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Books have always provided readers with an opportunity to escape from reality; to immerse themselves in the lives of characters and get lost in worlds different from their own. For many people, finding a bookstore is the start of this journey. From grand marble staircases and stained-glass windows to bathtubs filled with books, these bookstores are better than fiction.
In a city built on water, owning a bookshop can be a risky business – but not for Libreria Acqua Alta. By placing the majority of its impressive collection in disused gondolas or old bathtubs, the bookstore has established itself as a quirky literary sanctuary for the Venetian belletrist – while simultaneously protecting books from potential flooding. Remaining books are stacked into jumbled piles with no discernable order – reflecting both Venetian architecture and the tangible carefree mentality of the city. Selling both new releases and second-hand books, the store contains everything from fiction to magazines and antique old maps. Almost as enticing as the never-ending collection of books are the owner’s resident cats, who roam around keeping you company while you browse.
Paris has been home to many different literary icons and holds countless must-see spots for literature lovers worldwide. Les Deux Magots is a café famous for being the favourite of writers such as Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvior and Jean-Paul Sartre. The Bouquinistes are a collection of stalls along the bank of the Seine, selling rare collections of books and other forms of literature dating back to the 16th century. Then there’s the Cimetière du Père Lachaise – the world’s most visited cemetery, home to the graves of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein. Still, Shakespeare & Co. is undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of Paris’s literary offerings. Founded in 1919 by American expat Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare & Co. quickly became a hotspot for writers of the time. F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce were just a few of the famous faces who frequented of the shop. Located near Boulevard Saint-Germaine, the bookstore continues to be the epicentre of Anglophone literary life in the capital. As well as selling books, both new and old, it hosts weekly events, an annual literary festival and awards the Paris Literary Prize to unpublished writers.
A UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh has inspired writers for centuries, from Walter Scott to J.K. Rowling. The Scottish capital boasts a selection of literary events and independent bookstores, the most famous of which is undeniably Golden Hare Books. Located in the quiet, residential suburb of Stockbridge, this bookshop transports you away from the whizzing city centre, despite only being a 10-minute walk away. The shop contains the best of fiction, art, architecture, cookery, lifestyle, biography, politics and more. Complete with themed displays, regular book events and talks, this bookshop is made even more enticing by the promise of a log fire on cold days and hot coffee upon arrival.
St. Petersburg is rife with evidence of its rich literary history. Take the Dostoevsky Zone for example, an area associated with the work of the eponymous writer, stretching from his own house to the homes of his fictional protagonists. Nearby is the apartment-turned-museum of the great Aleksander Pushkin and the House of Books is a world-famous bookstore, located on the corner of Griboyedov Canal. Built in 1902, the building is officially called The Singer House, and is known for its beautiful design. From the art-nouveau architecture, colourful interiors, grand marble staircases and an intricate glass globe sculpture on top to the six floors of shelf-filled books, hours could be spent wandering through the store. Containing genres from fiction to travel writing, buy yourself a cup of tea and settle down by a window in the café to enjoy a good book and views over the Nevsky Prospect and the Kazan Cathedral.
With Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury Gardens and J.K. Rowling’s Platform 9 ¾ in Kings Cross, London is filled with the memories of writers and their stories. Integral to the plots of many famous novels such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Marylebone is the perfect place for a literary haven. Daunt Books is a shop for travellers; books are arranged by country, allowing you to broaden both geographical and literary horizons in one fell swoop. Inside a beautiful Edwardian building lies endless rows of beautiful books, surrounded by stained glass windows, dark wooden balconies and ceiling skylights. You’ll be browsing for hours.
6. Zhongshuge Bookstore, Yangzhou, China
Step into a seemingly never-ending tunnel of books created by Shanghai-based studio XL-Muse at Zhongshuge Bookstore. The bookshop’s black-mirrored floor paired with two walls of arched shelving create an optical illusion that will set the hearts of bibliophiles aflutter. Inspired by the rich cultural heritage of Yangzhou – a historical gathering place for literati and poets – the store is full of helpful staff members who will gladly tell you about the symbolism behind some of the shop’s design features.
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