London is a booklovers paradise. Whether you’re looking for rare first editions, classics or graphic novels, nothing beats perusing secondhand bookshops. Despite the ever-looming presence of chain stores and online shopping giants– there are still plenty of places where you might just encounter interesting characters in the shops, as well as within the pages of books. Here’s our roundup of the best secondhand bookshops in London.
Word on the Water, Regent’s Canal
One of London’s most unusual and photogenic bookshops is Word on the Water. It’s a tiny secondhand bookshop on board a floating barge that is permanently moored on Regent’s Canal near Granary Square. Much of its wares from classics to modern fiction are displayed on deck (depending on the weather). But head inside for more books, comfy armchairs and you can chat to owner Jonathan Privett and his faithful dog too. It’s worth wandering past on a sunny day as you’re likely to catch some entertainment from flamenco dancing to poetry and jazz saxophone happening on the top deck. The bookbarge is open seven days a week, apart from Christmas Day.
Word on the Water
Pages of Hackney, Clapton
This cosy east London bookshop isn’t exclusively a secondhand bookshop. But Pages of Hackney is a lovely, well-lit spot for leisurely browsing, with cosy reading corners and two floors to explore. Pages sells a broad mix of books including literary fiction, philosophy, psychology, nature, feminism, and politics. You’ll find contemporary fiction and non-fiction on, but head to the basement to pursue secondhand and vintage books as well some classic vinyl records too.
The shop also has a monthly book group, supports underrepresented writers, and hosts a regular programme of author events too.
Pages of Hackney
Henry Pordes Books, Charing Cross
If you’re a fan of a classic, old bookshop, head to Charing Cross road. It’s an area full of wonderful bookshops, but one of the best-known is Henry Pordes Books. The shop opened as a family business in the early 80s and has been attracting bibliophiles from all over the world ever since. Henry Pordes Books moved along the street to no. 72 in October 2020 (having been previously based at 58-60). But you’ll still find well-stocked shelves in the large, L shaped space it now occupies – including art, humanities, and fiction collections including Penguin classics and Agatha Christies, as well as a selection of first editions. While you’re in the area, pop into Cecil Court, for more independent and specialist book shops.
Henry Pordes Books
Animal-loving book browsers should head over to Bookmongers in Brixton. You’re likely to see former stray cat, now housecat Popeye, patrolling the aisles. Sadly the resident dogs Leo and Rosa are no longer with us, but are featured on artwork inside. It’s a friendly, neighbourhood secondhand bookshop on Cold Harbour Lane, just by the tube station. Here you’ll find cosy reading nooks and eclectic selections of used books including illustrated children’s books, first editions, philosophy, history, pop culture, sci-fi and modern fiction.
Book & Comic Exchange, Notting Hill
The west London area of Notting Hill is a great area for second hand shopping in general, so you can combine a bookshop trip with a visit to Portobello Road and browse in its famous markets. But, back in bookland, the small but very well-stocked Book & Comic Exchange is a collectors paradise – especially if comics, sci-fi, and horror are your bag. Its aisles are filled with vintage comics and magazines. As well as book collections of literary fiction, poetry and plays. Head down to the basement to find bargain titles for as little as 50p and the knowledgeable staff are on hand if you’ve got a specific query.
Book & Comic Exchange
Black Gull Books, East Finchley
The leafy north London neighbourhood is home to the wonderfully ramshackle Black Gull Books. The shelves are pretty much groaning under the weight of old books and curios, and if you look up, you might see some interesting hanging sculptures from local artist Merril Rauch. While you’re in the neighbourhood, pop across the road to Alan’s Records to find second hand vinyl. The area is also home to the beautiful, independent Phoenix Cinema, so combining a shopping trip to Black Gull with a matinee for a delightful jaunt to Zone 3.
Black Gull Books
Judd Books, Bloomsbury
Given Bloomsbury’s literary history, it’s no surprise that it’s also home to several excellent bookshops. The area is home to London Review Bookshop, socialist bookshop Bookmarks, Arthur Probsthain, and Gay’s The Word among others. But one of the best places to buy second hand books is Judd Books on Marchmont Street. It’s been open for over 25 years and has over 50,000 titles in stock. The shop specialises in academic books, which is handy for students at nearby SOAS and UCL campuses, and there are large collections of world history, international relations, politics and economics as well as arts and humanities subjects.
Skoob Books, Bloomsbury
You could easily miss Skoob Books, as it’s off Marchmont Street, just by the Brunswick Centre. It claims to be home to London’s broadest selection of second hand books, and there’s certainly plenty to look at while you’re there. The entrance display of classic fiction titles is enough to entice curious readers to go downstairs into the basement. Once there, you’ll find row-upon-row of used books and even a piano. Skoob Books sells everything from literary fiction and signed editions to philosophy & ethics, biographies, architecture, art & photography. There are discounts for students and you can also pick up Penguin and Puffin mugs and book cover posters.