As transporting as any museum and nourishing as any local dish, these independent bookstores unlock the soul of a place.

Lello Bookshop (pictured), Porto, Portugal
The elaborate neo-Gothic façade of this former library barely hints at the opulence inside: carved wood, gilded pillars, ornamented ceilings, and a gorgeous red staircase lit by a stained-glass atrium. Its polyglot collection includes English translations of Portuguese lions Fernando Pessoa and José Saramago.

Heywood Hill, London
Creaky floorboards and stacks of new and old literature, history, gardening, and travel tomes lend the 77-year-old Mayfair landmark the air of a well-loved private library. Smartly dressed booksellers eagerly provide recommendations for patrons, who include Her Majesty the Queen.

The Bookworm, Beijing
Expats head to this bookshop-cum-lending library in the multicultural Chaoyang district for thousands of English titles, plus frequent musical performances and readings. Grab one of the 70 whiskeys available at the in-house bar and browse beneath the dangling red lanterns.

Gleebooks, Sydney
Housed in a 19th-century general store, the spacious local favorite in the lively Glebe neighborhood carries a wide array of Australian literature among its 50,000 titles. On the second floor, 100-plus events take place each year, attracting such wordsmiths as Salman Rushdie and Bill Bryson.

Additional reporting by Paola Singer