What kind of reader are you? Do you devour the latest bestseller in 48 hours? Do you always have at least three books on the go, or are the creases in a book’s spine a mark of real achievement?
Our relationships with books are changing. While once a full bookcase represented a person of learning, now those same volumes can be held in the palm of our hands. But – as a portal to other worlds or a sure source of truth in an age where hearsay can trump fact – the allure of a good book endures.
St James’s is a haven for bibliophiles and home to some of London’s best independent and specialist bookshops. Enrich your mind and spirit with our pick of London’s best bookshops…
We all know that you should never judge a book by its cover – but if you did, every volume from Maison Assouline would be a 10/10. Build a beautiful library with its collection of luxury books, curated to create a place where “culture can be acquired”. Browse the best from style, art and travel, alongside rare and special edition books and quirky gifts. Enjoy a light lunch or a cocktail in its Swan Bar and let your imagination loose inside its Grade II listed building.
The Institute of Contemporary Arts’ (ICA) bookshop is its own institution. Stocking art and lifestyle magazines, one-off zines, titles covering philosophy, gender, politics, identity, architecture - and not forgetting books on artists and books by artists – this well-stocked niche by the gallery’s entrance is anything but niche in the breadth and range of its publications. It’s also a dependable source of beautiful greeting cards so be sure to stock up on your next visit.
Located in the basement of Dover Street Market, IDEA specialises in art and fashion publications. Think everything from 1980s mod bible, Skinhead Girl, to books and zines on varied subjects such as Japanese interiors, Donald Judd sculptures, Charlotte Rampling, Joy Division, Bowie, and every subculture from Punk to London’s gentlemen’s clubs. Since publishing its own books in 2014, collaborations with brands like Gucci, stylist Suzanne Koller, and interior designer Ashley Hicks, have become instant collectables. Every book also appears on their killer Instagram account.
St James’s has a habit of holding onto good businesses. Alongside London’s most mature of cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield (1797) and our city’s longest standing wine and spirit merchants Berry Bros & Rudd (1698), Hatchards is our oldest bookshop and has traded from 187 Piccadilly for over 200 years. But aside from its history – Hatchards is best known for its book signings, which are the result of a uniquely strong bond between book writer and book seller. Mixing all genres, signees have included fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, A.N. Wilson on Queen Victoria, and Mary Berry, who rose perfectly to the occasion.
Daniel Crouch Rare Books
Get lost in a world of worlds and discover antique atlases, maps, plans, sea charts and voyages from the 15th to the 19th century at Daniel Crouch Rare Books. Follow historic routes and witness the changing shape of our world charted on paper.
Whether you’re looking for something specific or searching for reading list inspiration, you’re guaranteed to find it at Waterstones’ flagship store. The largest bookshop in Europe, this former 1930s department store has 200,000 books or eight miles of bookshelves to explore. Pick up the latest bestseller or why not peruse the travel section or pick up a classic? Expect to exit with an unexpected city guide in hand, or some “absolutely necessary” new stationery. Check its events calendar for your chance to meet your favourite modern authors and more.
From the largest bookshop in Europe to the largest art bookshop in the UK, you’re spoiled for choice in St James’s. Find signed and limited editions, alongside antique and rare books and collections at Thomas Heneage on Duke Street.
While not strictly a bookseller, the London Library is the city’s ultimate book loaner. From Dickens to Darwin and George Eliot to Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf and Harriet Martineau, these prominent authors are not only stocked within its shelves but were counted among its historic members. Today, celebrated authors like Steven Fry and Kazuo Ishiguro join 7,500 other members in accessing over a million books and periodicals housed in stunning St James’s Square.
Backyard at Treehouse
This cosy café off Regent Street is a little-known refuge for book lovers. Immerse yourself in your chosen story as the buzz of the street slips away. We’ve been known to lose entire mornings at Backyard with its delicate pastries and strong Workshop Coffee. Finished your book? Pass it on with Backyard’s Bookswap and take home another pre-loved book for free.
Learn more about St James’s literary history with Libery London Girl’s guide.
We love to hear about what you’re reading – share your latest discovery with us at @StJamesLondon on Instagram.