One of my favourite things about travelling, anywhere, is finding new bookshops. Of course, the UK proved a treasure trove of gorgeous little indie stores and huge emporiums. I packed as lightly as I could to allow for maximum book space on my home journey, but still only justified buying about seven books (restrained, I thought). I spent so many hours browsing through beautiful shelves, I wanted to share my favourites from around Britain (even those I left without a new book in hand). Sadly, I didn’t think to take photos at every store but there’s always room to improve on the next trip.
Although Blackwell’s now has stores throughout the UK, the original can be found on Oxford’s Broad St. Given I spent most of my time in Oxford, of course I had to spend a few hours (and pounds) in this gorgeous store. Opened in 1879, the original store houses over 125,000 books across four floors. I just loved walking around this cosy store and found some beautiful souvenirs here too. After buying my books, I also enjoyed a coffee (the closest I got to lovely Australian coffee) at the Cafe Nero in the store.
While I was in Oxford, I also visited the newest Blackwell’s store in the brand new Westgate, which was still being built when I first arrived – speedy work! It was very sweet in a whole new way, open and airy but still magical and so inviting. I also popped into to Blackwell’s Art and Poster Shop, where I quite easily could have blown my entire travel budget and totally filled my suitcase.
Books bought: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig (hardback/review) | The Handmaid’s Tale (special edition Vintage hardback)
Topping & Company Booksellers, Bath
This gorgeous independent store was a warm and cosy haven on a cold and rainy day. The walls were lined with books, ladders and all. And there was the sweetest little cafe in the corner. I browsed through the shelves with Lucy from Queen of Contemporary and although I didn’t buy anything, I could easily have spent all day just wandering through the store. I wish I had bought a book from here, but I visited during the first week of my trip and was still so paranoid about how much luggage I would have to haul around or what I might buy over the next four weeks. I can’t wait to return to this beautiful store one day!
Waterstones was the opposite of cosy little Topping & Company, but it was just as inviting. We spent quite a bit of time browsing the YA section and I finally gave in and bought a book to expand my Harry Potter collection.
Books bought: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Hardback)
The Little Apple Bookshop, York
I’ll admit York was a complete mystery to me. There were so many winding streets, I don’t think I ever knew exactly where I was going the whole time I was there. I first stumbled upon The Little Apple the evening I got to York and I think I got in not long before they closed, but it was so lovely and welcoming I knew I had to go back (if I could find it again). This tiny little shop was packed with books, including lots of signed copies. I’m still annoyed at myself that I didn’t pick up the signed copy of Sarah Millican’s new book while I had the chance. There’s also a great children’s and YA selection. I did, however, walk away empty-handed.
The Grimoire Bookshop, York
I really wish I’d had a whole day to explore this second-hand store fully, because it was absolutely packed with more books than I could imagine. There’s just something so comforting and welcoming about stores with floor to ceiling shelves. I tried to find some books which have been on my radar for a while, but again I’d managed to walk into the store close to closing time.
Claridges of Helmsley, Helmsley
We made a quick stop by this sweet little market village during our tour of the North York Moors, which meant I sadly didn’t have time to stop and browse all the books inside, but I was drawn to the store because of the beautifully drawn postcards on display outside. I believe the shop focuses on a lot of Yorkshire specific books and I would have loved to pick something out, but I was also trying to take some photos, wander around the village and find a bite to eat (I settled on an Eccles cake and bakewell tart).
Just across the road from Angel station is the best little Oxfam bookshop, which the gorgeous Grace Latter took me to on our big day out in London. I wish I could have bought every book she suggested, but again the luggage issues were to blame. I do however thoroughly regret not buying the copy of Everywoman I found upstairs given how much I adored it. I did buy some books though…
Books bought: Here I Stand anthology (hardback) | Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie (non-fiction research I thought may come in handy for my Masters)
Black Gull Books, Camden Lock
Another charming second hand store Grace and I visited and another one I didn’t buy any books from. This place was packed floor to ceiling with books and I could have easily spent the whole day here.
Persephone Books, London
This shop was one of my must-visit destinations in London and I was no disappointed. It was so quaint, with the front half a shop and the back half the office for the publisher. If you’ve not heard of Persephone before, they’re a niche publisher which prints lesser known works of 20th Century female writers. It’s not often I go into a bookshop with absolutely no clue what I want to buy, but this was one of those times. The special Persephone editions are grey and minimal, with brief descriptions on the shelves. I asked the booksellers for a recommendation based on the fact I enjoy historical fiction and have a fascination with World War II (but home front not battles).
Books bought: Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
Foyles, Charing Cross Rd, London
Of course, I couldn’t miss a visit to the flagship store of the UK’s most successful independent bookshop. Truth be told though, I found this accidentally when I was walking out of Charing Cross Station. There was all this construction work and I had no clue where I was going, then suddenly it was in front of me with gorgeous red flags waving. I loved the cosy nooks of children’s and YA books and the travel section, which I kept being drawn to in every store. I also loved just browsing the new releases, which were all face-out and so different from Australian new releases. I wanted something which was quintessentially London from this store but I couldn’t find anything light/cheap enough (my budget was pretty low by this point). Eventually I got a non-fiction new release about class in England.
Books bought: Know Your Place anthology (hardback)
What’s your favourite UK bookshop? Let me know so I can visit them on my travels! This year we’re going to Ireland, so I’d love any recommendations for the Emerald Isle as well.