(SPOT.ph) Virginia Woolf, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare have something else in common aside from being legendary writers. They all hail from England—London, specifically, except for Shakespeare who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. We wonder if it's the air or the water in that part of the globe, but the country is known for producing literary greats. So their love for books doesn't come as a surprise, and they're more than happy to share this devotion to the written word through one-of-a-kind bookstores.
Here’s a list of excellent bookshops to check out when in London:
London Review Bookshop
London Review of Books, "Europe's leading magazine of culture and ideas," founded in 1979, is known for its critique on the latest novels and poetry collections; features on the latest movies and art exhibitions; and commentaries on history and current events. So you can just imagine how enriching for the soul their bookshop is. The two-floor store is just a stone's throw away from the British Museum in the heart of Bloomsbury. It features more than 20,000 titles that range from thick books on history to coffee table books on cooking. If you're lucky, you might even find a signed copy of your favorite author's latest book—for the same price! Tote bags, which cost anywhere from £5 to £15 (P320 to P960), are available by the counter in case you run out of luggage space.
London Review Bookshop is at 14 Bury Place, Holborn, London. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Gay’s The Word
Queer books like Sarah Water's novels, Andrea Gibson's poetry collection, and non-fiction pieces on LGBTQ+ history may be hard to find in mainstream bookstores, but at Gay's The Word, they're celebrated under rainbow-themed decor. Shelves are labeled (i.e. "Lesbian," "Gay," "Bisexual," "Non-Binary," etc.), and books have small notes to pique your interest (i.e. "Recommended," "Read if you like ___," etc.). Gay's The Word, which was founded in 1979, started out as a community center that hosted meetings for lesbians and gay men, musicals, and piano nights. It almost closed down in the '80s, after Customs and Excise decreed their stock—mostly shipped from abroad—as obscene and, therefore, subject to seizure. An outpouring support, however, saved England’s only queer bookshop, and it’s now gayer than ever.
Gay's The Word is at 66 Marchmont Street, Saint Pancras, London. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Right beside a supermarket selling groceries and fresh goods is a glass door that leads to a small room with layers of gig posters on the wall. The saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" seems apt for this instance because when you dare go down the flight of spiral stairs, you'll see a trove of secondhand academic books with topics ranging from philosophy to politics.
Skoob Books is at The Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury, London. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hatchards, London's oldest bookshop, should be on every bookshopper's bucket list if only for its rich history. Its Piccadilly shop was established in 1797 by John Hatchard, and has since sold all kinds of books to all kinds of people. This includes first-edition books, including works by Margaret Atwood, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, and other literary greats. Hatchards opened a new shop at St. Pancras International in 2014.
See a list of Hatchards branches in London.
Judd Books' façade looks a lot like many of London's fruit stands, with a green-colored awning. But instead of boxes of orange and apples in front of the store, you'll find stacks of pre-loved £2 books even before you enter the door. (That’s about P120!) Inside, you can strike a conversation with the bookseller, and go home with highly recommended books on literature, art, film, media, and economics.
Judd Books is at 82 Marchmont Street, Saint Pancras, London. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
South Kensington Books
South Kensington Books is just a five-minute walk away from London's trifecta of museums—The Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum. It's a good pit stop if you're looking to extend your knowledge in visual arts, architecture, and photography because of the store's extensive collection from these genres. There is also a variety of titles on poetry, music, fiction, and more.
South Kensington Books is at 22 Thurloe Street, Kensington, London. It is open from Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; every Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Daunt Books currently has six outposts in London, but it's the Marylebone branch that's the most popular. Opened in 1990 by James Daunt, the store housed in a 1910 Edwardian building features a main hall with a mezzanine, an arched window with glazed glass, and a skylight. If you're not into buying books (but why?), you can at least take gorgeous photos of this bookshop.
See a list of Daunt Books branches in London.
Word on the Water
If Singapore has a floating Louis Vuitton store, London has a floating bookshop called Word on the Water. It's set on a 1920s Dutch barge, and has been in existence since 2010. With problems related to logistics (weather, permits, and such), Word on the Water frequently changed its location along Regents Canal in the beginning. But through the support of the local community, it finally lowered its anchor—so to speak—near London's Granary Square.
Word on the Water is at York Way, Granary Square, London. It is open from Monday to Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
National Theatre Bookshop
London houses some of the biggest and longest-running theatrical shows in the world. And what better way to expand your knowledge on theater than through the National Theatre Bookshop, which sells books on—of course—musicals and plays. Aside from manuscripts of your favorite shows, they also sell books on theater criticism and history, biographies of playwrights and thespians, and West End posters.
National Theatre Bookshop is at Upper Ground, Lambeth, London. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
London's Stanfords is a highly recommended stop for the traveling bookworm. It was established in 1853 by Edward Stanford, and features a vast collection of maps, globes, maritime charts, travel guides and books, and other travel accessories like waterproof bags, compasses, adaptors, and toiletries.
Stanfords is at 7 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, London. It is open from Monday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and every Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.