The UK celebrates a beautiful diversity of bookshops. Whatever comes to mind when you picture an independent bookshop — whether that be a cozy cottage full of antiquarian books or a bold space for radical writers — you’ll find it in the UK.
These are the best independent bookshops across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
The best independent bookshops in the UK are the ones that stand out and do something special. That might mean community events, from concerts to book clubs. It might mean amplifying the voices of queer and black writers. It might just mean showing love and enthusiasm for literature.
The independent bookshops in the UK really are one of the country’s best and brightest qualities. It’s one of the reasons to love this country. We cherish our independent bookshops; we support and love them every single day. And here are the best of them.
The Best Independent Bookshops in England
The Second Shelf (London)
Owned and managed by American writer A.N. Devers. Devers moved from New York to London’s Soho neighbourhood and opened The Second Shelf, a shop which has become an immediately powerful weapon in the fight for gender equality in the literary world.
The Second Shelf sells, as their site describes, “rare and antiquarian books, modern first editions, ephemera, manuscripts, and rediscovered works by women.”
We will take any and every opportunity to mention The Second Shelf and the work they do. As a prominent and important soldier in the war against transphobia, The Second Shelf proudly supports trans women writers and we love them for that.
The Second Shelf is a beautiful London bookshop, tucked into a romantic little courtyard and offering shoppers a small but busy world of women writers, especially those from across history.
If you love antiquarian books and women authors, you need to pay The Second Shelf a visit; it is one of the very best independent bookshops in the UK.
Gay’s The Word (London)
One of the most legendary bookshops in London, Gay’s The Word, is a very special independent bookshop which boasts of the welcoming and diverse atmosphere that London offers.
Gay’s The Word has been out and proud since 1979 and even played a major role in the movement known as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The alliance would often meet at Gays The Word back in 1984-85 and collect money in support of the miners’ strikes of the Thatcher era.
Gay’s The Word is a celebration of liberal progress, of standing for your rights, of the transformative books written by LGBTQ writers from around the world.
We love this London bookshop for its community atmosphere and its range of inclusivity. You’ll find graphic novels by trans writers; memoirs by gay writers; fiction of every genre by every gender and sexuality you can imagine.
Gay’s The Word is one of the most important and beautiful independent bookshops in the UK, and it deserves all your support.
With an incredible history of its own, Housmans is a bookshop that has, since its doors first opened in 1945, championed the rights of minorities by promoting works by black authors, queer writers, feminist writers, and all written words by minorities fighting to have their voices heard.
If you’re shopping for feminist manifestoes, queer stories, the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, comics by transgender writers, or anything else beyond the stories of straight white men, Housmans is a must-visit bookshop that deserves your support.
They have spent decades supporting minorities, and we should likewise support them in this ongoing fight.
Of all the independent bookshops in the UK, Housmans stands out as a place that fights. It supports justice and human rights; it teaches us social and political histories; it encourages us to be better people and read books by better people. An incredible London bookshop.
Read More: Inspiring Books for the Literary Traveller
The crown jewel of bookshops in Cambridge, this three-story menagerie for book lovers has been around since 1876 and has been the focus of book-related events in the city.
Fabulously friendly booksellers are at hand to help you with the latest releases and thousands of other titles to choose from including classics, comics and manga, and every genre of fiction and non-fiction.
Downstairs you’ll also find paper products from the Cambridge Paper Company including wrapping paper, journals, scrapbooks etc. and a floor of travel fiction, cookbooks, and eco-friendly and bookish gifts.
Plus, there’s a musical instrument section. It’s really a bookshop that caters for everyone and could easily be called the best bookshop in Cambridge.
Sarah Key: The Haunted Bookshop (Cambridge)
This charming Cambridge bookshop with the greatest name is tucked away on the quiet St Edward’s Passage which absolutely suits the atmosphere of the shop. Is it haunted? Who knows, but it certainly feels like it could be.
They specialise in children’s and illustrated books but we also found plenty of antiquarian books and old Penguin Classics. This is the kind of shop where you take a deep breath, enjoy the smell of old books, and pick up a gem or two. The shop is closed on Sundays.
The Grimoire Bookshop (York)
A charming local York bookshop themed around folklore, horror, and the supernatural. This is very fitting for a town famously branded the UK’s most haunted city.
