Last Trip to London: Spoiled by Extraordinary Bookstores

Daunt Books

If I lived in London, I could pop into fabulous bookstores every day.

It was (possibly) my last trip to London. Mission: to explore extraordinary bookstores and stock up on a year’s books. These glamorous spaces are as beautiful as art galleries, stocked with new and backlisted titles I seldom find in the U.S.

Although many great secondhand bookstores have closed since the pandemic, notably at Cecil Court, an alley of shops near Trafalgar Square, there are still many exciting shops.

We did not go to London only for the bookstores, of course. We did the proper tourist things, traipsing through art galleries and gawking at cathedral domes, occasionally glancing down at a guidebook in emulation of our favorite traveling heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, in Forster’s A Room with a View. (Lucy had a Baedeker, I think.)

And yet one always ends up in a bookshop after one has posed for the obligatory selfie in front of Whistler’s portrait of Joanna HIffernan, “The Woman in White.” (I love Wilkie Collins’s book, though Whistler claimed it had nothing to do with his painting.)


Daunt Books, an Edwardian bookshop, located in the chic Mayfair area, is surely one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. The wood paneling, skylights, oak galleries, and dome impart a hushed, cathedral-like ambiance. Originally a travel book store, Daunt Books still showcases a creative travel section stocked not only with travel guides, but with each country’s classics, fiction, histories, and travel books.

Hatchards, London’s oldest bookstore, founded in 1797, is located in Piccadilly near the Royal Academy of Arts. Almost as elegant as Daunt Books, it has beautiful displays of books on tables, a winding wooden staircase to keep eclectic readers fit, a rather elderly carpet with a comfy pattern, and a strong selection of books of all genres, from ancient history to science fiction to offbeat reissued memoirs.


Waterstones. This huge, stunning chain bookstore, located in Piccadilly, has seductive displays of paperbacks on the ground floor, and the fiction section devotes several shelves to Penguins, Oxford World Classics, and Persephones. Over the years, I have discovered unusual books by the likes of Vita Sackville-West as well as authors new to me. As I staggered to the cash register clutching several paperbacks, a passer-by commented, “That’s a lot of books.” Can’t say this observer was wrong. This is my favorite bookstore in London.


Foyles. This enormous, gorgeous bookstore, located on Charing Cross Road, has a distinctive, varied selection or books that is competitive with its rival Waterstones. To quote from their website: “Built around a central, skylit atrium, with winding stairs and three accessible lifts, this book lover’s paradise flows down across eight mezzanine plates and offers over 200,000 different books across a range of specialist departments, from Fiction to Children’s to Art to Military History to Education, all run by friendly, expert booksellers.”



Uh-huh, do you think I’ll get the job?

What are your favorite bookstores in London, or

8 thoughts on “Last Trip to London: Spoiled by Extraordinary Bookstores”

    1. “…do you think I’ll get the job?”
      Unless you get trampled to death in the stampede.

      The annoying thing about Waterstones is also a virtue – small independent publishers are displayed on their own, which is very useful if you’re browsing, but awkward if you’re looking for a book and don’t know who published it. You timed your visit badly:
      Another for next time:

      1. Oh no, I missed a book fair!

        I do see the pros and cons of the separate sections. Waterstones is a great browser’s store, but I only made it through half the fiction before going through the Penguins, Oxfords, and smaller presses. It would be difficult to find a specific book if, for instance, you knew only part of a title, or didn’t know that many of the classics are in their own sections. And I never did make it to the non-fiction or even the foreign languages – though the stores seem to have stopped carrying ancient languages exeept t in Loebs or in translation!

        American cities and colleges towns used to have bookstores like this, though on a smaller scale. Alas! They’re gone. We do have some small indies, which specialize in the latest new books. I ADORE Amazon, because of its amazing backlist, but it was lovely to go to real bookstores for a change.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: