Books have a way of transporting us to different worlds, allowing us to wander through various time periods or even completely foreign universes. This is perhaps why printed matter continues to hold many people in thrall, with a good number of travellers making it a point to seek out particular bookstores or libraries when they visit a new destination.
While we wait with cautious optimism for international borders to open up again, we’ve scoped out eight spectacular spaces across the world for book lovers to find their kin.
1. Zhongshuge Bookstore – Hangzhou, China
Featured in numerous design and architecture magazines, this sprawling bookstore is famed for its wraparound bookshelves and ingenious use of mirrors. The ceilings are covered with hundreds of mirrored panels, creating the illusion that the shelves are double their actual height, while the far end of the store is covered with even more mirrors so that the outside environment is reflected inwards. Designed to be a futuristic forest of sorts, the display columns are arranged in a way to evoke the sense of towering trees, while zigzagging benches are positioned along the length of the store – much like a creek meandering through the woods.
2. Wuguan Books – Kaohsiung, Taiwan
First, there was dining in the dark. And now, there’s reading in the dark. With its almost pitch-dark environment and dimly-lit book displays, this bookstore in one of Taiwan’s largest metropolises is a nod to those late nights spent covertly reading under your blanket with a flashlight. With its clever use of mixed lighting elements, the books look as if they are “floating” in the dark. There are 400 bookshelves in the store, each housing just one “floating” book. This is so that shoppers are able to focus on every book as an individual entity, instead of the usual browsing experience of scanning rows and rows of different titles at one go.
3. Candide Books & Café – Bangkok, Thailand
Come for the coffee, stay for the tomes and good vibes. While the bookstore only carries Thai-language titles, you can also peruse the many art and photography books available. Set in a quiet, leafy complex along the Chao Phraya River, this indie bookstore features vaulted ceilings, exposed cement floors and rows of books lined on wooden shelves. With its relaxed ambience and great selection of coffee and desserts, this is the perfect hideout for bookworms to while away an entire afternoon.
4. T-Site Tsutaya – Tokyo, Japan
Tsutaya is Japan’s biggest name in book, music, and movie retail, and their Daikanyama branch is the jewel in their crown. Awarded “World’s Best Shopping Centre” at the World Architecture Festival Awards 2013, this expansive bookstore is sprawled across three interlinked buildings, each adorned with lattices of interlocking Ts (for Tsutaya, of course). Be prepared to spend hours here, poring over a wide range of English- and Japanese-language titles alongside antique editions and magazine back issues. There is even an on-site cocktail bar, serving creative concoctions with a side of vintage periodicals.
5. Tianjin Binhai Library – Tianjin, China
With its pure-white, floor-to-ceiling terraced bookshelves and its cathedral-like ceilings, this stunning library looks more like the set of a futuristic sci-fi film than a space for introverted bookworms. However, this cultural hub continues to draw plenty of visitors (it was founded in 2017), presently attracting more than 2.5 million people each year. In the middle of the five-level library is a large luminous sphere, nicknamed “The Eye” because it resembles an iris and can be seen from the park outside through an eye-shaped opening.
6. Starfield Library – Seoul, South Korea
This library brings books to the masses – literally. Spread across two floors in the middle of the bustling COEX Mall, this public reading space features muted lighting, plush sofas and plenty of cosy nooks for people to take a break in between their shopping. With more than 50,000 Korean and international titles as well as over 400 types of magazines available, you’ll be spoiled for choice here. Fun fact: This photogenic library was featured in the popular 2020 K-drama Record of Youth, starring Park Bo-gum and Park So-dam.
7. The Library – Koh Samui, Thailand
Set against the dreamy backdrop of Chaweng Beach, this conceptual resort was designed to look and feel like a minimalist-chic bibliotheca. Its 26 rooms and suites are intentionally understated, giving guests plenty of space to think and write. If you need inspiration, you only need to pop into the on-site library, which carries over 1,400 books in a variety of languages as well as an array of movies and music. Before you get too preoccupied with your tome, do take a dip in the resort’s iconic Red Pool, so named because of its orange, yellow and red mosaic tiles that lend the water a dazzling hue.
8. Rampur Raza Library – Rampur, India
Widely considered to be one of the most important literary spaces in South Asia, this library was founded in 1774 and houses some of the most treasured works from writers, poets, painters, calligraphers and musicians across different generations. The colossal complex is built in the Indo-Saracenic style, with design elements that draw from Hindu, Victorian Gothic and Islamic traditions. Within its walls are over 17,000 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Pashto, Sanskrit, Urdu, Hindi and Turkish languages, as well as a collection of around 60,000 books in various Indian and foreign languages.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.