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The Ten Best Bookstores in Sydney

When it's miserable out and the nights get too cold to venture outdoors, one of the nicest things to do is hang out with a book. We present to you our pick of Sydney's ten best bookstores.

Remember how it rained all last winter? Well get set for another rainy season, folks: as I write this I'm looking out on to a rain-sodden Oxford Street. What with Sydney being all about beaches and carousing in the sun, we seem to cope less well with the wet and the cold.

But there's so much this city has to offer, and in particular when it's miserable out and the nights get too cold to venture outdoors, one of the nicest things to do is hang out with a book. Or better yet, hang out in one of Sydney's lovely independent bookshops, which we should all be supporting.

With this in mind, we present to you our pick of Sydney's ten best bookstores.

1. Gertrude & Alice

Where: 46 Hall St, Bondi Beach

Wall to wall books. Books from ceiling to floor, interspersed with communal tables. Gertrude & Alice is what Shakespeare's is to Paris, and provides a welcome haven amongst the surfers and backpackers of Bondi Beach. The food served is fresh and universally excellent, and it's one of the best places to go if you're feeling a bit lonesome, because the welcoming communal tables ensure that you'll always feel at home.

Named after Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, the famous expat American couple who encouraged the careers of Hemingway and Henry Miller, amongst others, there's a lot of heart to this place, as well as lovely velvet sofas and delicious chai. They also boast a Hemingway room, quieter and lined with reference books and the perfect place to woo another attractive bookworm.

2. Better Read Than Dead

Where: 265 King Street, Newtown

I have spent a lot of money in this place. I only realised how many times I was in there over the summer when one of the sales girls said to me "You're in here all the time, and I've always wanted to say I really like your dresses." Which was lovely to hear, because the rest of my scanty budget goes towards dresses.

Better Read Than Dead have one of the best staff recommendation systems around, and they'll often hook you up with things you'll love forever which you'd never find on your own. Everyone working there is incredibly helpful and chatty if you engage with them, but they'll otherwise leave you to your own devices. Close to Camperdown Memorial Park, one of the nicest things to do when it's sunny is to get yourself a book and find a tree to lie under and read.

3. Berkelouw Books

Where: 19 Oxford Street, Paddington, 8 O'Connell Street, Newtown, 70 Norton Street Leichhardt and 708 New South Head Road, Rose Bay

Berkelouw are kind of everywhere right now - seriously, there's one adjacent to a carpark in Cronulla. But each of them feels individual, and each of them are awesome. The better branches of Berkelouw are the older ones: Paddington and Leichhardt, as well as the newer, but adorable, Newtown branch.

Berkelouw comes with a cafe and comfy leather couches for you to squish up in and read for hours, and there's also a separate second hand section which is always worth a look. I would personally recommend the Newtown Berkelouw, if only because of its close proximity to T2 and Guzman y Gomez, it's welcome student discount, and the fact that the first time I went in they were playing The Smiths.

4. Gould's Book Arcade

Where: 37 King St, Newtown

You cannot argue with this place. It is the undisputed king of second-hand books in Sydney. You could disappear into this place and never come out again. I would wager you could find a gateway to Narnia in Gould's.

With a liberally relaxed policy when it comes to organisation, you'll find Marxist histories of industrial labour sitting side by side with a 1996 travel guide to Slovakia. But stick around for a couple of hours (and you can, it's open until midnight, after all) you'll find treasure for a pittance. At the centre of the store was, until his death in May of 2011, Bob Gould himself, the silvery-bearded stalwart of Sydney's sixties counter-culture who was once arrested for his anti-Vietnam and anti-establishment activities.

5. Kinokuniya

Where: Level 2 The Galleries, 500 George Street, Sydney

Kinokniuya is the only big chainstore included on the list, but this list would be nothing without it. The Japanese bookstore giant believes in promoting art and culture, not just hocking the best-selling pulp-literary tat to people, and has been one of the most welcome additions to the city in the past few years.

Kinokuniya is awesome - it has everything, the stuff you can't find anywhere else, ever. You can spend hours hanging out in the light-filled building which overlooks the criss-crossing pedestrian traffic of the George and Park Street intersection. It boasts an entire Japanese section, the best range of graphic novels and manga and an incredible range of art and design books, as well as every kind of fiction under the sun. Kinokuniya also features an in-store gallery to showcase emerging artists.