As you would hope, The Grimoire Bookshop has that rustic, cluttered, spooky feel of a good old bookshop. Narrow passages; bowed wooden shelves; stacks of books every which way you turn; that romantic old book smell. For atmosphere alone, The Grimoire Bookshop takes the crown.
And, while its name and its theme make it one of the best independent bookshops in the UK, The Grimoire Bookshop does also sell a wide range of books beyond the folklore and supernatural genres.
Tombland Bookshop (Norwich)
This charming and unassuming 15th-century building in Tombland is home to the largest antiquarian and secondhand bookshop in East Anglia.
In many ways, this Norwich bookshop is the Mary Poppins’ handbag or TARDIS of bookstores (depending on your fiction of choice), as the inside is far bigger than its outside suggests, and the cavernous vaulted ceilings certainly contribute to this.
Nearly every shelf is stacked with books on every topic imaginable. The books range in price from £1 to £10,000!
In addition to selling a wide range of books, Tombland Bookshop provide several other book-related services, including restoration, binding, and valuation for insurance and probate.
Their staff can also help procure pretty much any book you have your heart set on. And they buy books if you’re looking to sell old ones.
Read More: Unique Gifts for Bookworms & Writers
Abstract Sprocket (Norwich)
As any fan of comics can tell you, finding a good bookshop is key to your ongoing happiness. For residents of Norwich, that place is Abstract Sprocket.
This geek’s paradise is always well stocked with a wide variety of manga, graphic novels, and comics. This includes comics from across all publishers and fandoms, with many titles that you may not be able to find anywhere else in the city.
If you’ve ever seen a “comic book store” in film or TV, then this is that place in real life, but with infinitely more pleasant customer service.
The two best things about this most charming of Bristol bookshops are its aesthetics and its selection of children’s books. While they’re not a specialist children’s bookshop, they have a really great selection of them here. And the atmosphere of this still new bookshop is charming, warming, sweet, and kind.
Storysmith host events (check their website for more info). They also offer gift vouchers, subscriptions, and signed copies of new books.
And the cherry on top: they host three different book clubs! If you live in the area of Bedminster and Southville and you’ve always been tempted by a book club, definitely consider one of the three at Storysmith.
Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights (Bath)
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 Book Spa alone makes this one of the best independent bookshops in the UK.
Topping & Co. (Bath)
We adore this shop. Everyone who works in Topping & Co. is so incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about literature and what they do.
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, making it one of the best and most beautiful independent bookshops in the UK.
The Best Independent Bookshops in Wales
With Wales being home to Britain’s famed booktown — Hay-on-Wye — it’s no surprise that Wales is also home to some of the best independent bookshops in the UK, and here they are.
Richard Booth’s Bookshop (Hay-on-Wye)
Richard Booth is the man credited with the transformation of Hay-on-Wye from sleepy idyllic Welsh town into the book town of Britain. After completing his education at Oxford, he returned home to Hay and invented a way of transforming his home into the world’s first book town.
Richard Booth’s Bookshop is the most beautiful bookshop in Hay, without question. A staggering two-storey wooden structure that looks totally out of place in a town of stone houses, and stands out even more as a result. The shop stocks mostly new books, and they really do get the newest stock every week.
The space itself is open, all dark wood, and rows of neatly-kept bookcases. The presentation is gorgeous; upstairs and downstairs they have areas to sit and flick through your chosen books.
The booksellers are the friendliest around and they’ll happily have a proper good chat with you about whatever you pick up. The light pours into this place, making Richard Booth’s Bookshop the most beautiful building in Hay on Wye, and one of the unmissable Hay on Wye bookshops.
Murder & Mayhem (Hay-on-Wye)
One of the most unique Hay on Wye bookshops. In fact, one of the most unique bookshops in Wales, full stop. Murder & Mayhem, as its name suggests, primarily stocks and sells horror novels, crime fiction, thrillers, and gothic masterpieces.
You’ll know them by the wonderful artwork painted below the window outside, depicting the stalking silhouette of a certain hound roaming the moors, a glowing moon on the horizon.
Inside the decoration is just as delightfully spooky, with a real log fire! The shop stocks books of all sorts, from all periods of time, just as long as they’re chilling enough. From Agatha Christie to Edgar Allan Poe, if you’re looking for scary, you’ll find it here.
This is, it goes without saying, the perfect bookshop to visit in the Autumn months, and one of the most original independent bookshops in the UK.
