Rumor has it J. K. Rowling was inspired by Livraria Lello while writing Harry Potter (and teaching English) in Portugal. It doesn’t take long to appreciate Lello’s potential as muse: a stained-glass atrium puts the spotlight on the bookshop’s deep-red staircase, spectacular enough to stop you in your tracks.
It’s one of the distinctive bookstores that—against industry odds—continue to thrive across the globe. For travelers, these shops go beyond well-curated selections of books: they pack in an abundance of beauty, quirky character, and local history within their walls. And they serve as community hubs, where you can tap into the creative pulse of a destination.
In Paris, the romance between Left Bank fixture Shakespeare & Co. and the city’s literary set dates back to the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. And it continues to attract luminaries like Zadie Smith, who recently read to a packed house.
Brooklyn, sometimes described as New York’s Left Bank, has become the borough of choice for many local writers—and for independent bookstores. One of the most intriguing is Powerhouse Arena, where readings, book launch parties, temporary art exhibits, and conversations with contemporary literary voices are hosted in an amphitheater-style seating space with soaring 24-foot ceilings.
As British author Neil Gaiman once said, “A town isn’t a town without a bookstore.” Our favorites live up to that assessment, whether located in a converted church, bank, home, or even a former bomb shelter.