You don’t have to go far from the Strand Palace to find yourself in ‘Literary London’. Niche and academic bookshops cluster around the British Museum and University of London in Bloomsbury, while Charing Cross Road has a long history of generalist bookselling and Soho and Covent Garden do a nice line in art and design specialists. On our list you’ll find travel, politics, fashion, and even comics and graphic novels – all of them a short walk from our front door. Even the most devoted Kindle users admit there’s nothing like a real book, so get out there and give these five gems a try…
This venerable travel bookshop – one of the biggest in the world – celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2013. Today, its vast range of travel writing, guidebooks and maps ranges across three floors, and the floors are literally attractions in themselves, adorned with huge maps of the world (ground), the Himalayas (first) and London (basement). There’s a pleasant in-store cafe for day-dreaming about your next trip, and a gorgeous range of globes to salivate over. It won’t help your travel habit, but it’s one of the most inspiring bookshops in the area.
Oh, we like Magma. If art, fashion and design are your passion, you will too. The mini-chain was founded by two friends in 2000, and has since expanded to Clerkenwell and Manchester – but this small, vibrant Covent Garden store is where it all started. In their own words: “Magma should be like walking into a thermometer, an instrument indicating ‘where things are at’ at a certain point in time and space.”
If that isn’t enough, there’s a ‘product’ branch a few doors down, stuffed with t-shirts, watches, gadgets, games, cushions… anything you can think of, really, as long as it’s design-led and very, very cool.
Remember when comic books and sci-fi weren’t cool? Before Avengers Assemble, the Nolan Batman trilogy and the BBC’s all-conquering Doctor Who reboot? Forbidden Planet don’t. Cross the threshold and you enter a world where this stuff has always been where it’s at, and the rest of us are johnny-come-latelies. Whether you’re a long-term ‘geek’, a new convert or just a dabbler, you’re guaranteed to find something in Forbidden’s dizzying range of comics, graphic novels, DVDs and merchandise.
It’s huge, it has (almost) everything, and most importantly it remains fiercely independent. Foyles has come a long way since it started life as a tiny second-hand bookshop in Peckham in 1903. A few years later the Charing Cross flagship opened its doors, and decades of ‘eccentric’ management did nothing to dull Londoners’ enthusiasm for this sprawling five-floor emporium. Now thoroughly modernised, it still feels like it is run by book lovers, for book lovers – a rarity for a shop this size. Add in regular readings and exhibitions and a nice first-floor cafe and you have an essential stop for bibliophiles.
London Review Bookshop
Brace yourself: things are about to get highbrow. Literary fiction, political writing, cultural theory – the London Review Bookshop has it all in spades, housed in an elegant shop round the corner from the British Museum. Closely related to the none-more-literary London Review of Books, it’s the perfect place to feed your head.
And if it all that brain food gets a bit heavy, there’s real food too – head down a corridor in the history section and you’ll find the Cake Shop, a book-lined hideaway serving everything from shredded duck baguettes to apple and earl grey cake.
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