London’s 10 Best Independent Bookshops

We want to shine a light on a few of London’s fabulous independent bookshops. Expect shelves sagging under the weight of great tomes, cosy alcoves, niche offerings and booksellers who know their Atwood from their Zephaniah.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that words cannot do justice to the pleasures of a good bookshop, and a fact that (according to The Reading Agency) the time people spend reading in the UK has almost doubled since the start of lockdown.

It can be tempting to download new titles to your eReader or get them delivered the next day on Prime membership. Yet there's a niggling voice in our head reminding us that Jeff Bezos's personal wealth has increased by more than £40billion during the pandemic while many indie stores are struggling to keep their doors open.

With that in mind, we want to shine a light on a few of London's fabulous independent bookshops. Expect shelves sagging under the weight of great tomes, cosy alcoves, niche offerings and booksellers who know their Atwood from their Zephaniah. The smell of new paperbacks permeates the face mask, we promise.

Can't browse IRL? Many of these shops have great online offerings, delivery services and even subscription boxes too.

Shop local, read local: 10 London booksellers you can support

shopping

Persephone Books

Holborn

Since opening in 1998, Persephone - a bookseller and publisher - has dedicated its shelves to 20th-century literature penned (mostly) by women. Expect to find historical memoirs, cookbooks and feminist fiction among works that have been largely forgotten or under-appreciated by mainstream bookshops. It might be wrong to judge a book by its cover, but Persephone's signature grey jackets and artful endpapers have us smitten. Like this? Visit Soho's pink-floored The Second Shelf next.

Address

59 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB

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Gay's the Word

St Pancras

When Gay’s the Word was opened by socialist activists in 1979, it was the UK’s first bookshop dedicated to LGBTQ+ writing from around the world – and it’s now the last surviving of its kind. It has become something of a literary haven for the queer community, without doubt thanks to its impassioned manager Jim MacSweeney, his knowledgeable staff and the shop’s doubling up as a meeting place for collectives such as TransLondon and the Lesbian Discussion Group.

Address

66 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB

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Daunt Books

Marylebone

A tote bag from Daunt Books is the standard uniform for any bibliophile worth their weight in hardbacks. It has a handful of locations across London - in Holland Park, Hampstead and Cheapside, to name a few - but the original Edwardian bookshop on Marylebone High Street is our favourite. It lays claim to being the world's first custom-built bookshop and the travel section is second to none. Under non-pandemic circumstances, the calendar of events is particularly good here.

Address

83 Marylebone High Street, W1U 4QW

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Brick Lane Bookshop

Tower Hamlets

In 1973, Tower Hamlets had no bookshops. Four years on, after a few successful pop-up stalls, the Tower Hamlets Arts Project opened in Watney Market, selling locally produced books, prints and community newspapers. More than 30 years later, it has been reborn as Brick Lane Bookshop on the eponymous East End street, specialising in London-based literature alongside fiction, non-fiction, poetry, travel and more. Its annual Short Story Prize (and the subsequent anthology of entries) is a great way to discover emerging writers. While you're in the area, take the five-minute walk to Libreria in Spitalfields.

Address

166 Brick Lane, E1 6RU

shopping

Dulwich Books

West Dulwich

Dulwich Books has a dedicated local following and several awards under its belt - it has been shortlisted by The British Book Awards as Independent Bookshop of the Year (BrOOK's in Pinner snagged the 2020 prize). The booksellers here really know their stuff, so do ask for recommendations - several of them are publishing-industry veterans. If you're mooching around the area, try Village Books too.

Address

6 Croxted Road, SE21 8SW

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Word on the Water

King's Cross

Perhaps London's most idiosyncratic purveyor of books, Word on the Water takes shape as a 1920s Dutch barge floating on Regent's Canal. There'll often be music playing on deck as you creek across its dark-wood floorboards to find new titles rubbing shoulders with second-hand reads. Better still, dogs are welcome inside. And even better than that, it offers a subscription package and pre-loved book boxes.

Address

Regent's Canal Towpath, N1C 4LW

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The All Good Bookshop

Haringey

Headed up by veteran bookseller Tim West, this community-run, cooperative bookshop and event space opened after Wood Green's Big Green Bookshop closed its physical premises in early 2019, leaving a literary hole in the area. Browse shelves of new fiction, non-fiction and classics before making tracks to sister shop The All Good Bookshed in nearby Blue House Yard for second-hand reads. Buy a share in the shop and you'll receive a lifetime discount of 10 per cent on all books and events.

Address

35 Turnpike Lane, N8 0EP

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John Sandoe Books

Chelsea

Spread across three small, 18th-century shops on the narrow Blacklands Terrace, a library card's throw from King's Road and Sloane Square, John Sandoe has been peddling page-turners since the late 50s. Shelves sag under the weight of titles - generally those of an arts-and-humanities persuasion. Find a cosy window seat or pull up a stool to have a leaf through between the crooked cases and knotted floorboards. This is a textbook bookshop.

Address

10 Blacklands Terrace, SW3 2SR

This image is on holiday

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New Beacon Books

Finsbury Park

When John La Rose and Sarah White opened in this publishing house and bookshop in 1966, it was the UK’s first of its kind to specialise in Black British, Caribbean, African, African-American and Asian literature. It closed in early 2017, but reopened a few months later after the volunteer-led New Beacon Development Group launched a successful crowdfunding initiative. It’s never been just a bookshop, however; New Beacon has been a launchpad for many political and social projects such as the Caribbean Artists Movement and European Action for Racial Equality and Social Injustice.

Address

76 Stroud Green Road, N4 3EN

shopping

London Review Bookshop

Holborn

Opened by the London Review of Books magazine in 2003, a (Rosetta) stone's throw from the British Museum, this is a place for bibliophiles to peruse more than 20,000 titles including classic literature and modern poetry. If you're of the insatiable-reader ilk, sign up Diverted Traffic newsletter for a daily fix of writing from its archive "chosen for its compulsive, immersive and escapist qualities, and also for its total lack of references to plague, pandemics or quarantine".

Address

14-16 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL

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