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Whether it’s a picnic in the sun or a cold winter’s day, there’s little better feeling than curling up with a good book. But despite the continued dominance of Amazon, small independent bookshops are enjoying a resurgence, and with the UK’s beautiful diversity when it comes to bookshops there’s an incredible variety to choose from.
From the cosy cottage full of antique books and first-editions, to the bold spaces for radical writers from marginalised communities, you’re sure to find anything and everything under the roof of one of these remarkable little stores that we’ve picked out as some of the best in our region. And whether you’re shopping for yourself, picking up a copy of a classic written in our region, or choosing the perfect present for a booklover, it’s all here - perfect for World Book Day.
Best independent bookshops in London
Gay’s The Word
The UK’s oldest (and England’s only dedicated) LGBT book shop, Gay’s The Word is a touchstone for the broader LGBT community. Set up in 1979 as a gay socialist community space (and named after the Ivor Novello musical), you’ll find shelves bursting with books, as well as spaces for both literature and community events, making this little shop the heart and soul of its community.
The hallmark of Gay’s The Word is its ever-expanding yet carefully curated stock. You’ll find everything here from history and politics to travel and poetry here, all selected by the hardworking and dedicated trio of Jim, Uli and Erica who keep the space running – who also double up as some of the most welcoming hosts for anyone feeling scared, lost, jubilant or inquisitive about their identity or LGBT culture in general.
While certainly not London’s oldest bookshop, Housman’s is definitely one of the most historical. Opened shortly after the close of the Second World War by writer and playwright Laurence Housman, a sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union, it was imagined as a radical bookseller promoting the ideas of peace, human rights, and a more equitable economy to avoid future wars and conflict.
Today it’s still true to its roots as one of the UK’s few “alternative” bookshops in Britain. Dedicated to promoting peace and other radical causes through its collection of books, zines, and merchandise, it’s a perfect place to find the gift for the radical in your life.
Best independent bookshops in the South West
Blue Bear Bookshop, Farnham
Books, fabulous tea and coffee – and a wow-factor from the moment you walk in the door. The newest bookshop in our list at a little over two years old, this is the romantic vision of what all bookshops should look like. Floor-to-ceiling shelves house more than 4,500 books, huge glass chandeliers provide a warm and cosy atmosphere, and its specialty coffee & artisan cake make it a town favourite. Plus, being dog-friendly, it’s a perfect spot to kick back with a furry friend.
Despite its small size and relative newcomer status, it’s already been host to some big names – astronaut Tim Peake recently visited, and they featured as part of comedian Robin Ince’s “100 Bookshops Tour” celebrating the release of his new book. No mean feat for owners Sylvia and Nils, who opened the store as a relatively romantic thank you to the town, following their autistic son Cameron’s choice to study at the nearby University of the Creative Arts. A remarkable thank you indeed – and a bookshop well worth visiting.
One Tree Books, Petersfield
There are book lovers, and then there’s One Tree Books. A real hub of its community, this is an award-winning bookseller that prides itself on going the extra mile, and it shows – from its regular events that span from the more typical book releases to niche courses on the intricacies of playing mah-jong.
You’ll also find the well-regarded Ginger’s Café, serving ethical and eco-friendly food so that you can enjoy some feel-good treats surrounded by your favourite books. Gift-hunters can also buy a Book Doctor session, where one of the team will get to know you and your tastes, before coming up with a bespoke reading list and send the books out to you every month.
Gulliver’s Bookshop, Wimbourne Minster
Family-owned, with three generations working in its store, Gulliver’s Bookshop has been a staple on the market town’s high street for more than 50 years. With its fun, friendly atmosphere and great selection of carefully curated books, games, toys and more, it’s a hit with locals and visitors to the town alike.
The Angel family also own and run the nearby Westbourne Bookshop in Bournemouth, and pride themselves on being able to source any in-print book not stocked in store within 48 hours of the request. They’re also organisers of the Wimbourne Literary Festival – so if you’re after an authority on books, there’s no better place to look.
Of course, our list is by no means exhaustive. There are plenty of fabulous bookshops across the network to see, like Daunt Books – an Edwardian dream of a book store near Marylebone in London. And if you’re a fan of true heritage, then P&G Wells in Winchester is one of the oldest book sellers in the UK – and supplier to Winchester College for more than 200 years.
So, if you’re an avid reader yourself (or just shopping for one), our list of the best bookshops in our region is sure to spare you any disappointment. Whether you’re after rare books or modern-day best sellers, there’s a bookshop for everyone on our list. Looking for inspiration of what to read next? Check out our guide of classic books set in the South West.
And getting there couldn’t be easier by train – no matter if you’re making a special trip or stopping as part of a fun-filled day out, there’s a great-value ticket option available. And you can save even more by booking in advance or using a Railcard. Looking for convenience? Try Tap2Go – pay as you go travel through our Touch Smartcard.