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. If you’re so inclined, brilliant bookshops catering to all sorts of tastes can be found in pretty much every corner of London, but some of our favourites are right in the centre of town. These are our five picks 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 remained rooted to its spot on Charing Cross Road for more than 100 years, before moving into a new flagship store a few doors away in 2014. Though it once had a reputation for old-fashioned processes and infuriating layouts – it didn’t get proper tills until the 1990s and its titles were displayed by publisher rather than author – it is today modern, airy and 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 occupies space on the second floor and is used for a variety of in-store events.
A relatively recent addition to the Foyles family and one which would have made our list separately is Grant & Cutler. This lovely shop moved from its Great Marlborough Street address in 2011, and is 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.
Folyes, 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.
Daunt Books, / Nearest Tube: Baker Street or 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.
After residing comfortably for 25 years near the British Museum, Gosh! became bigger and brighter in 2011 when it relocated to larger premises in Berwick Street, Soho, adding lots of new floorspace and a central, comic-laden table for fans to sit and browse.
Gosh! Comics, / Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus
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.
Francis Edwards/Quinto Bookshop, / 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.
London Review Bookshop, 14-16 Bury Pl, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 2JL / Nearest Tube: Holborn or Tottenham Court Road