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The 20 mightiest small book shops in the UK

The 20 mightiest small book shops in the UK

The 20 mightiest small book shops in the UK
15 December 2015

Despite our ongoing dependence on technology in most other areas of our lives, no matter how much you love your smartphone or eReader, nothing ever quite compares to a good book. And, along with that, there's nothing quite like discovering a good read in a small shop that feels like it could have fallen from the pages of a JK Rowling book.

So, with that in mind, here's our 20 favourite small book shops in the UK that should be on your to-do list...

Atlantis Bookshop, Holborn

If you like your books a little more on the quirky side then here’s your literary heaven. Swot up on tarot cards or get lost in the world of the occult, before striking up a conversation with the insanely knowledgeable owner Geraldine about magic and London’s dark past for a totally unique afternoon out. 

[Pic: Flickr]

Artwords, Shoreditch

Struggling to find a present for that artistic mate of yours? You’d have to have acrylic paint in your eyes to not find them the perfect gift here.

Book Mongers, Brixton

Boston-born Patrick Kelly has run his second-hand store for more than 20 years. Head down here on any Saturday afternoon and you’ll find it alive with page-turning customers, who usually get greeted by the owner’s large friendly dog sitting sentinel in the window.

Daunt Books, Marylebone

Every book fan should arrive at this original Edwardian bookshop at least once in their life. No two ways about it.

Barter Books, Alnwick

Y’know those Keep Calm And Carry On posters you’ve seen absolutely everywhere? An original was rediscovered in this small Northumberland shop in 2010 prompting the owner to reproduce the government-issued wartime sheet, before the rest of the world followed suit with their own (often eye-rollingly annoying) interpretations.

Beerwolf Books, Falmouth

Falmouth in Cornwall is the perfect quiet fishing town to get away from it all for a weekend. Now there’s even more of an incentive to escape your hectic life and head south: a chilled book shop hidden in a cracking craft beer pub. Yep, we’ll see you at the bar.

Claire de Rouen Books, Soho

Nestled above a bookies in the most hectic part of London is this world-renowned haven of fashion and photography tomes. Now run by international supermodel Lily Cole and her pal Lucy Moore after the death of its founder almost forced its closure, this is the spot to hit if you’re after a sexy, arty coffee table book.

John Sandoe, Chelsea

Ask your brain to think up the quintessential small British bookstore, and we’ll bet your head’s filled with something that looks a whole lot like John Sandoe. Row on row of dark wood shelves, the old boy in the corner with his nose buried in pages and that comforting bookish smell makes this shop, first established back in 1957, an absolute classic.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath

The key to the success Mr B’s bookshop? No stress. Everything in this Somerset store is chilled, from the leather armchairs to kick back in with a book, to the cheerful staff.

Scarthin Books, Peak District

Scarthin describes themselves as having “chaotic shelves, peeling paintwork, inadequate stock knowledge” and more, and yet this small and quirky riverside shop in the rolling hills of the Peak District is still one of the most idyllic bookstores in the country.

Leakey’s, Inverness

Leakey’s is different from any other book shop you've likely visited. Very different. It sits within the walls of an amazing old Gaelic church. It’s excellently odd.

[Pic: Flickr]

The Albion Beatnik, Oxford

Got an 11pm hankering for a Jack Kerouac marathon? The Albion Beatnik, which rarely shuts its doors before midnight, is where you need to be. It’s adamant about their zero wi-fi policy, is arguably the best bookshop in Oxford (or unarguably, if you’re the Sunday Times), and, with its love of jazz, is the perfect setting to lose yourself in some Beat Generation classics. Rocking a black rollneck is not compulsory, but it helps.

The Book Barge, various locations

We’ve all imagined packing it all in to pursue the dream and never taken that leap of faith, but that’s not the case for this waterborne entrepreneur. Sarah Henshaw called time on her London life as an entertainment journo in favour of an idyllic existence bobbing up and down the canals of Staffordshire in her self-styled Book Barge. Climb aboard and cough up a few quid for your next page-turner, or even read the day away on her proper pretty 60’ cruiser stern narrowboat.

The Mainstreet Trading Company, Scottish Borders

Not only has this remote Scottish bookshop got a whole lotta gold around its neck after walking away victorious from numerous awards, but it’s only gone and attached an award-winning deli to its walls, too. As soon as they plan to build a luxury man cave in the garden, we’re moving in.

[Pic: Flickr]

The Society Club, Soho

Unleash your inner dandy and ride your Penny Farthing to this foppish book shop by day and member’s club by night, complete with cocktails, cravat-wearing staff, rare first editions and the bloody lovely house pooch, named Modesty.


Lutyens and Rubinstein, Notting Hill

On top of the spectrum of genre-spanning books at this literary bolthole, you can also pick up some killer wall art from the likes of Serge Seidlitz, a great subscription in which you’ll get one new book delivered to your door every month, and, most importantly, a jar of homemade jam.

The Grove Bookshop, Leeds

This, one of England’s best-known small bookshops, sits at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales. If you’re lucky, you’ll bump into iconic modern playwright and long-standing customer Alan Bennett.

The London Review Book Shop, Bloomsbury

With in excess of 20,000 titles ranging from modern fiction to philosophy, enough tea and cake to sink a small country and a location just a stone’s throw from the British Museum, this is the essential pit stop for anyone on a culture-crammed weekend date.

P&G Wells, Winchester

This well-kept store stands on the same street on which Pride & Prejudice author Jane Austen lived out the final months of her life.

City Books, Brighton and Hove

It’s played host to booky talks from comedian Vic Reeves, adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, thespian Simon Callow, journalist John Simpson and the coolest man alive, rock star Nick Cave. If there’s not something on City Books’ shelves for you, you’re just too damn picky.

[Pic: Flickr]