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10 Bookshops Worth Travelling For

This piece appeared in the April/May edition of Cara, Aer Lingus' inflight magazine.

If you were asked to name the world’s most famous bookshop, chances are Shakespeare & Company would feature high on your list. The Left Bank institution is a wonderful example of the creative – and often chaotic – spirit that identifies the very best booksellers, but it’s far from the only one. Here’s 10 other places in which to lose yourself in the printed word.

Another Country, Berlin

This left-leaning Kreuzberg fixture is less conventional bookshop and more of a lending library with a twist. Pick from among its sprawling 20,000 strong collection of (mostly English) second-hand books and, when you’re done, return it for a refund minus a €1.50 fee. Owner Sophie Raphaeline also hosts readings, events, movie screenings and even dinner nights, where liberal thinking is actively encouraged! Riemannstraße 7

Barter Books, Alnwick

The restored Victorian railway station is home to one of Britain’s largest independent bookstores, where open fires and velvet ottomans invite readers to linger in the old first-class waiting rooms. During refurbishments the owners found a stack of WWII posters, which they reproduced as a charming sideline: they were hardly to know that ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ would become an exasperating global phenomenon. Alnwick Station, Wagon Way Rd

Bart’s Books, Ojai

Good vibes and the Southern California weather are key to the success of Bart’s, a largely outdoor bookshop in spiritually-inclined Ojai. Most of the books – used and new, on everything from sci fi to self-help – are displayed on shelves in a courtyard, and you can even buy books when it’s closed: just pick a title and leave the cash in the honour box outside. 302 W Matilija St

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

More than just a bookshop, free speech has prospered here since 1957, when founder (and poet) Lawrence Ferlinghetti won the right to publish Allen Ginsburg’s epic Howl . Load up on books from the Pedagogies of Resistance section and snag a spot in the Poet’s Chair overlooking Jack Kerouac Alley: the revolution started by the original hipsters is still very much alive, man. 261 Columbus Ave

Daunt Books, London

London’s most beautiful bookshop has long oak galleries beneath a conservatory ceiling and backed by a magnificent stained glass window, a clear indication that Edwardian bibliophiles liked to browse in style. Despite being a first-rate shop for fiction and other genres, Daunt is primarily known for its superb collection of travel-related titles, spread across three floors and divided by country. An armchair traveller’s dream. 83 Marylebone High St

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

The threat of flooding is not a good look for any bookshop, but this most Venetian of stores embraces the decay and makes it work. During the inevitable winter floods, the rubber boot-wearing owner transfers titles from the lower shelves of his labyrinthine shop to bathtubs, boats and gondolas. And he knows what he’s doing – the bookshop’s name means ‘high waters.’

Sestiere Castello, 5176/B; tel +39 041 296 0841

Livraria Ler Devagar, Lisbon

Art centre bookshops are often no more than a nod to the genre, but this floor-to-ceiling space in Lisbon’s centre for cutting-edge creativity is a pantheon to the written word. Beneath the antique printing machines and flying bicycle suspended from the roof of this former printing factory is a superb bookshop whose strengths are books on art and culture. LX Factory, Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103

Mollat, Bordeaux

France’s first independent bookstore, Mollat opened in 1896 and has since become one of the country’s most famous bookseller, as well as an important Bordelais cultural checkpoint. Its vast collection (the shelves stretch for 18km) is monitored by over 50 highly expert librarians who will guide you through the various sections, including the substantial foreign language one. 15 rue Vital Carles

The Monkey’s Paw, Toronto

This esoteric little store is not for buying the book you want, but stumbling across the miscellaneous title you didn’t know you needed. Browsing the oddball collection is most of the fun, as is purchasing a book from the ‘Biblio-Mat,’ a vending machine that dispenses random old books for $2. ‘Every book a surprise,’ reads the sign. ‘No two alike. Collect all 112 million titles.’ 1229 Dundas St West

Strand Bookstore, New York City

Beloved almost to the point of fetishism, Strand Books is a New York cultural institution, as sensitively protected as any of its great museums. Its 18 miles of shelves, spread across three tangled floors, contain over 2.5 million new, used and rare books; in the unlikely event you don’t find what you’re looking for, there’s always the iconic Strand tote bag to parade your brainy bona fides. 828 Broadway

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