Shakespeare and Company
Arguably the most famous independent bookstore in the world, perfectly positioned on a prime piece of real estate in Saint-Michel facing the Seine, and filled to the brim with books and history — here you can curl up, relax and bask in the beautiful ambience once enjoyed by literary greats such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.
Originally established in 1919 by American-born bookseller and publisher Sylvia Beach as a beacon for all that is art, intelligence and expansion, this bookstore-come-café-and-event space in the City of Light used to be a place for luminaries to meet, mingle and peddle their iconic writing works in the heart of the city — and it still attracts a similar crowd, as well as a few hundred tourists a week.
The building used to be a monastery, La Maison du Mustier, and when the store first opened, it was called Le Mistral. American George Whitman changed all that when he dubbed it with its present name in April 1964 — on the four-hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth — and in honour of Beach, who he very much admired.
In his own eloquent words, when he inaugurated this Left Bank literary institution, English-language bookstore and meeting place for anglophone writers and readers in 1951, he had the following sentiment in mind:
No longer hidden hole in the wall, you’ll often find hustle and bustle here — a mix of several visitors snapping photos, musicians playing on the street, a workshop or outdoor reading taking place outside, and — of course — the die-hard expats and locals who come here to chill, and love this place as if it was their own.
No matter their origins, from near and far, everyone comes here for the same thing: a tranquil (if all not so quiet anymore) place to find a tome that fills their heart and soul, a sanctuary which inspires adventure and tantalises the imagination — along with a good cup of coffee, fresh juice or snacks from Bob’s Bake Shop next door — and oodles of French charm ‘je ne sais quoi’, just steps away from the majestic architecture of la belle Notre Dame.
Housed in an early 17th-century building on a one-block stretch of Rue de la Bûcherie, Kilometer Zero, boasting a small, cobblestone-paved half-plaza in front, its weather-beaten bookstalls, green-and-yellow façade, and hand-hewn, rustic-looking signage beckon passers-by to enter and experience a world where the enchantment of vielle Paris springs back to life in the most majestic of ways.
How this petite little bookstore with years of history behind it manages to so perfectly and purely retain its sense of wonder, magic, newness and kitsch-come-artistic allure is absolutely beyond us — but it does so with a style, grace and sense of self that is genuinely exquisite and intrinsically unique to behold.
There’s so much more to be said about this singular spot — which is hands-down one of our absolute favourites for any day and every time — but to try and tell any more of the story on its behalf would somewhat spoil the incredible journey which awaits for those who may not have yet stepped through its doors.
So pack your bags, take a trip — and prepare to be amazed by this classic little gem which shines beyond its size, and has stood the test of time, even amidst the impressive grandeur of Paris — and then some. A treat to be revelled in which will satisfy body, heart, mind — and soul.
Perfect for: A rainy day, an uplifting moment on your own, or anytime you need an escape from the world and want to be immersed in another.
What to order: Browse its multiple bookshelves and floors, and find a tale which takes you by storm — there’s something here for everyone. When you need a break, a breather, a beverage or bite to eat, then pop next door to Bob’s where you’ll find a fresh array of organic snacks, juices, coffee and sweet treats to choose from and enjoy whilst people watching, Paris-gazing, and listening to the sounds of street music.
Address: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris (Google Maps)
Trading hours: Monday-Saturday: 10am-10pm // Sunday: 12:30pm–8pm