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World's coolest bookstores

By Frances Cha, CNN
September 2, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
Stunning El Ateneo bookstore in Buenos Aires was once a theater. The theater boxes have been turned into reading spaces. Stunning El Ateneo bookstore in Buenos Aires was once a theater. The theater boxes have been turned into reading spaces.
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World's coolest bookstores
Shakespeare and Company (Paris)
The Last Bookstore (Los Angeles)
Livraria Lello (Porto, Portugal)
Assouline Venezia (Venice, Italy)
Boekhandel Dominicanen (Netherlands)
Librairie Avant-Garde (Nanjing, China)
John K. King Used & Rare Books (Detroit)
Books for Cooks (Melbourne, Australia)
Powell's City of Books (Portland, Oregon)
Parnassus Books (Nashville, Tennessee)
Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico
Stanfords Bookstore (London)
1200 Bookshop (Guangzhou, China)
Foyles flagship (London)
Strand (New York)
Eslite Dunnan Store (Taipei, Taiwan)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • From Maastricht to Melbourne, these itineraries make bookish travelers look stylish
  • China's coolest bookstores include one in a massive parking lot and another that offers free stays to backpackers
  • Shakespeare and Company in Paris hosts writers' residencies
  • Assouline bookstore in Venice is housed in an 18th-century palazzo

(CNN) -- Someday there may be a generation of kids who think bookstores are fictional creations found only in novels that come in the mail.

Understandable, since many of the world's most beautiful independent bookstores have closed in recent years.

Not all of them are facing unhappy endings, however.

The brick-and-mortar survivors -- and brave newcomers -- have adapted to the Age of Amazon in their own ways, from opening 24 hours to undergoing spectacular design renovations or stocking books that aren't sold by the online giant.

Old or new, all with fascinating stories, the bookstores below serve as historic sites, sanctuaries, salons of culture and must-visit entries in any travel itinerary.

Shakespeare and Company (Paris)

Opened in 1951, this Paris Left Bank fixture looks like something straight out of a Hemingway book -- for good reason.

It's the spiritual successor and namesake of the first Shakespeare and Company, run by expat American bookseller Sylvia Beach and immortalized in Hemingway's memoir, "A Moveable Feast."

Beach closed her store in 1941, but in 1958 gave her blessing for another -- called Le Mistral -- to take the Shakespeare and Company name.

Current Shakespeare and Company owner Sylvia Whitman (pictured) was named after Sylvia Beach, owner of the first Shakespeare and Company.
Current Shakespeare and Company owner Sylvia Whitman (pictured) was named after Sylvia Beach, owner of the first Shakespeare and Company.

From its opening day, the second Shakespeare and Company has incorporated writers' residencies.

Up to four scribes can spend the night in the store, with most staying a week to a month.

"My father always aspired to continue the same spirit Sylvia Beach created in her bookstore -- welcoming and hosting writers and sharing books through our reading room," Sylvia Whitman, daughter of founder George Whitman, tells CNN.

Shakespeare and Company, 37 rue de la Bucherie, Paris; +33 1 43 25 40 93; Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.- 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Eslite Dunnan Store (Taipei, Taiwan)

In 1999, the first Eslite bookstore delighted the city of Taipei by staying open 24 hours a day.

But the 17,000-square-meter store really made its name by stocking an impressive multi-language array of books and magazines.

It's been so successful, two more Eslite branches have opened in the capital.

One is the country's largest bookstore, while the other is a small city with retail areas, a commercial arcade, a theater and a music performance space.

Eslite Dunnan Store, No. 245, Sec. 1, Dunhua S. Road, Da'an District, Taipei, Taiwan; +886 2 2775 5977; open 24 hours

MORE: 7 of the most beautiful libraries in the world

Originally a theater, El Ateneo was converted into a cinema and then a bookstore.
Originally a theater, El Ateneo was converted into a cinema and then a bookstore.

El Ateneo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Converted into a cinema in 1929, the building that houses El Ateneo underwent its most recent rebirth into a bookstore in the early 2000s.

Stunningly photogenic and vast, the majestic former theater retains its century-old ornate architecture and decor.

The stage and theater boxes have been converted into reading spaces.

El Ateneo, Av. Callao, Buenos Aires; +54 11 4813 6052; Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.-midnight, Saturday noon-10 p.m.

Librairie Avant-Garde (Nanjing, China)

China's most beautiful bookstore is located inside a massive underground parking lot once used as a bomb shelter.

The 4,000-square-meter store's unusual features include large crosses, a copy of Rodin's "The Thinker" and a checkout counter built out of thousands of old books.

The store also functions as a sort of public library, with more than 300 reading chairs.

"A good bookshop should provide space, vision and nurture the city with its humanitarian spirit," owner Qian Xiaohua tells CNN. "It's a place for people to have dreams in the city."

Librairie Avant-Garde, 173 Guangzhou lu (next to Wutaishan Stadium), Gulou District, Nanjing; +86 25 8371 1455; open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

MORE: 40 most beautiful places to visit in China

Assouline\'s latest opening is in an old palazzo in Venice.
Assouline's latest opening is in an old palazzo in Venice.

