London is a bibliophile’s heaven. From atmospheric, traditional shops that Charles Dickens may have frequented to contemporary stores with in-house art galleries, visitors are sure to find anything they are looking for.
Cooking up a storm
Books for Cooks is a Notting Hill institution, stocking thousands of publications on nearly every cuisine and culinary technique imaginable from Chinese to Lebanese, raw food to vegetarian, bread baking to coffee making. Set up by its husband and wife owners in the early 1980s, it quickly became the place to visit for hard-to-find recipes and food histories. An intimate café at the back serves a different meal selected from one of the store’s cookbooks every day. Upstairs, resident chefs offer cooking classes and workshops where students can eat the fruits of their labour.
Art of literature
Still in west London, in Duke of York Square (just a few steps from the Saatchi Gallery and close to Kings Road), the modern-looking Taschen store stocks books that could be considered pieces of art themselves. Whether they contain images of Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe, or detail the history of Rei Kawakubo’s conceptual clothing, Taschen’s books always smack of luxury with their thick binding and glossy pages. Located in this key luxury shopping precinct (Kate Middleton’s favourite salon is opposite the book store), Taschen is a favourite with collectors and casual browsers alike; the intimate store includes a small gallery in the basement, and sections devoted to art, architecture, fashion and pop culture on the ground floor.
Old world charm
For those seeking a truly old-world experience, look no further than John Sandoe Books in Chelsea. More than 25,000 books line its shelves, floor space and chairs, and even the staircase that snakes up its three levels. Eclecticism rules in this 18th century building, which once housed a poodle-grooming business and a junk shop. The shop still delights with its creaky floors and vast selection of books covering architecture, history, travel and fiction. A number of celebrities, including Elton John, frequent the store, but you’re unlikely to notice them because customers – sitting in velvet reading chairs – tend to have their noses in books.
Located in a building that has existed as a bookshop since the early 1900s, Daunt Books is perhaps London’s most photogenic book store, with an ornate façade, windows with dark wooden frames and oak galleries. Light floods in through its conservatory ceiling and stained glass windows, illuminating an array of publications. The shop’s long, central gallery has been tastefully decorated with small rugs and wooden tables to lend the feel of a scholarly library, while high-profile authors from Alexander McCall Smith to William Boyd – the writer of the most recent James Bond book – frequently use the store for launch parties and talks.
For a more contemporary literary experience, it’s fitting that one of London’s most chic department stores, Selfridges, also houses one of the city’s most fashionable book departments. Located on the lower ground floor, it stocks publications covering art, architecture, photography and interiors. Most dazzling, however, is its extensive collection of limited-edition coffee-table books, which artists and designers frequently autograph. From a stunning history of the fashion house Valentino, presented in a fiery-red clamshell box, to an oversized copy of Vivienne Westwood’s personal manifesto, Selfridges always has the most beautiful books in stock or on order.
This isn’t exactly walking in the footsteps of William Shakespeare, but it does allow the opportunity to pick up the latest accessory or to take a break at Selfridges’ Champagne bar along the way…