Interesting Bookstores to Visit Across the Globe

By Michele Mathews

Summer brings about many fun things, and traveling is one of them. I don’t travel near as much as I’d like, but when I do, visiting bookstores is on the top of my list. More importantly, I enjoy the interesting bookstores, the ones that have something unique about them whether it’s the history of the shop or the shop itself.

Whether you travel within the United States or overseas this summer, let’s take a quick trip about the globe and see what interesting bookstores we can find in the various parts of the world.  

We’re leaving New York City and heading to Europe first where you’ll find several bookstores in a few different countries. We’ll start in the northern part of the continent and move our way south

First stop, Europe

Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, Wales

The little town of Hay-on-Wye hosts a literary festival each year and is home to 40 bookstores. The one that stands out the most is the Honesty Bookshop, which has had various changes since it started back in the 1960s. The books are outside on shelves, and just like its name, it’s all based on honesty. You pay for your books by dropping the money in a box.

Dominicanen Bookstore, Maastricht, Holland

Beginning as a 13th century church, Napoleon Bonaparte turned it into storage space in the late 1700s. Eventually, he abandoned the property, and it became a place where bikes were stashed. In 2005, the architecture firm Merkx + Girod returned the building to its original look and created the bookstore where you can enjoy plenty of books and a café.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France

Sylvia Beach opened the first store in 1919, and it was the hangout for famous authors like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound. During World War II, it was forced closed when Paris was occupied. When the store re-opened in 1951, it became a favorite among readers because of its selection.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

Venice is known for its waterways, but it also has a floating bookstore. In 2004, Luigi Frizzo founded the shop, and he created the shop in a way that the books float. How did he do this? He keeps the books in bathtubs, plastic bins, rowboats, and one full-size gondola. When Venice’s famous periodic high water happens, the books will float in whatever they’re in and stay safe.


Now that we’ve finished touring Europe, let’s head to Asia and see what bookstores we can find there. It looks like we’ll be all over the continent, starting in Israel.

Sefer Ve Sefel, Jerusalem, Israel

Opened in the 1980s, Sefer Ve Sefel was considered one of the original bookstore and café combinations of that time. The café is no longer there, but after Michael and Zia Rose bought it in 2015, this bookstore continues to thrive in Jerusalem and is popular with both tourists and locals.

The Bookworm, Beijing, China

The Bookworm is not only a bookstore, but it’s also a library. It has over 16,000 titles in its library. It also has a café and plenty of places to sit and either chat with friends or read a book.

Hikayat, Penang, Malaysia

Hikayat is located in Penang, a creative island in Malaysia. Editor and writer Gareth Richards runs the two-year-old bookshop, which is on the first floor along with a café. Upstairs, visitors will find an art room.


Those were interesting bookstores, but I wonder what Australia has. So, we’ll fly south to the smallest continent. While I’m not a food and wine expert, I see there is a shop I might want to visit so I can learn more about those topics.

Books for Cooks, Melbourne

Back in 1983, this bookstore opened and started as a part-time venture. In 2000, it started its journey to the store it is today. Owned by cooks Tim and Amanda, this bookshop is more for those readers who want to learn and read about cooking, wines, and anything else about food and drinks. They have both used and new books.

South America

We’re circling around the globe and heading to South America now. I’ve got my eye on one in Buenos Aires that looks unique.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

Did you know that Buenos Aires is the bookshop capital of the world? I didn’t, and the most famous one is called El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Back in 1919, this bookstore opened as a theater and became famous for its tango performances. Ten years later, it became a cinema, and in 2000, it was to be demolished. However, Grupo Ilhsa bought it and opened it as the bookstore that we can visit today.

North America

Now we’re heading back to North America and where our trip around the globe started. Let’s roam through Mexico on our way north to California where we’ll find a couple of interesting bookstores. Then we’ll head across country to a couple on the east coast.

Cafebrería El Péndulo, Mexico City

Even though this is a chain in Mexico City, the bookstore in Zona Rosa, a neighborhood in the city, has a great selection of English books. It also has plenty of events, such as live music and poetry readings, as well as a piano bar. It’s also decorated with plenty of plants to give you a cozy feeling as you wander the bookstore.

Bart’s Books, Ojai, California

Back in 1964, owner Richard Bartinsale ran out of room in his house for his books, so he started putting them on shelves where people passing by saw them and left him money in a coffee can. Today, he runs this unique open-air bookshop with mostly used books, complete with couches and coffee.

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

Back in 2005, this bookstore was started in a loft when other independent bookstores were closing. It has since grown and is now housed in a 22,000 square feet space. Whether you’re looking for vinyl records, graphic novels, or arts and crafts, you’ll find all of that as well as over 250,000 new and used books on two floors.

Brattle Bookshop, Boston

Established in 1825 and located in downtown Boston, this bookstore is one of the oldest ones in the U.S. The shop buys and sells used magazines and books as well as rare books and houses over 250,000 items on three floors.

Trident Booksellers and Café, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Since 1992, this bookstore has remained open while other independent bookstores in Canada have closed. It maintains its 1990s décor and sells both new and used books. While you shop, you can also enjoy the café and get your favorite drinks and sweet treats.

We’re flying back to New York City where we began our journey of some interesting bookstores around the world. 

I know there are plenty more to find, but these are the ones I found the most unique. Which one will you visit first?

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Article originally Published in the April / May 2023 Issue: Voices.

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