Bookstores are the portal to creativity, imagination, wonder and awe. At a bookstore, you’ll find tens of thousands of written words that sit underneath covers and cases, describing places you never knew existed. Many bookstores also have unique twists that add to their magic and charm.
We’ve found some of the coolest shops in the world with a bit of pizzazz and a beguiling history. If you’re ever passing through, you won’t want to miss checking any of these out. You’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for bookstores — and probably a few good reads in hand too.
El Ateneo - Buenos Aires, Argentina
Located in Buenos Aires, El Ateneo is a bookstore for architecture enthusiasts. National Geographic even named this bookstore “the most beautiful bookstore in the world,” and once you visit, you’ll see why. Inside, you’ll find shelves stacked with books that sit underneath impressive ceiling artwork, dating back hundreds of years.
One of the most fascinating aspects about this bookstore, though, is that it’s built inside a 20th-century theater that opened in 1919. It was formerly called the Gran Splendid Theater and Cinema, built by architects Peró and Torres Armengol.
Luckily, architects preserved the ceiling and grand walls, and in 2000, the theater was converted into a bookstore. Now, it’s a fascinating attraction filled with books, both modern and old. Comfortable sitting areas make this bookstore a great place to relax as you admire the architecture or get a jump start on a new book. However, it’s recommended you get to this bookstore early to avoid the crowds that tend to fill up the space.
Bookstore Dominicanen, Maastricht, Netherlands
Bookstore Dominicanen, located in the Netherlands, is nestled inside an old medieval church made of stone vaults. The ancient building was built over 700 years ago, and now, its Gothic stone walls attract visitors from around the world. Initially, the church was home to a full congregation, but during Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion in 1754, it ended up as a space that served the sole purpose of a storage unit for equipment.
In 2005, architects renovated the space and turned it into the store we see today. There are three floors in the bookstore, with thousands of books that would take more than one lifetime to read. There’s also a cafe that serves delicious coffee and snacks. If you’re an English-only speaker, then you’re in luck — the entire first floor is devoted to English books, so you’ll have a wide selection to choose from.
Cafebreria el Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico
Cafebrería El Péndulo is a chain of bookstores in Mexico City that houses several floors of books, a restaurant and a cafe in each location. These bookstores also serve as a green space, where plants occupy the shelves as much as books. The bookstores are located in the Roma, San Angel, Condesa and Polanco areas of the city, and are known for their fast Wi-Fi and comfortable working areas.
It’s the place where many artists and young hipsters come for inspiration, and, of course, a bit of coffee. Balconies, with curved handrails and green paint, sit amongst plush toys of William Shakespeare and classic record albums. In the San Angel location, you’ll find a towering palm tree that reaches high towards the ceiling. In the bookstore’s restaurants, you’ll get delicious choices of food, like egg dishes and mozzarella sticks. At the Roma location, the rooftop bar is an ideal place to come for a reprieve from the city.
Libreria Acqua Alta - Venice, Italy
Venice is known for its labyrinth of canals, gondola rides and mouthwatering pasta and pizza dishes. But that’s not all the City of Love has to offer. It’s also home to one of the most captivating bookstores in Italy. This is where you’ll find the Libreria Acqua Alta, which means “Bookstore of High Water,” and that’s no mistake.
Since the city of Venice is prone to constant flooding, this shop keeps its books tucked away in bathtubs and boats. Both clever and cute, these waterproof basins keep the temple safe and dry.
When you visit you’ll notice the books aren’t the only things that want to escape the rising water levels. Stray cats wander around the store and seek safety on top of the bookshelves during rising water levels, so you might have some feline company.
You can also find postcards, an old gondola and iconic stairs that are constructed of old books stacked on top of each other. Because of their exposure to water, there’s an extra strong “old book” smell, but even so, it only adds to the unique beauty of this charming shop.
Bookstores are one of the most entrancing attractions in a city, and you never know what stories they have of their own. The quiet spaces in bookstores speak thousands of words within their paper books. Who knows, maybe you’ll feel inspired with your next grand idea while visiting one of the coolest bookstores in the world.