Literary pilgrims – look for these amazing bookstores while you travel the globe. Thanks to the New York Times Dec. 7, 2016 travel issue for this post. I’ve cut and edited it for space.
Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal
The 110-year-old structure could easily be mistaken for a church. Topped with spires, the finely wrought Gothic-style facade opens onto a soaring space with columns, ornate medieval motifs and a dazzling stained-glass ceiling that hovers over the marquee attraction: a sinewy blood-red double staircase that coils like a strand of DNA.
According to bookshop lore, J. K. Rowling drew inspiration for her young-adult novels from the shop’s creaky interiors while teaching English in Porto in the early 1990s.
— SETH SHERWOOD
When you walk into the shop in Hangzhou, China, the books appear to reach impossible heights and stretch clear into the distance, an effect created by the perfect symmetry of the dark wooden shelves and the clever use of mirrors on the ceilings and walls. In an amphitheater-like room for readings and lectures, the impression is amplified by the reflection of the curved wall in the mirrored ceiling; it feels as if you are completely surrounded by a rainbow of book spines. In yet another room, the books are arranged on thin columns placed randomly around the room like trees in a forest, with benches interspersed for reading. Again, a mirrored ceiling makes the shelves appear as if they are not just trees, but towering redwoods.
— JUSTIN BERGMAN
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of Buenos Aires’ most remarkable landmarks, a sprawling space whose history mirrors the cultural development of Argentina. The grandeur of the former theater belies the rather prosaic merchandise provided by the bookshop chain that owns the current incarnation: The open interior is surrounded by tiers of balconies that, especially when lit in the evenings, make it easy to imagine the ballet and opera and tango performances of a century ago.
On the ground floor at the very back of the store is the stage, still bedecked with red curtains, and now supporting tables and chairs: This has become a cafe and a good place for foot-weary tourists to down an espresso. The books include works carried by chain bookstores (there’s a small English language section) but the music selection is excellent, a small reminder of the heritage of the Grand Splendid.
— NELL McSHANE WULFHART