Bookworms, rejoice! The forward march of e-reader inspired progress has not yet killed the European bookshop. The Continental bookstore is alive and well (and not just living in Paris). Whether you crave a classic, musty warren or a grand and gleaming boutique, these five unusual, magical shops are sure to delight your inner bibliophile.
Acqua Alta (Venice, Italy)
Located just steps from St. Mark’s Square, this self-proclaimed “most beautiful bookstore in the world” is literally stuffed with books, magazines, maps, and more throughout its labyrinth of interconnected rooms. To help protect its inventory from Venice’s constant flooding, this quirky store, whose name means “Library of High Water,” has found a simple solution: stack the books in bathtubs, boats, waterproof bins, and even a full-sized gondola.
Upon entering the store, you’ll be faced with towers of colorful books in all languages covering the floor and walls. As you peruse the charmingly dusty interior for your favorite new or used titles, you’ll likely be greeted by owner Luigi Frizzo and any one of the several in-house cats. Although it’s not even 15 years old, this homey bookstore feels like it’s been a part of the neighborhood for much longer, making it a comfortable place to settle in and explore.
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House of Books (St. Petersburg, Russia)
With tens of thousand of titles under the roof of one of St. Petersburg’s most beautiful buildings, this bookstore is a must-see for any literary aficionado. Housed within the historic Singer House building on Nevsky Prospekt, and founded in 1919, the House of Books (Dom Knigi) is an icon of Russian cultural heritage and a beloved landmark in the city. With three stories of titles begging to be explored, it’s guaranteed to have the book you’re looking for (plus a few you’ll be happy to discover!). Head to the Singer Cafe on the second floor and settle in to read in front of the wide windows that overlook the Kazan Cathedral.
The bookstore is located in a six-story Art Nouveau-style building, topped by a glass tower and globe structure by Estonian artist Amandus Adamson. Architect Pavol Suzer designed the structure to give the impression of height while still abiding by the city’s law that no building can be taller than the Winter Palace, the emperor’s residence.
Looking for other things to do in St. Petersburg? Check out our top experiences.
Selexyz Bookstore (Maastricht, Holland)
Imagine perusing rows of classic books and popular literature under the roof of a gothic church dating back to 1294. The Selexyz Bookstore, housed within the 700-year-old Selexyz Dominicanen, seamlessly juxtaposes past and present and provides one of the most unusual settings for browsing books and grabbing a coffee.
Closed by Napoleon Bonaparte during his 1794 invasion, the church sat abandoned for over two centuries before being restored to its current glory. The crown jewel in this sacred literature is a three-story bookshelf complete with ornate walkways and staircases. Sunlight streams through the massive skylight and windows, bathing the historic architecture and ornate details in an ethereal glow. If it’s an enlightening experience you’re after, this is the place to go.
The Abbey Bookshop (Paris, France)
Located only a few blocks from the world-renowned (and tourist-thronged) Shakespeare and Company is this tiny, hole-in-the-wall gem filled to the ceiling with new and used English-language treasures. Started in 1989 by Toronto native Brian Spence, it is housed in the former Hotel Dubuisson, an 18th-century protected monument known for its carved doors and decorative sculptures.
Over 35,000 books ranging from scholarly papers to popular literature and novels are stacked in haphazard piles throughout the store, so a new-found favorite can quite literally fall into your lap as you explore. Soft lighting and jazz music add to the nostalgic ambiance, making it the perfect place to curl up in a cozy corner and while away a rainy (or not so rainy) afternoon.
Discover more hidden treasures of Paris with a PlacePass guided tour.
Alexandra Book Cafe (Budapest, Hungary)
If it’s glitz and glamour you’re after, look no further than this grand bookstore and cafe in the heart of downtown Budapest. Adorned with massive glittering chandeliers and a fresco-style ceiling painted by Károly Lotz, the Alexandra Bookstore and Cafe is located in a 19th-century casino-turned-Paris department store and offers a glimpse into what the city was like over 100 years ago.
The palace-like interior includes a cafe in the Renaissance-style ballroom where you can settle in to read with a cup of tea and a pastry. The gold facade of the cafe emanates old-world luxury. With soft music wafting through the air and a heavy book in your hands, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to a time and place far away from the modern city in which this gem resides.
If you can manage to tear yourself away from this cozy spot, PlacePass offers a variety of guided tours throughout Buda and Pest.