The 10 best bookstores in London for discerning readers

The native land of dapper gentlemen laid out with little logic but much heritage is the worldly city of London. Whether it’s looking down over Hampstead Heath as in an Austen novel, knocking for Sherlock at 221b Baker Street, or sipping an ale in Shakespeare’s favourite pub, the literary past of London is never far from mind. It’s little wonder then why Londoners are such a bookish lot, with the city catering to them with its huge number of independent bookstores, some centuries old. Here is our choice of the 10 best bookshops in London, serving up a much-needed dose of literature, culture and even cake in the UK capital. Read on!

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1. West End Lane Books

West End Lane Books lies in the wealthy borough of West Hampstead not far from the sprawling green of Hampstead Heath. Operating since 1994, the store brings authentic old-world vibes to your book browsing as well as some unique family history. Libyan refugee and publisher, Mohammed Fergiani, opened his store – and sister shop, Queen’s Park Books – as a way to instil a love of books in young learners and adults alike, passing the business down to son Ghassan and two resident goldfish Canongate and Faber. As well as dedicating a large space for children’s works, the store now holds a solid range of classics, crime and contemporary titles alongside a range of stationery and gifts.

2. Gay's The Word

Opening its doors in King’s Cross at a key time for London’s burgeoning gay population in 1979, Gay’s the Word has since become a steadfast part of the city’s LGBTQ+ community and remains as the first and only lesbian and gay bookshop in the UK. Besides dense tomes of queer theory, Gay’s the Word sells a bunch of lighter works including comics, graphic novels and memoirs from prominent gay writers and advocates. In keeping with the theme, the store holds regular discussion groups on topics spanning sex, relationships and parenting with an LGBTQIA+ slant, as well as readings and signings from the likes of Armistead Maupin and Sarah Waters.

Photo: Toni Koraza

3. Libreria

A nostalgic throwback to a world with no tech distractions, Libreria lies in East London as a spot for those seeking escape. Down in the basement, there’s a risograph printing press but at ground level, you’ll find sleek floor-to-ceiling shelves holding titles categorised under unexpected themes such as ‘bad feminist’, ‘utopia’ or ‘enchantment for the disenchanted’. Libreria also has its own library-style desks each with table lamps for browsing your new discoveries, with cell phones politely banned in store. Come later on to sample the store’s whisky bar, staying for a multitude of cultural events or a printing workshop downstairs.

4. Kirkdale Bookshop

Based further out in the southeast suburb of Sydenham, Kirkdale Bookshop has been a firm community outpost since 1966 and remains one of the most loved second-hand bookshops London has to offer. As well as pre-loved titles, Kirkdale has new and classic titles alongside a range of bookish memorabilia such as vintage Penguin mugs all across two floors. Sign up to the bimonthly book club or any of the cultural events on offer, from art exhibitions to live music, to best experience the Kirkdale community spirit.

5. Daunt Books, Marylebone

Said to be London’s most beautiful bookshop, Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street stands tall as a three-storey Edwardian building adorned with elegant stained glass windows and an oak façade. Behind its front, Daunt Books open up into a much vaster space than you could imagine from outside, its high-ceilinged main gallery making room for balcony and conservatory features and row-upon-row of literary fiction, foreign language titles, guidebooks and more. Known as a travel specialist, Daunt Books is a top spot for maps, travelogues and related global fiction, with an informed staff on hand to help at any time.

Daunt Books | Photo: Pauline Loroy

Photo: Dollar Gill

6. Burley Fisher Books

Small but mighty is the cosy community bookstore of Burley Fisher Books, in Haggerston near Hackney. Of all the independent bookshops London offers up, Burley Fisher is one of the brightest thanks to its focus on small and mini-press publications, thoughtfully picked by its dedicated staff. Settle in the adjacent café or bar to immerse yourself in the latest print, or connect remotely by listening to the store’s COVID-era podcast, Isolation Station, where staff discuss and interview new writers.

7. Broadway Bookshop

Another Hackney-based independent, towards the canal side of Broadway Market, Broadway Bookshop is also about promoting small publishers with its slick collection of London-centric literary fiction, travel titles and New York Review features. Besides reprinting lost treasures, Broadway Bookshop also sells collectible editions of old Penguins and 1930s hardbacks, all within a permanent exhibition space promoting local artists.

Photo: Michal Balog

8. John Sandoe

Over in the affluent neighbourhood of Chelsea, down a side street off of the boutique-lined King’s Road, John Sandoe brings Big Dickens Energy right into the 21st century. Spanning three floors of an 18th century build complete with flower displays in each window, John Sandoe is a bookstore London has cherished since 1957, benefiting from a broad stock of 30,000 new and classic titles piled high on every surface, alongside unusual titles privately printed for the store’s loyal clientele. Find art, photography and architecture dominating the ground floor, with children’s titles in the basement and travel and hardbacks up top, coming at Christmas for a chance to get your hands on their specially commissioned print of short stories.

9. London Review Bookshop

Owned by the high-brow critics responsible for the London Review of Books, the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury is certainly one for serious readers. Walk in on a ground-floor collection of politics, history, current affairs titles, moving downstairs for poetic and philosophical stimulations, as well as a range of audiobooks à la mode. After all those hard words, reward yourself with a slice from the London Review Cakeshop, a boutique tea room which also doubles up as an space for book groups, author signings and live performances each week.

Photo: Norbert Toth

Photo: Corey Collins

10. Stanfords

Fulfil your need to travel the world with a quick trip to specialist bookshop Stanfords, flagshipped in Covent Garden. Not only can you find a plethora of maps, guides and travelogues here, but you’ll also be granted a choice of contemporary fiction, classics and children’s works, beside handcrafted globes, calendars and more. Operating since 1853 on Long Acre, Stanfords has sold guides to many famous figures from history, including Captain Scott, Florence Nightingale and even literary local Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

After getting lost in a good book, get lost in London’s best neighbourhoods, following our London travel guide for advice on where to go.

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