Assouline Venezia (Venice, Italy)

Located on the ground floor of the Bauer Hotel, a restored 18th-century palazzo, the newest boutique opened by luxury publisher Assouline is a study in beautiful interior design.

The store stocks many of the label's most expensive books, such as handcrafted volumes from its Ultimate Collection -- priced from $500 to $7,000 -- which range in subject matter from fashion and architecture to travel and lifestyle.

Assouline Venezia, Baur Hotel, San Marco, Venice, Italy; +39 041 240 6876; Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

Livraria Lello (Porto, Portugal)

Previous incarnations of this sublime bookstore and its publishing house date to 1869, but this beauty was built in 1906 by engineer Xavier Esteves.

A century later, it remains arguably the world's most beautiful bookstore, with neo-Gothic architecture incorporating stained glass, a sweeping staircase and a plaster ceiling imitating wood.

A stunning panorama of the store can be seen at 360 Portugal.

Livraria Lello, Rua das Carmelitas 144, Porto, Portugal; +351 22 200 2037; Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

The church housing the Boekhandel Domincanen was built in 1294.
The church housing the Boekhandel Domincanen was built in 1294.

Boekhandel Domincanen (Maastricht, Netherlands)

Built in the 13th century, this 1,100-square-meter former Dominican church was converted into a bookstore in 2006.

Before an award-winning redesign, the Gothic space had been used for numerous purposes: housing the Maastricht City Orchestra, hosting children's carnivals and slaughtering sheep.

In addition to stocking 40,000 books in Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Italian, and pouring the best coffee in town, the store hosts approximately 140 events per year.

"There is always something happening here," Boekhandel Dominicanen representative Ton Harmes tells CNN.

Boekhandel Domincanen, Dominicanerkerkstraat 1, Maastricht, Netherlands; +31 43 410 0010; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Powell's City of Books (Portland, Oregon)

Visitors should set aside a good two to three days to get lost in this iconic Portland landmark.

The largest used and new bookstore in the world is housed inside a modest, multi-level building (currently undergoing extensive renovation) that takes up a full city block and is often crowded.

New and used editions are shelved side by side, giving customers a handy choice of price options.

The biggest names in publishing show up here to do readings and book signings.

The staff's passion for reading shines through on the store's treasure of a website, which features an entertaining book blog in addition to a comprehensive and ambitious online store.

Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St., Portland, Oregon; +1 503 228 4651; 9 a.m.-11 p.m. daily

The staff at Books for Cooks are all passionate chefs.
The staff at Books for Cooks are all passionate chefs.

Books for Cooks (Melbourne, Australia)

Housed in a 150-year-old former sly grog shop (speakeasy) on one of Melbourne's most interesting streets, this small bookstore is the only retail shop in Australia specializing in cookbooks.

Every type of cuisine and culinary category imaginable can be found on its floor-to-ceiling shelves. Treasures include several beautiful 18th-century culinary books.

"Our customers are chefs, foodies and armchair gourmets," co-owner Tim White tells CNN. "We catalog more than 40,000 cookbooks and on any given day have at least 30,000 in stock."

The store ships around the world, at cost.

According to the owner, Yotam Ottolenghi's "Ottolenghi," "Plenty" and "Jerusalem" have been the store's bestselling cookbooks of late.

Books for Cooks, 33 Gertrude St. Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia; + 613 8415 1415; Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Strand (New York)

Back in the 1920s, six blocks of Manhattan's Fourth Avenue were known as "Book Row."

Of the 48 bookstores that gave the district its name, Strand is the only survivor.

After moving to its current location on Broadway and 12th Street, the beloved NYC store built up a staggering catalog that now includes 2.5 million new, used and rare books.

The coolest section is the Rare Book Room.

"Our most expensive title in store right now is a copy of James Joyce's 'Ulysses' illustrated by Henri Matisse," says marketing manager Brianne Sperber.

The book is priced at $45,000.

"People still read hardbacks and books are still collectors' items so we expect Strand will continue to fare well against Amazon," says Sperber.

Strand, 828 Broadway New York; +1 212 473 1452; Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Rare Book Room closes daily at 6:15 p.m.

READ: 6 exclusively New York shopping experiences

Guangzhou\'s newest bookshop and cafe offers free stays for backpackers.
Guangzhou's newest bookshop and cafe offers free stays for backpackers.

1200 Bookshop (Guangzhou, China)

It may just be a few weeks old, but this quirky 24-hour shop is already making a name for itself, not only for selling books and coffee, but also for providing a haven for travelers.

Inspired by Shakespeare and Company in Paris (above), the founder of 1200 Bookshop is offering free stays to backpackers in a private room on the store's premises.

"We are doing business at the store during daytime but making friends at night," says founder Liu Erxi.

To apply for a stay, travelers must email the store (1200bookshop@sina.com) in advance, stating their background and reasons for requesting a stay -- foreign tourists are welcome.

