Who doesn’t love looking round unique independent bookshops? Who wouldn’t want to spend all their money in them? On a recent trip to London I walked this route around the Covent Garden and Charing Cross area to try and visit as many bookshops as possible.
The walk takes around two hours depending on how long you spend in each shop, how long you linger outside each window, and how many coffee breaks you choose to have (because, obviously, the best thing that goes with books is cake). It starts off in Cecil Court, also known as Bookseller’s Row.
Stepping away from the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden and Charing Cross Road, you feel a real sense of peace descend on you the minute you step onto this street. Since the 17th century, Cecil Court has been full of second-hand bookshops that nestle in next to each other today, each with their own brand and unique collections. It’s a beautiful row of shops and you could happily get lost wandering in and out as you go from one to another. Some of my favourites are:
Alice Through the Looking Glass – this bookshop is for all Alice enthusiasts. It specialises in rare illustrated and first editions and Alice iconography. It is a treasure-trove that will set your imagination alight.
Goldsboro Books – as a big bookish Twitter fan I got very excited seeing this shop in real life. It specialises in first editions and signed copies of books and it was so fun to walk round and see them all on the shelves.
Travis & Emery Music Bookshop – this shop is full of beautifully original scores of music. My dad is a huge fan of opera and as I was perusing the window of this shop I saw sheet music for Die Walküre that looked like it had been treasured by a previous owner (stained with time but in a lovely condition). I was so close to buying it.
Watkins Books – an unusual bookshop that I wasn’t expecting to see, Watkins specialises in spiritual and esoteric books. It is full of books that ‘awaken the spirit’ and ‘refresh the mind.’ I really enjoyed looking round and seeing what else they sold such as Tarot decks and crystals. They describe themselves as having a ‘unique ambience’ and I found it a very welcoming place and one that you could really get lost in.
Marchpane – I didn’t go inside this one but had a great time looking at the children’s books they had on display outside. It has copies of Enid Blyton books that bring back so many memories for me, copies of The Wizard of Oz, and all the CS Lewis stories. A very charming bookshop!
As Cecil Court says about itself, it is a whole street of “uncommonly good independent shops” and I had such a good time exploring it. Rumoured to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books, it definitely has a bewitching feel. Add it to your ‘to-do’ list for next time you are in London.
After Cecil Court, it’s time for a tea break: head to Stanfords travel bookshop, less than a ten-minute walk away which has a very nice cafe in amongst the books.
Stanfords is a specialist seller of maps and travel books, and if you are anything like me who loves a good travel book, then you will explode with joy when you see this place. Full of books by people recounting journeys through foreign lands, cookbooks telling you how you can recreate scents and tastes from around the world, and all the travel accessories you could need: I wanted to buy everything.
Next it’s not far to a run of bookshops on Charing Cross Road, including Any Amount of Books and Henry Pordes Books: two second-hand bookshops, packed to the brim with books, but also sell those hard to find editions.
Want to know how I would round off this walk? With a Portuguese egg custard tart, of course! Santa Nata which sells the most delicious pasteis de nata is less than a five-minute walk away. Baked in store (you can watch them in the window), you can buy them fresh out of the oven – you’ve earned it! Because it was Christmas, we also walked round Covent Garden to see all the decorations including the giant mistletoe and glitter balls hanging in the market whilst enjoying a very seasonal mulled wine.
Have you been to any of these bookshops? Do you have any recommendations for when I am next in London for bookshops in a different part of the city?