There’s something wonderfully romantic about browsing second hand bookshops – blame Hugh Grant as the bookseller in Notting Hill. Rummaging through piles of fiction and non-fiction; popular paperbacks, antiquarian or rare books; to find just the selection of books that take your fancy. It’s a wonderful thing for bookworms. Scrolling through Amazon pales in comparison as an experience.
Luckily for us book lovers, London has some of the best second hand bookshops around. Here are 12 of our favourite bookmongers in town.
Charing Cross Road is of course London’s famous street for booksellers. In its day there was the famous 84 Charing Cross Road shop that led to the book by that title which then became a film. Foyles is great for new books, but there are still a handful of good secondhand bookshops there for old books.
Our guide, David’s favourite is Any Amount of Books. It’s heaving shelves are great for rare first editions and much-loved paperbacks. “Two floors, five rooms of second-hand books, new stock daily” – there’s much to love about this purveyor of books in Covent Garden. Find it at 56 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0QA.
While you’re in the area, Henry Pordes Books (72 Charing Cross Rd, near Leicester Square) is known for antiquarian books.
Ahoy there! This quirky treasure trove deserves to be bookmarked. You may not expect to find your favourite book floating on Regent’s Canal, but this London book barge is exactly where those in the know head to find theirs.
Word on the Water, a bookstore on a barge, is truly a book-lover’s paradise. Every nook and cranny of this 100-year-old Dutch barge is stacked with neat rows of new books and used classics, cult, contemporary fiction and a large range of children’s books. Follow the Regent’s Canal towpath from York Way and you’ll spot it (Kings Cross is the nearest train or tube station). It’s open 12-7pm daily (except Christmas Day). Find it at York Way, Granary Square, King’s Cross, N1C 4AA.
This independent bookshop on Blacklands Terrace in Chelsea has great character. John Sandoe is one of those bookshops that looks as a traditional bookshop should look. The small, limited, specialist collection of second hand books have all been bought from people they know. With over 30,000 old and new books on their shelves, you’ll find all the reading materials you want in this Chelsea bookstore. It’s worth a five minute phone call to get the lowdown on their second hand offerings. Find it at 10-12 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea, London SW3 2SR
The South Bank Book Market has been underneath Waterloo Bridge since 1983. It’s in front of the BFI and is part of the Southbank Centre. Amongst the stalls, you’ll find contemporary fiction and children’s books, vintage and antiquarian editions, as well as old maps, prints and postcards. David’s tip is to look out for Richard – a nice guy who sells classy old prints there, mostly at weekends. Find it at Waterloo Bridge, Riverside Walk, London SE1.
Founded in 1966, New Beacon Books was the UK’s first black publisher, specialist bookshop and international book distributor. It specialises in Caribbean and African literature and is a wonderful place to browse and discover authors. It was threatened with closure a few years ago, but it’s survived with the help of generous crowdfunding. Open Thursday to Sunday, you’ll find it at 76 Stroud Green Road, London N4 3EN.
Another stalwart of the London second hand book world, Skoob started life in Neal Street Covent Garden and moved to The Brunswick Centre 20-something years ago. It’s particularly popular with students, academics and office workers on the hunt for out-of-print books. Find it at 66 The Brunswick WC1N 1AE (off Marchmont St).
Whilst you’re in Bloomsbury, you should also check out Judd Books on Marchmont Street (82 Marchmont Street, London, WC1N 1AG) which is particularly famed for its selection of academic books.
This attractive bookshop in Blackheath has plenty of rare books, antiquarian and second hand literary books. But the must-see aspect is its incredible map chest containing centuries-old maps and charts which look like they’ve come from the nearby Cutty Sark. Find it at 74 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, SE3 0BW.
Nearby, you’ll find Halcyon Books (255 Lee High Road, Lewisham, London SE13 5PL) which specialises in academic books and has bonus points for its coffee shop in which to cosy up with your new purchase.
Loved by independent publishers and new authors, Pages of Hackney is a small bookshop that’s won notable awards. The ground floor offers an eclectic mix of new books – anything from Harry Potter to modern politics. Downstairs in the basement, you’ll find a curated collection of second hand books with a particular fondness for crime fiction. The bookstore at 70 Lower Clapton Road, E5 0RN holds regularly author events too.
Hampstead has a wonderful Oxfam shop that is just books. Most places have an Oxfam shop that is a mix of this and that, but this Oxfam shop in Hampstead is just books. It’s on Heath Street, near the tube station. You’ll find high-quality tomes at bargain prices. Think £3 for a seriously good, in perfect nick, hardback history volume that was probably £25 new. That’s unbeatable. And there’s new stuff in every week. Find it at 45 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 6UA.
You’ll find another great Oxfam in the heart of literary Bloomsbury, near the British Museum, which is another place packed with hidden gems.
Also in Hampstead, this rare book shop has so many books you can barely move. Don’t expect the ordered bookshelves of a Waterstones here – it’s slightly chaotic, packed full and that’s all part of the fun. A review says it best, “The staff is amongst the funniest, most knowledgeable and authentic people I have ever met, and browsing its bookshelves has been nothing short of an adventure, every single time.” Find it at 1-3 Flask Walk, Hampstead NW3 1HJ.
Known for its quirky decor as much as its range of books, Black Gull has two bookstores in North London. It started out as a book stall at Camden Market and now it’s expanded to two popular stores. Black Gull is a lovely place to browse the eclectic range of books and admire the fascinating fixtures as well. Find it at 121 High Road, East Finchley N2 8AG.
For 30 years, Bookmongers has been been a constant on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. With a unique atmosphere, Bookmongers is a wonderful place in which to spend some time. It has a wide-ranging and ever-changing stock of books. You’ll find classic sci-fi nestled next to retro cookbooks, all in a higgledy-piggledy fashion. Bookmongers comes complete with a store cat and a sofa for you to curl up and enjoy a good read. Find it at 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LN.
Foster Books – 183 Chiswick High Rd, Chiswick W4 2DR
Walden Books – 38 Harmood St, Chalk Farm NW1 8DP
Jarndyce Books – 6 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3PA
Hurlingham Books – 91 Fulham High Street, SW6 3JS
Sotheran’s – 2-5 Sackville St, W1S 3DP
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