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Local champions,

March 08 2024

Best independent bookshops in London

A few years ago, there was a fear independent bookshops would struggle to survive. But today, they’re thriving, especially in London. Small, specialised and filled with friendly staff who know their literary onions, these bookshops stand out for all the right reasons. Here’s our pick of London’s best independent bookshops.  


Word on the Water

This former Dutch barge moored on Regent’s Canal at King’s Cross has become a legendary part of London’s literary scene. Word on the Water is a delight for book lovers who like their book discoveries to come from unusual places. On board, there’s an eclectic selection of new and used books tucked in every nook and cranny. 


When it’s not raining, musicians play jazz on the barge’s roof, and inside, you might bump into a resident cat or dog snoozing on an old chair. This character-filled floating bookshop is rich in London charm and is so much fun to spend time in. And with regular live music events and poetry readings, there’s no excuse not to.


Cecil Court

This is a bit of a cheat, to be honest. In historic Cecil Court, there’s just one bookshop but a whole collection of independent second-hand bookshops. In the busy West End, Cecil Court feels a little like stepping back 100 years, with books spilling out of 17th-century buildings. TS Eliot used to live in a flat above a bookshop, and screenwriters, actors and musicians would hang out here when they were between jobs in the nearby West End theatres. 


Each bookshop has its own character and is packed to the rafters with diverse collections of books. There are rare and antiquarian volumes, first editions, contemporary selections and a wealth of knowledge on hand. This treasure trove of books has long attracted literary enthusiasts – add the old maps, vintage memorabilia and art galleries, and you could well spend a good few hours browsing. 


Gay’s The Word

Bloomsbury’s Gay’s The Word is UK’s oldest, and for a long time the only, LGBTQ+ bookshop. A gathering of gay socialists set this pioneering bookshop up in 1979 as not just as a place to buy books but as a safe space to meet and share ideas. In those days, few bookshops stocked queer literature, so it built a dedicated community as well as a few enemies keen to shut it down. In 1984, Gay’s The Word hosted the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group to raise funds for strikers, a story retold in the lovely 2014 film Pride. 


Today, Gay’s The Word is still thriving as a cultural hub with a spirit of activism. A little of its history is on display and the noticeboards still heave with community events and free magazines. New young writers share shelf space alongside well-established masters, and even when it’s busy, there’s always a friendly member of staff who can help you find a book to take home. 


Books for Cooks

If you’re hungry for cookbooks, this Notting Hill shop dedicated to food writing is a must. Books for Cooks will have you delving into recipes for delicious desserts and fantasising about your next meal. Thankfully, there’s a tiny café at the back for lunch, and books on the shelves always inspire the menu as the chefs try out the recipes. You could well leave with the recipe of what you’ve just eaten. 


The shelves carry every cuisine you can imagine (and a few you’ve never thought of), and the staff aren’t just book lovers but foodies who have thoroughly taste tested the books they recommend. They also produce their own annual One Year At Books for Cooks, featuring their new favourite recipes. 


Gosh! Comics

Gosh! Comics in Soho has a vast display of graphic novels and comics beautifully displayed and appealing to the eye. Whether you’re an ’80s Beano reader, a superhero fan or like famous illustrators from the ’60s and ’70s, there’s something here for you. There’s also a healthy comic community in London supported by the shop, and plenty of rare imports and back-issues to delve through. 


The children’s department is impressive, with tables for little ones to draw their own comics and, in the afternoons, comic illustrators often mill around, helping the kids out. But this is not just a shop for kids, with plenty of adult graphic novels, nostalgic comics and beautiful illustrations for sale too. 

After reading away an afternoon in one of London’s best independent bookshops, bring your favourite page-turner back to a Thistle Hotel in the city centre where you can read in the comfort of your room. At Thistle Bloomsbury Park, in London’s most bookish neighbourhood, you’ve got literary treats on your doorstep