Chosen guests may be asked to share their experiences with customers during one of the regular midnight in-store seminars.

1200 Bookshop, 27 East Tiyu ST, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China; +86 20 8526 0827; open 24 hours daily

Foyles flagship (London)

In June 2014, the century-old London bookseller moved into its spacious new digs -- the size of 13 tennis courts -- just a step away from its former home.

Foyles' new space has its own interesting history as the former Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design building, where Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney once studied.

The stage where the Sex Pistols played their first gig in 1975 now houses the Foyles' children's department.

The store also launched a helpful in-store digital book search map that's automatically enabled on customers' smartphones when they connect to the store's Wi-Fi network -- the first of its kind in the country.

Foyles flagship, 107 Charing Cross Road, London; +44 20 7437 5660; 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

The four-story Detroit store is organized into more than 900 categories.
The four-story Detroit store is organized into more than 900 categories.

John K. King Used & Rare Books (Detroit, Michigan)

Opened in 1965, this massive bookstore is one of Detroit's must-visit venues.

Housed in an old glove factory and with more than a million books in stock, the store has more than 900 (yep, 900!) alphabetized categories.

Some of the most notable books in the King collection?

"Right now, we have a copy of the true First Edition of the Book of Mormon, priced at $100,000," owner John K. King tells CNN.

"Our oldest book is a copy of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, printed in Venice in 1482."

The store's blog is an entertaining read, featuring posts that include a rousing castigation of a scam artist who recently conned store staff.

A quote from its website sums up the store's enormous scale: "We buy books and libraries!"

John K. King Used & Rare Books, W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, Michigan; +1 313 961 0622; Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Stanfords (London)

This large and airy store in the heart of London's Covent Garden should come with warnings of itchy feet. To gaze across the shelves in Stanfords -- one of the world's finest travel book shops -- is to consider a world of adventurous opportunities.

This is the place to go for anyone embarking on foolish treks into the Great Unknown.

No matter how unknown the Unknown is, Stanfords probably has not only a guidebook, but a fold-out street map detailing where to find the Unknown's best cocktails.

It's not just guidebooks and maps.

There's a comprehensive selection of travel writing, including many obscure texts.

For those looking for that little-known account of mountain prawn hunting in Bhutan, or crossing the Kalahari on a spoon, Stanfords is a safe bet.

Stanfords, 12-14 Long Acre, London; +44 207836 1321; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily

Parnassus Books owners Karen Hayes (left) and Ann Patchett.
Parnassus Books owners Karen Hayes (left) and Ann Patchett.

Parnassus Books (Nashville, Tennessee)

When "Bel Canto" author Ann Patchett opened a bookstore in Nashville on a whim, with a partner she'd just met, she didn't expect to be become the unofficial spokesperson for independent bookstores struggling in Amazon's wake.

Patchett's efforts to publicize the store thrust it immediately into the literary spotlight when it opened, securing a New York Times front page story and a spot on "The Colbert Report."

Thanks to Patchett's connections, Parnassus -- an ancient Greek term for the world of poetry -- has no shortage of famous writers (David Sedaris, Jonathan Franzen and Michael Pollan among them) turning up to read from their latest books.

As befitting its location in the birthplace of country music, the store carries a thoughtfully curated music section.

"I get to recommend the books I like to read," Patchett tells CNN. "All my life I've loved telling people what books I think they'll love, now I have a lot more people to tell."

Parnassus Books, 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville, Tennessee; +1 615 953 2243; Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.

A lovely place to spend a weekend morning in Mexico City.
A lovely place to spend a weekend morning in Mexico City.

Cafebreria El Pendulo (Polanco, Mexico City)

Breakfast on the weekend at this adored bookstore and cafe is accompanied by live classical music.

The loveliest of the six branches in Mexico City, the 20-year-old Polanco store also serves the best food.

The service may be slow but with this ambiance and a book in hand, you'll hardly notice.

Cafebreria El Pendulo, Alejandro Dumas 81, Miguel Hidalgo, Polanco, 11560 Ciudad de Mexico, Distrito Federal, Mexico; +52 55 5280 4111;  Monday-Wednesday 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Thursday-Friday 8 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

MORE: Modern marvels of the world

The Last Bookstore (Los Angeles)

Hopefully, the Last Bookstore will never fulfill the prophecy of its name.

The popular warehouse-like store buys and sells new and used books and is home to a graphic novel shop and a record shop.

The store's columnar displays of books are so cool, they served as a backdrop for a fashion shoot in the latest issue of "Esquire."

The 100,000 books stacked in the "Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore" section on the mezzanine level sell for a dollar each.

"The space we occupy was originally a bank, and there are still vaults on both floors of our store, but now they are full of books," says store manager Katie Orphan. "We generally have around 200,000 books in the store at any given time."

The Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles; +1 213 488 0599; Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Have you been to any amazing bookstores that are not on this list? Let us know in the comments.

Barry Neild, Maggie Hiufu Wong and Daojun Wu contributed to this story.

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