Take a journey with The Print into the magical world of London’s independent bookshops
Bookshops are a means of escape from the mundane, and an exploration of the unknown. Like London, they can take you to the most beautiful or eerie of places. In my search for the best that London has to offer, it became evident that my arduous journey revealed more about the city than mere tour guides and trips to the popular tourist destinations. From visiting a portable book haven to a converted crypt, it is clear that this city has many hidden treasures. Thus, the lucky few that grace this guide are sure to find somewhere that will please the pickiest of readers.
Word on the Water
Open: Monday – Sunday, 12:00pm – 7:00pm
Location: Regents Canal Towpath, Kings Cross, N1C 4LW
Word on the Water is a second-hand bookshop on a 1920’s Dutch Barge. It is now permanently moored on Regents Canal Towpath, Kings Cross. As a small bookshop that’s at the heart of the city, Word on the Water epitomises the idea of village-esque London. The clever use of space allows for a surprising number of books to be displayed for customers to purchase, both on the deck and in the cabin. The first thing that I noticed about this bookshop, aside from the obvious, was the tranquillity of the cabin. With seating having been built in, and the distant hum of music, I could imagine being transported to far lands and battling sea monsters. Not only is the idea of a bookshop on a boat ingenious, but it also provides the perfect setting for dreamers to conjure up adventures. Being a second hand bookshop, Word on the Water showcases a large variety of very well priced books, £3 paperbacks and £4 hardbacks. With the colder months upon us, a visit to this cosy bookshop would be highly suggested. An evening perusing books with a hot chocolate is an ideal way to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas and this is the place to do just that.
The London Review Bookshop
Open: Monday – Saturday, 10:00am – 6:30pm / Sunday 12:00pm – 6:00pm
Location: 14 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL
It is universally known that the best way to enjoy a good book is with a pot of tea and a slice of cake. The London Review Bookshop combines our love of food with book, presenting an airy shop with a café in the adjoining room. This bookshop is a short walk from the British Museum and is a great place to stop and rest after hours of walking. Downstairs, there is a large poetry section and a seating area so customers can read and take their time choosing different books. As well as it being a bright and welcoming place, this independent store is particularly inviting due to its enthused, if not quirky, staff (does anyone say cheerio these days?). I particularly love the way this bookshop encourages customers to try new genres through their wall of recommended reads. This is especially useful for avid book lovers as there are reviews from staff and customers attached to the suggestions. This bookshop is also great for students who may find themselves near the British Museum or the Senate House Library. The London Review Bookshop gives the perfect excuse to browse non-academic texts whilst also enjoying some cake.
Open: Monday – Saturday 10:30am – 8:00pm / Sunday 10:30am – 6pm
Location: 66 The Brunswick, WC1N 1AE
Skoob Books is described as a ‘temple for used academic books’ and rightly so, as it boasts a large variety of books that are incredibly cheap. With a further 10% discount for students, this second-hand bookshop is a bibliophile’s dream. The bookshop itself is a 2-minute walk from Russell Square station and is in a basement of a building. It has everything from a large collection of Penguin classics, to the Memoirs of Hillary Clinton and The Shakespeare Cookbook. Nestled amongst the shelves is a piano, and unsurprisingly the shelves surrounding it have books on music and various musicians. It is very easy to spend a couple of hours in this basement bookshop as chairs are scattered everywhere and we are welcome to sit and read. However, like all second-hand bookshops, Skoob Books may not always yield results and you may leave with very few to no books. Nevertheless, your patience could be rewarded as you could find yourself with a first edition for as little as £10. Therefore, this bookshop is definitely worth a visit.
Brompton Café & Bookshop
Open: Monday – Friday 8:00am – 4:00pm / Sunday 9:00am – 9:00pm
Location: The Crypt, Holy Trinity Brompton Road, SW7 1JA
The Brompton Café & Bookshop caught my attention for all the unusual reasons. Situated in the basement of the Holy Trinity Brompton Church, you take the staircase that leads to the Crypt. My morbid curiosity led me to do some further research on crypts and I was fascinated at how well they modernised a space, which historically held coffins and sacred items. The interior is spacious, well lit and welcoming despite it being beneath the church. Furthermore, whilst it prides itself on being a café and bookshop, it is more a café and social space. The ‘book’ aspect comes from the religious and spiritual texts that are available on relationships etc. However, they have done a brilliant job in making the brick chamber as inviting as possible. For example the comfy armchairs, desks and music that filters through the rooms provides the perfect environment for students to study in. Moreover the relaxed atmosphere and the fairly priced coffee gives people a great space for group meetings and discussions. The only downsides to the Brompton Café & Bookshop are the limited books and its odd opening times.
South Bank Centre’s Book Market
Open: Friday – Saturday 12:00pm – 8:00pm / Sunday 12:00pm – 6:00pm
Location: A301 Waterloo Bridge, Lambeth, SE1 8XX
A book lover cannot travel to London without visiting the South Bank Book Market where there is a great view of the river and the city itself. Home to the winding coils of secondhand and vintage books, this fair is hidden under the Waterloo Bridge on Queen’s Walk. Like most vintage shops, secondhand book fairs are difficult to navigate your way through. Patience and perseverance could lead you to “wasting” several hours at the same table but there is no doubt that you will find numerous books that you will treasure. This option is so unique as open book fairs are uncommon, especially in London. For a city that prides itself on all different types of markets, the South Bank Book Market offers an alternative to those that sell food or trinkets. So, this market would be ideal for those who enjoy digging their way through plots and yellowing pages.
From my tour of London’s’ bookshops and book fairs I can safely conclude that no space is the same. It is also clear that the bookshops I visited would appeal to a large variety of people. Whilst this guide calls to all book lovers, I have no doubt that most readers would thoroughly enjoy places like Word on the Water and the London Review Bookshop. The beauty of London is that it offers constant variety. Each place you visit will be distinctive for a thousand different reasons and for that I favourably recommend these places when beginning your own journey around the city.
Image: Katie Campbell