Second-hand bookshops are so much more than a place to pick up a page-turner for little more than a quid. They’re full of character, creaking floor boards and the occasional cat, and they sure as hell don’t come in an Amazon parcel. Unless something has gone significantly wrong in the warehouse.
From an 18th-century townhouse filled to the gunnels with antique fiction, to an 100-year-old Dutch barge with an open-air stage, these are some of London’s best second-hand bookshops.
Foster Books | Chiswick
To all those wedded to their Kindles, take a step back from the Paper Light and go in search of Fosters Books. This is a particularly unique second-hand bookshop, specialising in first editions so hard to come by your eyes might water at the price. But even if you can’t afford the beautifully-bound rare volumes, go for the charming, emerald-green shopfront and the delightfully dusty smell that greets you as you weave through the hodge-podge of bookshelves.
Details: 183 Chiswick High Rd., Chiswick W4 2DR | Find out more here
Black Gull Books | Camden
Starting out as a market stall, Black Gull Books has evolved through the years to have two shops; one in Camden Market, the other up the road in East Finchley. Today both bookshops attract crowds – both for the vast array of books and the kitsch decor. In East Finchley there’s ‘the archaeology of the book’, made up of items they’ve discovered in second-hand books over the years, while in Camden, there’s a radiant railway-style clock hanging above the shop floor.
Details: 121 High Rd, London N2 8AG | Find out more here
Judd Books | Bloomsbury
Bang in the middle of famously bookish Bloomsbury is where you’ll find Judd Books. Trading for over 25 years, it’s something of an institution and is sought out for its unrivalled selection of academic books. Its frontage is cheery and its shelves are packed to the rafters with all sorts; there’s literature, art, design, media and theatre studies on the ground floor. Downstairs is where you’ll find books on history, economics, philosophy, science and politics, all of which line the walls or sit neatly in piles.
Details: 82 Marchmont St, WC1N 1AG | Find out more here
BookMongers | Brixton
Selling second-hand books for over two decades, BookMongers is woven into the fabric of Brixton. Slightly dishevelled from the outside, inside you’ll find a trove of reading material with no real rhyme or reason to the displays. You’ll find Sci-Fi next to Psychology; Robert Harris sandwiched between Jilly Cooper and Ian McEwan; and retro recipe books spine-to-spine with graphic novels. Curl up on the sofa with a good read, and the bookshop cat Popeye.
Details: 439 Coldharbour Ln, SW9 8LN | Find out more here
Skoob Books | Bloomsbury
How many books do you reckon can fit in a 2,000 sq ft space? Skoob Books manages to squeeze 55,000 titles onto the shelves, tables and any other surface space at The Brunswick, which definitely exceeds our estimations. Consider this a feasting ground for bookworms; the collections are expansive and varied, ranging from philosophy and art to politics and poetry. The best part? All titles are half the original price or less so you can easily bag a bargain and pick up a Penguin print or poster, while you’re at it.
Details: 66 The Brunswick, Marchmont St, WC1N 1AE | Find out more here
Hurlingham Books | Fulham
This book-laden bolthole holds the title of being the oldest bookshop in South West London. It first opened in 1968, fuelled by the owner Ray Cole and his insatiable appetite for a good page-turner. Still here today, Ray is the first face you’ll see at Hurlingham Books when it opens at 9ish – the ish indicative of the bookshop’s irregular opening hours. More than selling reading material, Hurlingham also supplies books to use as props in films and photoshoots with notable appearances including Fantastic Beasts, Dark Shadows, The Crown and The King’s Speech. On the rare occasion you can’t find the book you’re looking for, it has a huge warehouse in Fulham with over 1 million second-hand books.
Details: 91 Fulham High Street, SW6 3JS | Find out more here
Halcyon Books | Lewisham
You could easily lose several hours in this second-hand bookshop. Yes, there are 40,000 books to browse from, but there’s also a cafe where you can refuel with coffee and cake after nosing through the shelves. With a focus on new and used academic books, Halcyon is ideal for students, and the team are on hand to help you find what you’re after. There’s also records and collectable postcards to sift through too.
Details: 266 Lee High Rd, SE13 5PL | Find out more here
Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange | Notting Hill
Comic connoisseurs, manga mega-fans and budding bibliophiles unite under one roof at this Notting Hill stalwart. With 1000s of titles to flick through, this is the place for eyeing up the next addition to your collection, and if you need to make space on your bookshelves – Kapow! Wham! Bam! The Book & Comic Exchange will buy your old comics for cash or vouchers. Go boldly forth and rifle through the endlessly rolling stock of new and vintage wares.
Details: 32 Pembridge Road, W11 3HN | Find out more here
Archive Bookstore | Marylebone
Imagine the smell of ageing paper tickling your nostrils. There’s someone tinkling on an out-of-tune piano, and all you can see is row after row of books by authors that have disappeared into antiquity. This is the scene at Archive Bookstore, a second-hand bookshop spanning two floors of a building so tiny it would be better suited to The Borrowers. As well as books, the shop also stocks printed sheet music.
