Bath is a favourite place to visit amongst literary types, one of the oldest and most architecturally beautiful little cities in all of the UK. The city has a Jane Austen museum (with a gift shop), the historic Roman baths which gave the town its name, the magnificent Royal Crescent and, of course, several of the most fabulous bookstores in the country. You can even catch the Austen festival, thrown every September.
Bath provides everything that a bookworm could want. Whenever we return to the UK for a visit, we make a bee-line for Bath, eat at a local pub, wander the friendly streets, and pay a visit to these five wonderful Bath bookshops.
Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights
A bookstore with a name this glorious couldn’t live anywhere but Bath. Once inside, you’ll immediately see the appeal. The award-winning store is filled with natural light, and is also the right kind of cramped, where every turn of the body yields a new bookshelf or display to admire.
There are three floors: the ground floor, which has the newest stock and most of the fiction, as well as delightful window displays and the friendliest staff. The basement is where all the history and philosophy can be found, as well as a toilet that was hand-decorated by the legendary Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell.
Upstairs hides a fantastic little secret: the reading room. This is a tiny space with sunlight flooding in, a few chairs to perch upon, and a quiet calm in which to read as you flick through a few chosen temptations. This simple details makes it one of the best Bath bookshops for a reading retreat.
The store also offers something very special. For £80 you can buy yourself or a loved one a ‘Book Spa’. This includes a visit to the store where you’ll be treated to some bibliotherapy: a member of the store will sit down with you and chat about your favourite books, listen to your tastes, and return with a stack of books tailored to your tastes. You’ll leave with £55 worth of new books, a mug, a tote bag, and a gift card. We cannot think of a better gift for a bookish friend.
The store is located in the town centre, just off from the main street, around the corner from the aforementioned Jane Austen Centre, and a few doors down from an excellent pub with an excellent name: The Raven.
Website | Address: 14-15, John St, Bath BA1 2JL, United Kingdom
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Topping & Co
We frankly adore this shop. Everyone who works in Topping is so incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about literature and what they do. I can’t tell you how many authors we’ve been introduced to thanks to the staff here; in fact, knowledgeable doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s very easy to while away an hour on a quiet day chatting with the staff about your favourite indie publishers and Latin American authors, as we have done in the past.
The shop is a beautiful display of traditional ladders that are lifted straight out of Beauty and the Beast. And you can actually use them to help you to reach up to those top shelves, with the shop stretching back as far as the eye can see. They also wrap many of the books in soft plastic coverings that make them look like irresistible gifts for yourself. No bookshop makes buying new books more deliciously tempting than Topping & Co.
The books themselves are separated into specific and useful sections, which is always appreciated and, despite it being a relatively small shop, I have never not found what I’ve been looking for, including special editions of specific titles. The wealth of books on offer here matches the sheer antique beauty of the shop itself.
Another area where Topping & Co excel is in their selection of first editions and signed-by-the-authors editions. Tucked in amongst the normal books, you’ll find these gems everywhere and they’re rarely more expensive than their unsigned counterparts.
Topping & Co. also host literary events throughout the year so it’s well worth keeping an eye on their website.
Website | Address: 3 Bladud Buildings, The Paragon, Bath BA1 5LS, United Kingdom
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Bath Old Books
While Mr B’s Emporium and Topping both fit that mould of meticulously designed fairy tale book shops, Bath Old Books is Bath’s answer to the old guard of booksellers that revel in being cluttered with stacks and shelves of beautiful old tomes. In other words, Bath Old Books is a true cave of wonders.
Carpeted rooms lined with wooden bookcases from floor to ceiling make for a literal house of books where anything and everything is possible. Bath Old Books provides hours of browsing possibilities. Along with the Jane Austen museum and the baths themselves, Bath Old Books is an historic and essential part of the city of Bath. Without it, Bath would not be Bath.
What sets this Bath bookshop apart is its selection of antiquarian books from centuries passed. If you’re in the market for old and rare books in Bath, this is where you must take yourself.
Website | Address: 6A Margaret’s Buildings, Bath BA1 2LP, United Kingdom
Who doesn’t love a good second-hand bookshop? Centrally located with shelves upon shelves of books to get yourself lost in (around 50,000 to be precise!), this is where you’ll find battered and beloved Penguin Classics, gorgeous leather-bound treasures, academic textbooks, and everything in between.
Prepared to get lost in here for an hour or so because as any good second-hand bookshop should be, it’s uncatalogued and brimming with undiscovered treasures. Make sure to take a good sniff!
Website | Address: 66 The Brunswick off, Marchmont St, London WC1N 1AE, United Kingdom
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George Bayntun was a bookbinder, and a legend of one at that. Though he died back in 1940, his legacy continues in this, the oldest bookshop in Bath. In his last few years of life and work, Bayntun’s shop was often visited by Queen Mary, wife of King George V, who spent her golden years living in the Bath area.
Today, George Bayntun is a specialist in antiquarian books of the rarest and most beautiful variety. Beyond this, the bindery which was set up by George Bayntun, and by which he was best known, is still in operation today. If you’re looking to have a rare and broken book rebound, or a new book bound, consider turning to the historic George Bayntun for their services.
Website | Address: 23 Manvers St, Bath BA1 1JW, United Kingdom
Bonus: Bath Charity Shops
Apart from stocking some wonderful vintage clothes, Bath’s charity shops also have a sizeable collection of books to peruse. Just a couple of examples include the Oxfam Bookshop and Julian House, which has a wide collection of secondhand books downstairs.`
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Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, its literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.