Toronto is a book lover’s paradise, boasting a vibrant literary scene and an impressive array of independent bookstores. From the bustling downtown to its many boroughs, countless book nooks are ready to be explored.
Some of these bookstores are well-known landmarks, easily recognizable by their iconic storefronts or towering shelves.
Others are tiny holes in the wall you’ll find between breweries waiting to be discovered. But regardless of their size or location, each of these bookshops is a treasure trove of literary delights.
Essential Toronto Bookstores
Whether you’re a longtime resident or a first-time visitor, be sure to carve out some time to explore these wonderful Toronto bookstores.
1) Glad Day Bookshop
In Toronto’s LGBTQ+ hub on Church St, you will find the world’s first-ever gay-owned bookshop, Glad Day. And they’ve been living up to that amazing feat for over 50 years.
Glad Day Bookshop is the place to go for coffee, drinks, reading events, drag brunches, and queer literature. They have a wide selection, with emphasis on Two-Spirit and Indigenous literature, trans stories, and QTBIPOC books.
It won’t surprise you to see an array of pride buttons, flags, and excessively friendly, chatty patrons and bartenders alike. It’s a rare gay who hasn’t gone to an event at Glad Day and left with a couple new friends, and perhaps a couple of new lovers, as well.
2) Re: Reading
If Re: Reading isn’t the nerdiest used bookshop in Toronto, it’s certainly the most unique. If I simply call it a second-and book shop in East York, I’d be doing it no justice.
The massive range of books, a movie collection, and an entire room for fantasy and sci-fi are just the beginning.
Re: Reading hosts a monthly scavenger hunt around their store where participants must solve riddles to win gift cards, but if challenges aren’t your thing, you can swing by to see the amazing and constantly changing decor.
From monster masks in the horror section, Star Trek nicknacks at the front of the store, and some amazing art on the floor keep a bookworm’s mind busy as you rifle through boos and take pictures of every nook and cranny.
There’s no bookstore in Toronto with so much character, and because it’s in the east end, it’s a hidden gem to most Torontonians…or a weekly visit for east enders.
3) Sellers and Newel
You might go to Sellers and Newel for the second-hand books, the incredible selection of poetry, the horror books displayed in a used coffin, the books on music…or the actual music.
Sellers and Newel is the only bookshop in Toronto to double as a music venue. Performers include Juno Award winners, international artists, and Toronto’s hometown musicians.
It’s small and intimate, and tickets for the shows sell out fast; they’re a must-visit for anyone looking for something unique and artsy to do in Toronto.
4) Little Ghosts
Although Little Ghosts has only been around for a couple years, it’s left a huge mark on Toronto’s reading scene. Tucked away in hipster capital, Kensington Market, this shop has a very modern, extremely fun vibe.
As the city’s foremost horror bookshop, it sits perfectly between cute-spooky and scary-spooky, with black bookshelves, a mirror that reminds you that we’ll all be ghosts someday, and a giant (and I mean giant!) skeleton on their charming back patio.
Sip the coffee or beer you buy – they have both, in true Toronto fashion. And don’t forget to ask the highly knowledgeable staff for their recommendations: they’ll set you up.
Go upstairs and stare at the analog TV for an undisclosed amount of time, buy some of their merch, or pick up the first novel published by the bookstore themselves; there are plenty of options.
Little Ghosts also hosts many author events, so readers and writers have an excuse to turn up at this spooky shop as often as possible.
5) Queen Books
Queen Books is an independent bookstore for everyone. Despite being quaint, with charming storefront displays and beautiful wallpaper, it’s absolutely overflowing with popular books.
Queen Books is one of the best places in Toronto to go if you want a modern read (but of course, you can buy your Fitzgeralds and your Shakespeares there as well) without going to a corporate store.
While a lot of bookshops pride themselves on their enjoyable clutter, Queen Books is clean and neat.
Once you make your way through all the beautiful books at the front, and stop to have a chat with the passionate staff, you’ll get to the back of the store.
Given the beautiful wallpaper, you might think you’ve found the classics, but this is, in fact, where the kids and young adult books can be found.
As someone who grew up in a dull little suburb near Toronto, I can only envy kids that get to go to this beautiful area to pick out their next read.
6) Another Story
Another Story is an independent bookshop surrounded by charming cafes and breweries in Toronto’s west end. While other bookshops are where you go for a sense of calm, Another Story is where you go when you’re angry about the state of the world.
With bookshelves displaying books on social justice, trans rights, and “urban politics and cycling,” there are endless possibilities for growing your brain and learning something new.
The children’s area is probably bigger than the adult section, and they offer an educator discount and deals for book fairs, making it easier than ever to promote diversity and inclusion to children in Toronto.
As Toronto’s oldest sci-fi and fantasy bookshop, Bakka-Phoenix is a store that can boast a long and, dare I say, storied history.
In the 70s, the shop, originally just Bakka, split off into the beloved Toronto Comic Book store Silver Snail, another great spot to visit as you tour Toronto.
The bookshop has hosted the likes of George RR Martin and been a day job to a handful of Torontonian authors like Robert J Sawyer.
Nowadays, you can read from a massive and magnificently categorized selection of books. The best part of touring its shelves is the cute and useful notes they leave.
Think: Bookstagram you can touch.
8) The Scribe
When you enter The Scribe in Toronto’s East End, you’ll be greeted by the ever-important smell of old books.
And of course you would; you’ve just entered a comfortably small shop with walls lined with old books, a window nook full of old books, and a beautiful backroom stuffed with, you guessed it, old books.
On top of offering a huge and wildly diverse (everything from the Oz series to comics written by Simpsons creator Matt Greoning to vintage Playboy magazines to occult literature) selection of rare and second-hand books, The Scribe also offers services like appraisals and book repairs.
If you manage to pull yourself away from a conversation with the incredibly helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable staff and exploring the crowded shelves, you’ll find that the back of the store contains the real treasure trove.
The rarest books can be found here, secured behind glass and looking awfully photogenic.
Breaking up these spaces is a gorgeous writing desk beside a wall literally covered in beautifully scrawled pages. It’s an experience to look into the window of the Scribe; being within its walls feels like an adventure in literature.
9) The Monkey’s Paw
Frankly, I wish I could live at The Monkey’s Paw.
The shop smells like my grandparents’ place – beyond the lovely scent that old books give off, it gives off a cottagey vibe. It’s probably the tiniest shop on this list, which makes it extra cozy, with floor creaks when you walk.
You might think this is the perfect recipe for a horror bookshop, but what The Monkey’s Paw actually offers is the quirky and the funky of the literary world, all of which is out of print.
They pride themselves on not buying popular books or books published after 1980.
So, what do they have? If I read a book off each shelf, I’d learn philosophy, Chinese religions, how to cook fish, and how to set tables like a proper lady. Or I could read a selection of short works by Hunter S Thompson. Depends on my mood.
But the most unique thing The Monkey’s Paw has to offer is the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomizing machine of old books. You never know what you’re going to get, with a selection so simultaneously large and niche.
Lindsay Clarke is a Toronto-based writer, an alum of George Brown College’s Novel Writing program, and a professional closet-crier. She has been previously published in QT Literary Magazine, Game Cupid, and The Mistress of the House of Books. You can find her at instagram.com/lindsay.p.clarke.writes.