Gastro-tourism is becoming really popular at the minute. For those of you who don't know what it is, gastro-tourism is where people travel around the globe purely to try at the local cuisine. And I get it; food is awesome. But the best way to really get to grips with a place is by checking out the locals cafés and bookshops. Obviously. I've been on a few little tours in the last few years and developed a list of my favourite bookshops that you need to visit one day.
Antiquariat Hatry - Heidelberg, Germany
Story time, folks. A Few years ago I moved to Germany to study at the Heidelberg University. I would be out there with friends, but for my first two weeks in Germany, I was completely alone. On my first full day, I went for a walk to the picturesque town centre and immediately found a bookshop. Despite its official name, I called this bookshop Himmel (Heaven, in German) and that's what it became known as between me and my friends "Meet me outside Himmel at 7"). And it's a name it truly deserved. This place has 5 floors, all covered floor-to-ceiling in books, with a beautiful spiral staircase in the corner. It had an impressive floor-to-ceiling DVD library, and a basement room filled with records. I mean, what more could you want? When I moved back home to England I had to pay another £50 for my luggage to bring home all the books I had bought from Himmel.
Armchair Books - Edinburgh
Another floor-to-ceiling set up here - are you noticing a theme? I've been to Edinburgh a few times now, and each time I've cleared out the shop's myths and legends and German literature sections. In the hectic world of the Edinburgh Fringe I always knew I could come to this place just to breathe a little easier. My favourite thing about this place is the sense of humour the owners have. The shop is covered in little "health and safety" notices, filled with useful tips like "don't lick the light bulbs" and "don't push the shelves over" - just in case you're not sure how to behave in a bookshop.
Alta Aqua Liberia - Venice
Okay, I'm gonna put my hands up here and say: I've not been to this bookshop. So I'm cheating. But my best friend has, and she's shown me the pictures and it is the top of my to-visit list. Although this in the list, I'm going to suggest that actually, it probably functions terribly as a bookshop. The place is stacked HIGH with books and is so full of books that there are just bath tubs and gondolas packed with books everywhere. It makes for great aesthetics, but I can't imagine it makes it easy to find a book. The place is also filled with cats (as every place should be) who just potter around and brighten your day by balancing precariously on mountains of books, and if there's a fire you can always jump out of a window into a canal.
Some Bloke's House - Amsterdam
I'm clearly terrible at these lists - this one isn't even a bookshop! However, it is amazing. I once took a 40 hour round coach trip to spend 12 hours in Amsterdam. I met the aforementioned friend there and we went for a wander around the town. We followed the canals until we eventually ended up nowhere near the town centre, and stumbled across the bookshop set in among the houses. We didn't even go inside. There were so many books outside and a lovely little bench in the sun so we sat out at read and talked books. Eventually, the owner of the shop came out, offered us a free cup of tea and some sweets and sat and told us his life story. "How long have you owned the bookshop?" We asked. "What bookshop?" He replied. We kind of just stared at him for a while until he realised what we meant. "Oh no!" He exclaimed. "This is just my house!" And sure enough, he showed us inside his living room which was stacked with even more books. His "till" was a loyalty payment scheme - his postbox with a post-it note saying "please give me money for books." Somewhere in my piles of books, I have a D.H. Lawrence book with that man's address in. "So I can get some nice postcards instead of bills for a change."
The Big Comfy Bookshop, Coventry
Oh, come on! You think I'm gonna write about my favourite bookshops and NOT mention this place? Michael didn't even threaten into mentioning it, either. But look at the facts. The above bookshops (or bookhomes) are great, but none of them are as cosy, as relaxed, or as open as TBCB. Bookshops are usually a wonderful escape from the outside world, a little precious corner of town. That's great, but sometimes they feel too detached from the world. The wonderful thing about The Big Comfy Bookshop is it strikes a fine balance; it creates a community but gives you the chance to be alone with the words on the page, too. Whether you want to escape the world or be a part of something bigger, there's always a home for you at The Big Comfy Bookshop.