Bookstores are the ultimate arbiters of our literary culture because they reflect the communities they serve. There’s much beauty in a well-edited bookstore – it’s a repository for ideas and imagination; a refuge where bibliophiles form emotional attachments with precious prints. One enters a bookstore to be challenged, informed and comforted.
The death of bookstores has been greatly exaggerated as more shops are diversifying, by including cosmopolitan needs like a cosy café or a sleek co-working space, to survive the shifting nature of book shopping. We’ve compiled 10 prettiest spots for you to indulge in a little daydreaming because, well, bookstores are make-believe places, after all.
Zhongshuge Bookstore, Hangzhou
The Zhongshuge Bookstore is as extravagant as a museum. Tucked within the Star Avenue commercial centre in Hangzhou, China, the bookstore welcomes readers into their ostentatious maze of mirrors. Segregated into several immersive rooms, the store is adorned with mirrored ceilings that create a never-ending illusion of depth and height, which aims to encourage the pursuit of knowledge. Each room is intricately designed to create an environment that acts as a portal away from our strenuous lifestyle. For example, one room is an ode to nature, where its all-white forest gallery is kitted out with tree-like pillars that appear to stretch beyond reach. A children pavilion is designed like a funfair, complete with a ferris wheel and roller coaster to excite children about reading.
Shop 101 Building 4, Star Avenue, Binjiang District, Hangzhou, China.
Kubrick, Hong Kong
If Kindle has taken a bite out of the bookstore market, it has done little damage to a Hong Kong institution like Kubrick. Architecture-wise, this artsy neighbourhood bookstore, attached to the Broadway Cinematheque, may pale in comparison to its giant counterparts in China, but the laidback vibe makes travellers feel as if they’ve stumbled into an oasis in the bustling Yau Ma Tei. An eclectic collection of art, film, photography and fiction titles is stacked into towering sculptures while some are displayed in an unpredictable manner, which makes browsing an adventure. Customers are free to read in the café area – the perfect place to bury your nose in a thriller to keep you warm on a chilly night.
Shop H2, Prosperous Garden, 3 Public Sq St, Yau Ma Tei. See website.
Daikanyama T-Site Tsutaya, Tokyo
Japan’s bookstores offer much to stimulate the mind and calm the soul – this is the land of Zen after all. The Tsutaya outlet in Daikanyama T-Site, however, is a balm for the strung-out city-slicker. Tokyo’s Klein Dytham Architecture won an award at the World Architecture Festival for T-Site, which is spread across three inter-linked building decked out with a latticed façade. Pockets of green punctuate this sleek book emporium, which also includes a café, upscale convenience store and the sophisticated-looking Anjin lounge, where visitors can sift through a library of classic design magazines and books in plush leather seats.
17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan. See website.
Open House Bookshop by Hardcover, Bangkok
If the interior cues of the bookstore look familiar, that’s because architecture firm Klein Dytham (of Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe fame), as well as the Central Embassy, has a hand in them. The flagship store is a celebration of print culture, which explains the vast selection of rare and out-of-print titles here. The space is divided into several zones: The lofty Book Tower is dedicated entirely to cookbooks while the Book Wall displays all things visual, art and design. A corner showcasing beautiful papers from Japan and Thailand is set to charm any stationery lover. Its open architecture, populated with cafes and eateries, makes for an excellent afternoon’s escape.
Level 6, 1031 Ploenchit Road, Bangkok, Thailand. See website.
Zhongshu Bookstore, Xi’an
A mark of urbanisation, the Xi’an Zhongshu Bookstore is a striking contrast to the city of Xi'an, an ancient capital that was home to 13 dynasties. Designed by Shanghai-based Wutopia Lab with the aid of digital programming, the all-white bookstore, with no hard edges in sight, is reminiscent of an overhead cloud. In order to enter, one must climb up the curved pillarless staircase, which takes readers to the second floor. The space is designed as such so visitors can “float” from one section to another. The installations in the room, built with steel, acrylic and glass, transform reality into “a paradise of reading beyond the clouds”.
67 Ming Guang Lu, Weiyang Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China. See website.
Livraria Lello, Porto
Dubbed the world’s most beautiful bookstore by The Guardian, Lonely Planet and Time magazine, Livraria Lello is recognised for its remarkable historical and architectural appeal since 1906. Situated in the heart of Porto's city center, its façade beckons thousands of tourists into its neo-gothic chambers daily. The interior impresses with intricate wood carvings, a majestic stained glass ceiling and an emblematic crimson staircase. If the décor reminds you a little of Harry Potter, that’s because rumour has it that author J.K Rowling drew inspiration from her visits here in the early 1990s. For a reasonable price of just €3 per entry, you can lounge away with a good book and a cuppa at the coffee shop upstairs.
Cafebrería El Péndulo, Polanco
Order a coffee, sit back and immerse in your favourite book at the cosy Cafebrería El Péndulo. The cafe-bookstore, stocking floor-to-ceiling collection of Spanish and English books, is easy on the eyes with its worn wooden floors, open balcony, pots of greenery at every corner, and emerald handrails that lead you up to the second floor. A highlight of the bookstore is a sand-filled, cone-shaped pendulum that swings back and forth in the middle of the room, which makes sand art with just a gentle nudge. The bookstore, also part of the Free Book movement, leaves 100 books on every 7th of the month to the public to be read and shared.
Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco, Polanco IV Secc, Mexico. See website.
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht
The Boekhandel Dominicanen (formerly Polare Maastricht) gained its worldwide fame from its archaic structure. Formerly a Dominican church, the charming building is more than 720-years-old. The religious building stood the test of time, having witnessed the French invasion and was later abandoned for more than 200 years. Operating since 2007, Boekhandel Dominicanen was restored with a blend of minimalist touches. The tasteful renovation exudes an air of timelessness as ornate arches and vaulted ceilings are juxtaposed against black steel furniture and shelves. The bookstore also serves as a cultural stage, often hosting book signings, debates, interviews, performances and exhibitions. After soaking in the building's ancient and rich history, head over to the former priest's choir for lunch and a cappuccino.
Dominicanerkerkstraat 1, 6211 CP Maastricht, Netherlands. See website.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires
A theater that once saw the birth of tango and subsequently transformed into a cinema (which premiered sound film in Buenos Aires), the Ateneo Grand Splendid now stands as one of the most breathtaking bookstores in the world. After an extensive restoration, the beautifully preserved theater reopened in 2000 as a temple of books containing over 120,000 titles. Visitors are often greeted with the gentle hum of a live piano performance amplified by the stunning acoustics. Once graced by renowned tango lengends such as Francisco Canaro and Ignacio Corsini, the stage now serves as a café. Readers are welcomed to lounge in the refurbished theater boxes and read to their heart's content.
Av. Santa Fe 1860, C1123 CABA, Argentina. See website.
Livraria Cultura, São Paulo
Livraria Cultura occupies a multi-level space in the Iguatemi São Paulo shopping centre and it’s the largest bookstore in Brazil. Situated close to the Consolação subway station, it is conveniently accessible. Apart from the extensive array of books, the expansive bookstore also houses a theater, cafe, an auditorium and multimedia spaces. The open-plan was designed for more than just a place to shop but also a social meeting place for both the young and old. Established more than 70 years ago, the Livraria Cultura resembles a labyrinthine wooden maze with a touch of white whimsy. The generous use of wood offers a more organic environment that is both welcoming and aesthetically pleasing.
Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, 2232 - 3rd Floor Jardim Paulistano. See website.
For a list of local independent bookstores you should visit, see here.