Once again, as for all the previous big cities we have visited, we tried to wrap up our impressions regarding the local English bookstore scene. You can notice that the number of bookstores visited is lower than usual, but trust us, it wasn't for the lack of trying, as we explain further in the text.
We were really looking forward to visiting the Altair bookstore in Barcelona. It’s the only specialized travel bookstore we have visited on our summer road trip and many people have praised it. And from the moment we entered the store, we were pretty much sure that we’ll join the numerous ranks of those who praise this bookstore, and we do so gladly, because Altair deserves all the recognition it gets.
If you’re planning a trip to a foreign country, this place is perfect to begin your quest and pre-departure research. It’s not only the amount of information that is available for any given region or country that makes this place so special, as many people could argue that you can simply find all that stuff on the web. It’s the absorbing atmosphere of this bookstore that makes every visit a memorable one. This bookstore will make you eager to pack your bag and visit other places even if you had no such thing on your mind upon entering. Two floors of the Altair bookstore are packed with information and perhaps even more importantly also with inspiration.
Bonus info: the picture that you can see at the top of each page of this blog has been taken in Altair.
The walk to one of the three locations of BCN Books in Barcelona has been quite a long one, but we were rewarded by some unique architectural sights of the city. The BCN bookstore we’ve visited was the one located at Roger de Llúria 118. This two-storey bookstore occupies a very nice building on the street corner and you can peak in through the huge shop windows. The bookstore itself seemed like a nice place to browse and we especially enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. While we were flipping through the pages of some books on the history of Barcelona, both of the staff members were reading their own books. This doesn't mean that they weren't doing their job. On the contrary, we had a nice informative chat with them once we got there.
As for the stock of the bookstore, we liked the section dedicated to Catalunya and Barcelona, the bookstore also has a very decent fiction section and an extensive selection of ELT materials, study books etc. The only section that could use some improvement in our point of view was the non-fiction section.
Another bookstore which we have visited in Barcelona was named Laie and although we didn't write a post about it in the Guide, it's definitely worth a mention in this report. This bookstore has several locations in Barcelona and even one in Madrid, but Laie bookstores definitely don't fall into the "usual chain bookstore" category, as all the branches we have seen had a very nice and distinct ambiance. The only reason why we decided against adding Laie to our database is its rather limited stock of English titles, but if you're looking for a good selection of titles in either Spanish or Catalan, then we can only recommend it.
The next two bookstores on our Barcelona list were supposed to be among the bookstore highlights of our whole road trip but, in the end, they rank among the biggest disappointments. Both of these bookstores represent the best spots when it comes to second-hand English titles in Barcelona and probably even in the whole of Spain. Unfortunately for us, we found both of their doors closed at the time of our visit and the circumstances made this fact even more bitter. Hibernian Books has closed for holidays only a day before we came to visit it and, as we found out later from the owners, it has been the first time ever the bookstore has been closed since its opening in May 2004. The impression that our bookstore luck is running out has only been confirmed after walking to the location of the Elephant bookstore, another place with a reputation of an English second-hand wonderland. We were greeted by closed door and a "for rent" sign in Catalan. As we found out on their website in a nearby internet cafe, Elephant was being moved to a different location and here comes the bad luck part - they closed the old location two days before our arrival...
After the previous experience we weren't the least surprised to find another bookstore we wanted to visit closed twice. The Watergate Bookshop wasn't originally on our bookstore list - we stumbled upon it accidentally while roaming around Plaça Catalunya and we were really intrigued by its name and very limited working hours. However, we did make it inside after all and we can say that this bookstore offers a very refreshing experience. Its owner has put together a rather eclectic collection of books and items which are quite far from the usual offer you may find at your local bookstore. The interior of the bookstore is also very visually compelling, so although its size is limited, you will surely enjoy browsing around for a while. The Watergate Bookshop is a place which in our point of view manages to keep interested even those who don't consider bookstores one of their favorite places to spend their free time, and that's definitely a good thing.
Barcelona is a great city and a very popular tourist destination and we can reassure you that if you find yourselves in need of English reading material, it won't disappoint you either. We were mostly impressed by Altair, a bookstore we recommend every traveler to add among the must sees of the city. Moreover, we regret not being able to visit the second-hand English bookstores which both look more than promising (Elephant and Hibernian) but then again, at least we have two more reasons to return to Barcelona...
Since this report is the last one from our summer road trip of 2008, we can't resist the temptation to summarize. We've covered our impressions from the anglophone bookstore scene in each of the major cities we visited in a series of reports (in chronological order: Report from Brussels, Report from Paris, Report from Madrid and finally the article you're reading at this very moment - Report from Barcelona). We've visited many bookstores, some of which were really exceptional, we've bought some good books on the way and most importantly, we've had a great time.
Check out our Reports from other European cities.