Like Tessel and Isabel, who wrote about the bookstores of Gent and Amsterdam, I love exploring bookstores when I visit a city. A little over a year ago, I visited Paris for the second time and made it my mission to visit as many bookstores as I possibly could (much to the annoyance of my non-bookish travel companions). After all, is there anything better than combining two of your favorite places in the world?
Everything in Paris is much larger than in Amsterdam, where you can get wherever you want within a thirty-minute bike ride. It usually takes a long time to get from one place to the next, but luckily, it turned out most of the bookish places were actually in my favorite place: Quartier Latin, the area around the Sorbonne University. Filled with tons of cozy dining places, tiny cinemas and, as it turns out, bookshops, Quartier Latin is the comfortable candlelight to the City of Light’s brightness.
The best place to start when roaming the streets of Quartier Latin in search of books is to simply wander along the banks of the Seine. Here you will find tons of stalls where street vendors called the Bouquinistes sell used books, much like at the University of Amsterdam’s Oudemanhuispoort. At night, these stalls seem to be closed wooden boxes balancing on the top of the railing, but during the day they are the Bouquinistes’ domain. You can find these stalls between the Pont Marie and the Quai du Louvre on the right bank of the Seine, and between the Quai de la Tournelle and the Quai Voltaire on the left.
If you want a more authentic bookstore to buy your books, though, you should definitely try Shakespeare and Company. Located at Point Zéro, mere steps away from the Notre Dame in the center of Paris, this English bookstore sells everything from classics to new releases, from non-fiction to children’s literature. Shakespeare and Company is my favorite bookstore especially because of the way the store is set up. With piles of books in the most unusual settings, across the ceilingin stacks on the floor and on shelves too high to reach, it has such an authentic look, especially compared to the clinical look of chain bookshops that more and more frequently replace indie stores like Shakespeare and Company these days.
Another store to check out is Librairie Galignani, on the edge of le Jardin des Tuileries and therefore just meters away from the Louvre. Galignani calls itself “the established first English bookstore on the continent” and has been around since 1520, but it doesn’t look that way. Unlike Shakespeare and Company, Galignani is a lot more organized and the dark wooden bookshelves give this store a much more luxurious feeling.
If you don’t care whether or not your newly purchased paperbacks are in pristine condition, you should definitely check out Abbey Bookshop and Berkeley Books. Abbey Bookshop, a store with a Canadian owner, can be found in Quartier Latin and is just minutes away from the aforementioned Shakespeare and Company and la Sorbonne. Much like the first bookshop I mentioned, Abbey has piles and piles of books everywhere. It’s even a little more chaotic, which the book lover in me adored. They sell new books, but second hand books are much more prevalent.
Berkeley Books is located just a couple of minutes from the Théâtre de l’Odéon and is a store that only sells and exchanges used books. I would recommend visiting the bookshop first, and then taking a break from all your wandering in les Jardins du Luxembourg, which is only five minutes away from the bookshop. Grab one of the green chairs the park is famous for, a baguette, un verre de vin, and some of your newly bought books – and you will have a great afternoon in Paris. Trust me.