Details: 83 Bell St, NW1 6TB | Find out more here
Bookshop on the Heath | Blackheath
A specialist antiquarian and second-hand bookshop, The Bookshop on the Heath is where you’ll find general literature alongside first editions, with specific sections for children’s classics, poetry, plays, and science fiction, as well as various non-fiction sections. There’s also a map chest – the kind that would look right at home on board the Cutty Sark, when it was still in a fit seafaring state – containing original maps from the 18th century onwards.
Details: 74 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, SE3 0BW | Find out more
Henry Pordes Books | Charing Cross
Image: Andy Solomon
Amidst the crowds of Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square, Henry Pordes has been trading for over 30 years, earning its stripes as an internally renowned purveyor of hard-to-find books. Inside there’s all sorts, from classics with creased spines to folio editions and even buzzed-about debuts. The shop is run by Francesco Ponti and Rita Servidio, who are only too happy to help find what you’re looking for – they have the remarkable ability of remembering pretty much every book in the shop’s extensive stock.
Details: 72 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0BB | Find out more here
Pages of Hackney | Hackney
A true book haven, Pages of Hackney first opened in 2008 and since then it’s won awards, survived a global pandemic and been a firm and loyal supporter of indie publishers and debut authors. As well as fresh talent, the shop also has an extensive second-hand book selection downstairs, and there’s a fantastic roster of author events giving you the opportunity to see your favourite writers discuss their work.
Details: 70 Lower Clapton Road, E5 0RN | Find out more here
Jarndyce Booksellers | Soho
There’s been a bookshop, in some form or another, at 46 Great Russell Street for more than 120 years. Today, the 18th-century building houses Jarndyce, a second-hand bookshop specialising in 17th, 18th & 19th century English Literature and History. Inside, there are many period features still intact, as well as shelves painted in a deep shade of blue, all lined with leather-bound books in jewel tones. While Jarndyce stocks titles that will sell for thousands of pounds, it’s also worth keeping an eye out for antique versions of well-known tomes that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Details: 46 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3PA | Find out more here
Sotheran’s | Mayfair
One of the oldest antiquarian book dealers in the world, Sotheran’s has been going strong since 1761. With a particular penchant for books on natural history, this is one of only a handful of booksellers in the UK with a whole department dedicated to the subject, and it once bought books from the library of Charles Dickens himself. There’s also a whole trove of botanical prints and vintage posters, ideal for gifts. Despite its years, Sotheran’s is still savvy when it comes to social media, and their Twitter account is worth a follow for uplifting gibberish.
Details: 2-5 Sackville St, W1S 3DP | Find out more here
World’s End Bookshop | Fulham
If you’d go to the ends of the earth for a good book, you’ll love this atmospheric little bookshop at World’s End, tucked in a corner near to the Kings Road. Inside, be delighted by the broad selection of books covering antique tomes and 20th-century literature. There’s a come-one-come-all spirit to this place and its doors are open to everyone, including “students who would otherwise resort to theft, honeymooners, aristocrats, autocrats, unbelievably wealthy plutocrats, Essex nans with a thing for Ernest Hemingway, former bullies, tarot-fanatics, Bloomsbury lodgers, handsome young men on bicycles, bearded ladies, Romantic teens, druids, pipers and dogs. Especially dogs.”
Details: 357 King’s Rd, London SW3 5ES | Find out more here
Any Amount of Books | Covent Garden
“Two floors, five rooms of second-hand books, new stock daily”. That’s basically all you need to know about this charming, emerald-fronted shop on Charing Cross Road. There’s also the lure of being able to pick up a good page turner from £1 – we recommend arming yourself with robust tote bags or two and spend an afternoon thumbing through books on travel, gardening, feminist history and more.
Details: 56 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0QA | Find out more here
Word on the Water | King’s Cross
Step on board this book-filled barge and you’re immediately surrounded by souvenirs from the seven seas and a surprisingly large amount of books neatly stacked into every nook and cranny of this 100-year old Dutch vessel. Here you’ll find a genre-spanning array of new and good second-hand reads, plus they host a regular programme of plays, musical acts and poetry readings on the open-air ‘roof stage’.
Details: York Way, Granary Square, King’s Cross, N1C 4AA | Find out more here
New Beacon Books | Finsbury Park
More than just a second-hand bookshop, New Beacon Books is a space where literature, culture and art from across the African diaspora are celebrated and preserved. It first opened in 1966 on Stroud Green Rd, and it’s been at the same spot for all but one year of its existence. Earlier this year it was at risk of shuttering, switching to solely online sales, but in a few days a crowdfunding campaign raised £50,000 to save it. Such is the power of this small yet mighty book shop.
Details: 76 Stroud Green Rd, Finsbury Park, N4 3EN | Find out more here
Southbank Book Market | Southbank
Market sellers Jean and Eric swapped their stalls in Covent Garden for a spot in what was known as the Cardboard City in the early 1980s when the Southbank was not the bustling place it is now. 40 or so years later, used paperbacks and hardbacks are still being flogged in the same place, only now it’s bigger, better, and more varied than before. You’ll find the Southbank Book Market nestled under Waterloo Bridge, just in front of the BFI Southbank, until 7pm, whether it’s beaming sunshine or pissing it down.
Details: Waterloo Bridge, Riverside Walk, London, SE1 | Find out more here
Now you’ve got yourself a good book… take it to one of the best coffee shops in London
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