Tucked into the sweet Welsh town of Crickhowell (next to Brecon), Book-ish is an absolute haven for bookworms, and winner of Best Independent Bookshop in the UK 2020.
As their sign says, Book-ish is all about “Books, Conversation, and More.” Many of the best independent bookshops in the UK are ones which foster community around a love for literature.
They foster this community by running two monthly book clubs: one on the first Monday of the month and another on the last Wednesday of the month (the Wednesday book club even serves beer!)
Book-ish is one of those rare kinds of bookshops that welcomes you with open arms and encourages discussion, community, and love. For this reason, it deserves all of your love as well.
Best Independent Bookshops in Scotland
Scotland is a place of great love for literature, and that is reflected in its incredible independent bookshops. Radical, queer, diverse, and full of love, these are the best independent bookshops in Scotland.
Category is Books (Glasgow)
As their slogan says, Category is Books are “fiercely independent and queer.” Here is a Glasgow bookshop that says trans rights are human rights; that says all love is love.
Category is Books (incredible name) encourages diversity in its readership. It opens its doors and its arms to queer readers and queer writers. It celebrates books by writers of every gender and sexuality.
If there is one independent bookshop in Glasgow that you need to visit, it’s Category is Books. They celebrate and promote nothing but love and kindness through great books.
Golden Hare Books (Edinburgh)
The beautiful Golden Hair Books is a UK independent bookshop that does it all. Here, you’ll find a cosy and warm atmosphere, enthusiastic and friendly booksellers, and a community spirit that encourages reading widely and well.
Golden Hare Books sets itself apart with a beautiful name and logo, a stunning storefront, and gorgeous extra features like a woodburning stove and a subscription service. They reward loyalty and are ready to be friends of passionate readers across Edinburgh and the UK.
We love the aesthetics and the philosophy of Golden Hare Books; their warmth and dedication to books and readers makes them one of the best independent bookshops in the UK.
The importance of independent bookshops can be highlighted by their ability to be radical; to champion good politics and good people; to support minorities and encourage us to think kindly.
Lighthouse is a queer-owned bookshop in Edinburgh that supports women’s voices, trans writers, international literature, and more. Diverse and inclusive, Lighthouse encourages its visitors to read broadly and read well, to think and consider every person and their story.
At Lighthouse, you’ll find a focus on queer voices, activism, migrant voices, literature in translation, and indie presses from the UK and beyond.
All of this makes Lighthouse one of the most beautiful and important independent bookshops in the UK.
The Portobello Bookshop (Edinburgh)
Located in Portobello, Edinburgh, The Portobello Bookshop sets itself apart in a sea of beautiful UK independent bookshops with its minimalist aesthetic. From its logo to its floorplan to its website, this bookshop glows with charm and refinement.
One of the shop’s coolest features is its columns, which were discovered hidden behind plasterboard walls when the shop was bought and renovated. It informs a classic and calming aesthetic that shines throughout the bookshop.
The Portobello Bookshop also hosts events that range from conversations surrounding prize longlists and shortlists to launches and conversations with authors.
This is one of Edinburgh’s most important bookshops and one of the most beautiful independent bookshops in the UK.
Best Independent Bookshops in Northern Ireland
In the city of Belfast, you can find some of the most charming and community-focussed bookshops in the UK. These are the best independent bookshops in Northern Ireland.
Books Paper Scissors (Belfast)
Books Paper Scissors is a wonderful independent bookshop in Belfast that prioritises community and a love for literature. They stock the latest fiction and non-fiction, while also promoting Irish voices.
This bookshop has its own dedicated children’s room, and they also offer a six-month subscription which provides readers with gift-wrapped books, selected with love from their booksellers.
This is a charming Belfast bookshop and one of the most delightful independent bookshops in the UK.
No Alibis (Belfast)
No Alibis is probably the most famous and beloved independent bookshop in Belfast. Having been open for more than twenty-five years, No Alibis prides itself on being a community bookshop in Belfast.
As a community bookshop, No Alibis hosts events, poetry readings, and even concerts! They stock books new and old across all genres, with an emphasis on Irish literature, politics, children’s books, and the humanities.
The booksellers at No Alibis are a passionate and bookish group of dog-and-cat-lovers who provide every visitor with a friendly atmosphere. It’s the people and the focus on community that make No Alibis one of the best independent bookshops in the UK.