6. Gleebooks

Where: 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, 536 Marrickville Rd, Dulwich Hill and 191 Glebe Point Road, Glebe (Antiquarian & Second-Hand)

Gleebooks is a Sydney institution. The city's most reliable independent bookseller for many years, they stock an unbelievably vast range of books; fiction and non-fiction alike, and often play host to talks by international and national figures, including The Chaser boys.

When they talk about independent booksellers being in peril, you know that Gleebooks will be the last to go. Its second-hand and children's sections are located further up Glebe Point Road, and are completely worth the walk up the hill. Also, a Dulwich Hill branch recently opened up which is a very welcome addition to an often neglected portion of the Inner West.

7. Ariel Books

Where: 42 Oxford St, Paddington and 103 George Street, The Rocks

Ariel have a fantastic selection of art, architecture and design books adorning their shelves. The shop's interior is open and clean, although there are some delightful lanterns which pretty up the place, and it has the benefit of being open until midnight.

Mostly it's the awesome range of books and the atmosphere of the place which makes Ariel so nice, but you can also get yourself a Moleskine, some Mexican kitsch ornaments or some chocolate, if they take your fancy. A stone's throw away from the College of Fine Arts and on the edge of the city's hipster quarters, the place is filled with a mix of spaced-out locals, art school kids and some very attractive bookish types.

8. Sappho Books, Cafe & Wine Bar

Where: 51 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Sappho's is a cafe and wine bar as well as a second-hand bookshop, and has the loyal custom of many of the local Sydney University students. The pokey little shop has a huge range of books on every subject matter and has been hosting regular poetry nights for the last couple of years.

You're always certain to find what you're looking for, and often in really nice editions: some of the copies from the '50s and '60s you'll find are so nice you'll want to frame them. This is also the only place on this list where you can sit with a book and a glass of wine, or a jug of sangria, until the wee hours under the shade of the jasmine and banana trees.

9. Ampersand Cafe Bookstore

Where: 78 Oxford St, Paddington

So easy to miss amongst the tumultuous crowds on Oxford Street, Ampersand is bigger than it looks from the street and a haven away from the city and the crowds.

With a good range of second-hand books tucked away across three floors and offering amazing, cheap first-edition copies of books like The Master & Margarita and The Human Stain, Ampersand also wins on the coffee front - it is truly excellent. Downstairs is a communal table if you feel like making some friends, or you're perfectly welcome to hang out on your own.

10. Journeys Bookstore & Cafe

Where: 127 Trafalgar Street, Annandale

Journeys is another very cute bookstore and cafe, housed in a converted terrace, where you're invited to flip through the pages of books while sipping some tea. The titles are all handpicked, and there'a seriously good travel section.

Upstairs is the best bit, a bright airy room decked out with comfy couches, and surrounded by seven bookcases. Each case represents a region of the world, and you'll find travel guides, history, fiction and travel literature to match every country in that part of the world. If you wish you were elsewhere there's no better place to imagine it.

Published on April 18, 2011 by Madeleine Watts

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  • Reader comments...

    Ellie - June 12, 2015

    Might not have the atmosphere, but it has a hell of a lot of books, excellent variety, extensive language section and they'll get almost any book in for you... Abbey's!

    Jules - March 3, 2015

    Really Berkelouw is also in Cronulla. How extraordinary. That's not condescending at all. Incredible to think that people outside the inner city actually read and have an appreciation for books.

    - April 19, 2011

    I demand that the excellent Shearer's Books Leichhardt be placed on this list (http://www.shearersbookshop.com.au/) - even if that means setting the dial to 11. It's got a fantastic children's/YA section, great atmosphere for browsing and an excellent cafe. I mention this because I was there only today and enjoyed a fantastic pannini. Booyeah.

    - April 20, 2011

    I have to take it that this list takes 'Sydney' very literally as these are all inner city stores. I just have to add that Gleebooks does also have a store in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, where you will also find the very excellent Megalong Books (Leura).

    - June 22, 2012

    Constant Reader in Crows Nest is a most excellent bookshop too.

    - June 22, 2012

    Constant Reader in Crows Nest is a most excellent bookshop too.

    - June 26, 2012

    Agree with Van Badham that Shearers in Leichhardt is a must have on this list. Staunchly independent, has every author in town talking there, friendly, informed, kids book clubs and more. Plus agree Sydney is bigger than its inner ring.

    - July 30, 2012

    For food lovers The Cookery Book in Northbridge is a must!

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