Are you on the hunt for the best bookstores in NYC?
One of our favorite escapes from the constant hustle and bustle of New York City is a good bookstore. That’s why we came up with this list of 14 amazing bookstores in NYC. To help you folks find shelter amidst the chaos, tranquility within the storm, words inside the cacophony.
Pardon us, the thought of books makes us want to wax poetically.
Books are a gateway to other worlds, and bookstores can be as well. If you love browsing through piles and shelves of books, eagerly searching for your next read, you’re going to LOVE the stores below. They are all a literary escape, a place to chill and get NYC out of your brain for a bit.
From small independent shops to the towering Barnes & Nobles on Union Square there are dozens of great bookstores to get lost in. We’re going to focus on our personal favorite bookstores, based on first-hand experience. Most of them are found in Manhattan, but we’ll give you some options for the other boroughs as well.
So, let’s explore some of the best bookstores in NYC, and let’s get reading!
Table of Contents
The Best Bookstores in NYC
More than just a bookstore, Strand is an iconic New York City establishment. Strand is THE quintessential bookstore in New York City, if you ask us. This massive store is a literal heaven for lovers of books. You will find just about everything here, from the newest releases to ancient books locked behind glass. And everything in between, of course.
Don’t forget to explore through the used book section for bargain bin prices. You can often find something interesting here for dirt cheap. We have spent hours doing just this over the past two decades, and almost always come away with something we want to read. It’s probably how we accumulated 3 quarters of a ton of books.
Anyway, yeah, Strand is a GREAT bookstore, and we hope it lives on forever and ever. Go there, spend some money, and support them!
Barnes & Noble Union Square
We’re just going to say this because we feel it needs to be said. We prefer to support independent bookstores and businesses. Full stop.
However…this Barnes & Noble kicks ass. It’s huge, with 4 massive floors dedicated to the art of loving books. Sure, its corporate, but it’s important that NYC retains a large bookstore that actually stays in business. So many bookstores have closed down in NYC over the last 20 years, as people shift from reading classically bound books to e-readers and phones. Or worse…as people stopped reading, wholesale. We want to see this store succeed, if only to ease our minds that reading and the love of books will survive and be passed down to future generations.
We also have sentimental reasons to recommend this bookstore. Many a day we walked into this store while killing time in the Union Square neighborhood. We have spent hours browsing books here while waiting on friends late to our meetings (we’ve all been there). Hours spent sitting in a corner in the Sci-Fi section of this shop, reading and waiting out a New York City thunderstorm. Countless days of researching trips while pouring over Lonely Planet guide books in the cafe.
All of this is why the Union Square B & N holds a special place in our hearts, and why we think of it as one of the best bookstores in NYC.
Shakespeare & Co
This independent bookstore offers one of the most unique services you’ll find in a book store. During the time it takes to order and drink your espresso they can print your book on their patented Espresso Book Machine—a state-of-the-art 3D printer. The books are printed on recycled paper, making for a cleaner carbon friendly printing solution.
Shakespeare and Co now has two locations in NYC – one on the Upper East side on 939 Lexington Ave, and on the West Side on 2020 Broadway, near Lincoln Center.
Housing Works Bookstore Café
A bookstore with a mission is a bookstore we can totally get behind. And Housing Works is most definitely on a mission. All of the books inside this store are donated, the staff is composed mostly of volunteers, and 100% of the profit goes towards programs that Housing Works is passionate about. That’s dedication that we LOVE to see.
Engage in the fight to end the AIDS and homelessness epidemics by becoming a patron and supporting Housing Works. Its mission alone makes it one of the best bookstores in NYC.
Of course, you will also find a large selection of books here. As a bonus there is a great cafe on site where you can meet with friends or relax with a good book you just purchased.
Books Are Magic
We couldn’t agree more with the name. Books ARE magic, and that makes this shop a magical little literary oasis in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. If you are in the neighborhood pay a visit to this relatively small independent store, and browse their impressive collection. They pack a large selection for their size!
Books are Magic hosts cool events pretty frequently, such as author signings and talks. Curbside pick up is available at the store, if you are observing social distances protocol.
If you live in Greenpoint and you love books you have undoubtedly visited WORD before. If you have not, well then, you’re missing out. Greenpoint was in desperate need of a proper bookstore near the Greenpoint Ave G train, and when WORD opened up we finally got one.
Support these guys when you are in the neighborhood, they clearly love books, and love their neighborhood.
The Lit Bar
Once Upon A Time… a girl from the Bronx had a dream of opening a bookstore / wine bar. And guess what happened? She DID!
The Bronx was in desperate need of a great bookstore. And the Lit Bar answered that call, opening what is by far the coolest and best independent bookstore we have found while exploring the Bronx. The store itself is super chill, and a pleasure to browse through. You will find a wide selection of novels, from a very diverse array of writers, authors, and scribes.
If you are a resident of the Bronx you need to visit and support this extremely important bookstore. Have a glass of wine and buy a book. If you don’t live in the Bronx…go do it anyway!
Located on Broadway between 80th and 81st Westsider was one of the best bookstores for rare and used books on the West Side, and in NYC in general. So beloved was this community icon that when the store was in danger of getting shut down the neighborhood raised over $50,000 during a 4 day Go Fund Me drive to save the store from closing.
Westsider offers a very wide range and variety of used books, from fiction to travel to poetry and plays. As a book lover you owe it to yourself and to the great good NYC go visit. Don’t forget to buy some delectable used novels while you’re there.
McNally Jackson Booksellers
Aspiring to be the center of New York’s literary scene is an admirable goal. Which is why we love McNally. Offering two floors of independent bookstore goodness in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan you will find a wide range of selection of books here. Browse through the staff and reader recommendations, and then go have a beverage in the cafe.
If you love Japanese culture you owe it to yourself to check out this bookstore near Bryant Park. You will find an enormous selection of Japanese books in the English language here, as well as books in Japanese. Tons of Manga available as well, but you aren’t allowed to browse and read before you buy, which is a bit of a bummer.
Nevertheless Kinokuniya is the best hands-on Japanese culture book store in NYC.
The Mysterious Bookshop
The Mysterious Bookshop first opened its doors way back in 1979. Since then they have been offering New Yorkers a fine selection of detective, mystery, espionage, and crime novels. If you are hankering for a good mystery, you know where to go!
As a Manhattan mainstay Forbidden Planet has been around for as long as we can remember. The locations changed, but the store has mostly stayed the same. You will find a great selection of nerd culture here, from comics to manga to a pretty well rounded collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. If you are a collector you will also find a cool selection of toys and apparel.
We’re proud of Forbidden Planet for persevering over the decades and finding ways to keep spreading “nerd culture” to the masses.
Another Manhattan mainstay for nerds, Midtown Comics has been open since 1997. We used to come here to browse comics way back when we were just little high school teenagers. There are now three locations offering comic lovers one of the largest selections of books and graphic novels to be found anywhere in Manhattan. If you love comics, you know where to go.
This volunteer run bookstore/cafe in NYC specializes in activist literature. Founded in 1999 Bluestockings has had a proud history of empowering people. Sadly, at time of writing they are looking for a new place to call home. We will update this article with that location once they are back up and running.