Just as you can find every sort of person in London, you can also find every kind of book. While we’re all used to buying books online, the survival of world class independent shops in the city proves the urge to browse is very much alive. In fact, if you’re so inclined, brilliant bookshops catering to all sorts of tastes can be found in pretty much every corner of London, but you can easily while away many an hour just in the centre of town. These are our five favourites from in and around the West End…
Foyles / Grant & Cutler
Once the world’s (and still Europe’s) biggest, Foyles is certainly London’s most famous bookshop. While some large chains have come and gone, this independent giant has remained rooted to its spot on Charing Cross Road for more than 100 years. Since its £4 million makeover in the 2000s, it has become more easily navigable and a lot more customer-friendly too. In recent times it has also provided a new home for other beloved West End outlets like Ray’s Jazz, which now shares a floor with the Gallery – both spaces are used for a wide variety of in-store events.
The latest addition to the Foyles family and one which would have made our list separately is Grant & Cutler. This lovely shop was recently forced from its Great Marlborough St address, but should find itself comfortable sharing the first floor of Foyles with their fantastic café. The perfect stop for anyone who’s studying another language or even has a twinge of homesickness, G&C stock literature, DVDs, software and study aids in 150 languages.
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Marylebone High Street’s Daunt Books is essentially a travel bookshop, but it’s about so much more than guidebooks. Stock is arranged by country and within each section you will find maps, travel writing and memoirs, photography, cookbooks, books on nature and often a selection of the nation’s literary classics alongside the expected travel/ hotel guides. If you want to immerse yourself in wherever you’re travelling to next, this is the place to get lost in before you go. The gorgeous wooden frontage, balcony-style upper level and natural light-enabling windows of the shop enhance the experience no end too.
Nearest Tube: Baker Street / Regent’s Park
From superhero classics to Japanese manga, kids’ faves to the cutting-edge of graphic fiction and exclusive independent small press zines, Gosh! is dedicated to every facet of the comic book medium. With hugely knowledgeable staff who mostly have backgrounds in the creative side of the industry, the shop’s atmosphere is one of rampant enthusiasm, but crucially is non-intimidating to the novice. Any visit is an education and you’re likely to come away with hitherto unknown comic treasures.
Having resided comfortably for 25 years near the British Museum, Gosh! is about to become bigger with a move in August to larger premises in Berwick St, Soho, where it will be among its natural neighbours, some of London’s great independent record shops.
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road (Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus will be slightly nearer to the new store)
Francis Edwards / Quinto Bookshop
Despite a small move, the terrific two-in-one store Francis Edwards Antiquarian Booksellers / Quinto Bookshop has stood its (metaphorical) ground in the face of rising rents and new developments along Charing Cross Road, the traditional home of the second-hand tome. This is the spot for a good old rummage, though care should be taken on the ground floor where the rarest and most beautiful vintage volumes live. For those of us who aren’t collectors or simply have a little less to spend, the basement offers the most page-flipping promise. Completely re-stocked every month, Quinto raises the bar on the potluck thrill of second-hand browsing. All subjects are covered and you never know what you might find.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square
The London Review Bookshop
Knowledge, care, a historic location (Bloomsbury) and an association with the UK’s most respected literary publication make the London Review Bookshop a haven for the curious bookworm. Whether its new fiction, poetry, history or biography, the titles here will always represent the finest on their respective fields. The layout is browser-friendly and functional though elegant and completely free of quirks, and you will find very good cake and tea if you pass through the passage in the shop’s history section. This isn’t a stop on any star signing tour either but the LRB does host plenty of mind-expanding discussions and in-store events.
Nearest Tube: Holborn / Tottenham Court Road