Paris is often associated with romance and delicious pastries but if you take a closer look, you will see that it is also a city of literary lovers. There are more than 700 bookstores (and counting!) dotted throughout the city. Whether you’re just starting to read in French or you’re already at ease with the language, or maybe you just love staring at beautiful books, here are five neighborhood bookstores where the offerings match the locals.
1. Les Traversées
The picturesque 5th arrondissement — also referred to as the Latin Quarter — is considered the intellectual center of Paris. Home to the prestigious Sorbonne university, the neighborhood is full of students and young Parisians at all times, which lends it a scholarly feel.
Tucked away on a quiet side-street at the bottom of rue Mouffetard is Les Traversées, an attractive bookstore that opened in 1980, which has grown to be in demand with both the student community looking for course books and the older Parisiens seeking their next great read. Half of the bookshop is taken over by academic texts such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and research documents, as well as social and political science textbooks. For locals, there’s all the latest crime and mystery thrillers, in addition to a great science fiction section and up-to-date Young Adult titles. — 2 Rue Edouard Quenu, 75005
2. Libraire du Canal
The Canal Saint-Martin is one of the most well-known features of the city’s 10th arrondissement. Lined with sweet chestnut trees (rumored to be over a century old) and elegant footbridges, the old (Chez Prune) and the new (Brussels Beer Project) coexist in peace. Head north along the canal, towards the leisure paradise that is Parc de la Villette, and stop off at the Libraire du Canal where the center of attention is literary fiction.
This gem of a bookstore opened its doors to the public in 2015 and the small, cozy space makes for an intimate and relaxed ambiance — perfect conditions for book browsing. New French releases (Rokhaya Diallo and Alice Pfeiffer) sit alongside French classics (Gustave Flaubert, Simone de Beauvoir) and translated Anglo titles (Jonathan Coe, Siri Hustevedt). At the back of the bookstore you’ll find an impressive graphic novel section to the left and a beautiful selection of children’s literature to the right. — 3 Rue Eugène Varlin, 75010
3. Les Mots à la Bouche
Le Marais established itself as the LGBT+ neighborhood of Paris in the early 1980s, helped largely by an increase in commercialization and low rent costs. Les Mots à la Bouche bookstore (Words in the Mouth) was opened in 1980 by Jean-Pierre Meyen–Genton and has become a popular institution with both tourists and Paris locals, especially since developing their selection of international LGBT+ authors in more recent years.
This is another generalist bookstore that hosts community events and book signings, and as soon as you step in the door, you’re hit with a comforting smell of books and greeted with such warmth by the booksellers, who take the time to chat through recent books you’ve read, general book likes and dislikes, before proposing a selection that you might enjoy. This is especially handy when you want to buy a special book for someone’s birthday.
It was reported this past week that Les Mots à la Bouche will have to leave its original home due to increased rent prices. There’s no news yet as to where the bookstore will move but it is definitely not closing. — 6 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, 75004
4. L’Eau et les Rêves
The Canal de l’Ourcq is where Parisians head to spend their free time outdoors, and the area has always had that vibe. A weekend stroll along the canal will see you dodging cyclists, watching young and old people play pétanque and admiring amateur kayakers as they hone their craft.
If you’re a fan of nature and travel, then head to the floating bookstore L’Eau et les Rêves. The literary barge dates back to the 1950s in Strasbourg before settling in Paris in 2010, when Didier Delamare and Judith Rosa turned it into a maritime bookstore. In June 2018, the new proprietors Cyrille Bruneau and Cécile Allain added a terrace café, serving drinks and food, and changed their literary offerings to focus on nature and travel: think botany, herbalism, landscape architecture, cultivation techniques, and plant well-being. The travel section will inspire your next trip with a wide selection of photography, fiction and non-fiction works, and of course, travel guides. — 9 Quai de l’Oise, 75019
If you’ve already been to Paris then you’ll know that Grands Boulevards is popular with tourists: full of bars, brasseries, cinemas and nightclubs, it’s one of the liveliest pockets of the city. But in recent years it has made steps to evolve from pure tourist destination to an area that also welcomes the locals, both The Hoxton Hotel and French clothing brand, Sézane, setting up shop in the neighborhood.
The generalist bookstore Ici, which opened in October 2018, is another sign of the area’s changing personality. With 500 square meters to fill with books, it is officially the largest independent bookstore to open in Paris for 20 years. There’s truly something for everyone at Ici with a stock of 75,000 books spanning fiction, children’s and teens, comics, fine arts, humanities and business, so it’s a handy destination for buying presents or book browsing for your home library. Anglophone visitors will appreciate the stand of English books and you can even enjoy a moment of calm at their cafe, which is conveniently right in the middle of the store. Check out their website as they regularly host author events and book signings (in both English and French). — 25 Boulevard Poissonnière, 75002