Visiting Shakespeare & Company, the legendary independent Left Bank bookstore of the Lost Generation, is at the top of many English speaker’s list when visiting Paris and I am not trying to convince you otherwise. By all means, go peruse their bookshelves, buy that tote bag, get your books stamped, pet the cat, and grab a coffee at the café.
All I’m saying is… in a city filled with rich literary history, where you still end up smushed on the metro at rush hour next to Parisians struggling to turn the page of their old paperback, there are plenty more magical bookstores to visit! Below is a list of my top five English-friendly bookstore finds in Paris that could easily become a literary walking tour, or simply a great reference for when you find your plans being thwarted by yet another rainy Paris day.
29 Rue de la Parcheminerie
75005 Paris, France
The Abbey Bookshop is located very close to both Shakespeare & Co. and the Sorbonne, just on the other side of Saint Severin Church. It joined the Latin Quarter’s literary scene decades later (opening its doors in 1989), after the owner, Brian, was inspired and encouraged by Shakespeare & Co.’s owner to open his own Paris bookstore (he previously had one in Toronto). The shop has a special history, being located in the historic Hotel Dubuisson building on Rue de la Parcheminerie, formerly named Rue des Escrivains after the Parisian scribes that were eventually replaced by parchment makers in the late Middle Ages. Today it offers a diverse collection of over 40,000 used and new English titles. It is particularly connected to the Canadian expat community in Paris, but welcomes anglophiles of all kinds- visitors and locals alike!
Bonus, they currently have a second location on the right bank near Bastille. This shop opened up during Covid, and allows you to shop books in a less crowded space. The location is on loan by a friend wanting to help Brian and the shop stay afloat, so go while you can:
The Abbey Popshop – Downtown Abbey Bookshop
38bis Boulevard Beaumarchais
75011 Paris France
9 Rue de Médicis
75006 Paris, France
Just a ten minute walk south of the Abbey Bookshop on the fringe of the Latin Quarter lies a cute little red and blue anglophone bookshop that should not be overlooked. Inside the Red Wheelbarrow, named after the poem by William Carlos Williams, you’ll appreciate the original crown molding and chandeliers hanging above the selection of classic and contemporary works of literature available in English, as well as fun displays of children’s books offered in French and English. While perusing this selection, don’t forget to also look out the front windows and appreciate a rewarding view that comes from being directly across the street from the northeast entrance of the Luxembourg Gardens. If you want to prolong that view, pick up a book then head next door to Treize au Jardin, an American owned boozy tea-room that will not disappoint. Also, check the Red Wheelbarrow events calendar before you visit and you just might be able to attend a book release, signing, or reading & conversation event as well.
248 Rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris, France
The largest English book shop in Paris since 1903, Smith & Sons (formerly WHSmith) is located in the 1st arrondissement, on the north side of the Louvre and Tuileries Garden. The first floor offers a large English book, magazine, and journal selection. Plus, since this is the flagship French storefront of the UK chain, they can also order anything you can’t find in-store and have it delivered. Venture up to the second floor and make your way through a large selection of British food staples, gifts, and stationary in order to make it to the café- a tidy British tea room, where you can enjoy weekend brunch, afternoon tea, or a freshly cut roast beef sandwich. Try to come on a sunny, spring day to make the most of the tea room’s fantastic views of the blooming trees and sparkling fountains in the Tuileries garden, one of the best picnic spots in all of Paris.
224 Rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris, France
If you want to instantly feel like a Belle from Beauty and the Beast, take a left when you walk out of Smith & Sons and walk just a few minutes down Rue de Rivoli to the beautiful Librairie Galignani. The high wooden bookshelves running along both walls are filled with colorful displays of old and new reads, some of which may require you to climb a wooden library ladder to access them (oh darn!). Walk straight to the back of the bookstore to enter a reading cave of sorts, and suddenly the lineup of these magnificent bookshelves grow from one story to two- a truly breathtaking sight for any bibliophile. No wonder Karl Lagerfeld deemed this his favorite bookstore in Paris. The back is also where you will find a very good English selection, including a wall of beautiful pocket anthologies that are perfect as portable travel reads or gifts. Once you’ve made your selection, you can always break it in while enjoying a decadent hot drink and Mont-Blanc pastry at the world famous Angelina tea room right next door.
9 Quai de l’Oise
75019 Paris, France
Ok, I am stretching this one a little, as this little bookshop has more French options… but go for the café, maps, and plant picture books and fact that HELLO YOU ARE ON A BOAT- that’s what “péniche” means!! L’Eau et Les Rêves (Water and Dreams) is located on the Canal d l’Ourcq canal in the 19th arrondissement. Self-described as a boat cafe and maritime/travel bookshop, I would describe my time aboard the quirky péniche as a magical, cozy experience. This boat, originally built in Strasbourg in the 1950s, traveled around Europe delivering grain until 1980, converted to a bookshop, and moved to its Paris location in 2010. On a sunny day in Paris, you will find the top deck of the small boat filled with locals sitting enjoying an espresso or glass of wine “en plein air.” Take the stairs down to the hull of the boat, and suddenly you are in a little bookstore, with wooden shelves framing the round ship windows and well-priced café. In addition to hosting regular community events and pop up shops, every three months the boat bookshop raises its anchor for a few special hours and sets sail along the canal- bon voyage!