Whenever I’m exploring a charity or second hand book shop, in London or anywhere around the UK, I’m reminded of a Kurt Cobain quote that sums up why exploring second hand is so rewarding:
“I look back at going to second hand stores and I was almost just as happy finding a little treasure… When you find it it’s more special to you rather than having a thousand dollars and going into a store like that or buying the whole store.”
That’s why I love shopping in charity and second hand bookshops over even independent “new” book shops: not knowing what you’re going to find, and coming out with a heap of books that you might not have stumbled upon on shelves of pristine, perfectly-organised, “new” books.
The mystery of a second hand or charity book shopping trip makes it more exciting, and the digging around of your favourite section is all worth it when you find a book you never knew you wanted. Looking outside of your “comfort zone” is sometimes the best way to discover something new; I’ve got Books for Amnesty in Hammersmith to thank for introducing me to one of the only fiction books I’ve devoured in the past couple of years (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”).
Let’s start exploring… here are my favourite quiet charity and second hand book shops in central London.
1. Oxfam, Marylebone
Next time you go to Daunt Books, pop into Oxfam on your way back to Bond Street. It might not be as posh or as famous as the independent bookshop down the road, but the charity’s flagship London bookshop on Marylebone High Street rivals its bigger neighbours for choice and, of course, interest. They have a decent travel section, and something for everyone among their 7,000 books.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday 10am-5.45pm; Sunday 11am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Bond Street
More information: Oxfam website
2. Skoob Books
Skoob Books is not just one of my favourite book shops in London: it’s one of my favourite places in London full stop. I head there as much as I can, mainly because I can guarantee to be able to switch off every time I go there.
A visit to Skoob never disappoints: their history, science, and philosophy collections are second-to-none; you can count on perfect silence since customers and staff alike are respectful of the atmosphere; and it’s in the basement so there’s no mobile phone signal or noise from the street outside. Fantastic.
Opening times: 10.30am-8pm Monday-Saturday, 10.30am-6pm Sundays and Bank Holidays
Nearest Tube: Russell Square
3. Books for Amnesty, Hammersmith
Amnesty Bookshop in Hammersmith was one of the first quiet places I wrote about on this blog, and I was gutted when I found out that it had closed. Luckily, it opened again this year (hooray!) at a bigger shop with more choice!
It’s a lovely place and perfectly quiet: the volunteers will leave you alone to browse and I once got Michael Palin’s humongous autobiographies for £2.50 here, as well as my prized 1907 copy of The Charm of London from their shelves for older books and the aforementioned zombie novel.
Hammersmith, I’m jealous.
Opening times: Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm; closed on Sunday
Nearest Tube: Hammersmith
More information: Amnesty International website
4. Any Amount of Books
Imagine an Aladdin’s cave of books, and you’ll have hit upon what Any Amount of Books feels like. It’s exactly how you’d picture a classic second hand book shop: shelves upon shelves of leather-bound finds, antique books, first editions, poetry, and history line the walls; boxes of new stock fill every space; and the rooms are put together all higgledy-piggledy so that you feel like you’re going further into the depths as you browse.
It’s hard to imagine that perfect silence and unique charm could be sought anywhere near Leicester Square, but this slightly dishevelled – and perfectly endearing – shop has achieved it.
Opening times: 10:30am-9:30pm daily
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square
More information: Any Amount of Books website
5. Royal Trinity Hospice bookshop, Notting Hill
This little shop used to be one of my favourites while I worked in High Street Kensington: not only are its quiet walls the perfect antidote to a long day in a busy newsroom, but their stock has something special about it.
Maybe it’s the fact that I bought a copy of The Oatmeal’s book here (those were some good times on the Tube home that day), or the time I bought an illustrated version of “When I Am Old” (my mum’s favourite poem) here, but there’s something about this place that’s quirky, down-to-earth and unapologetic.
The shop used to be in Kensington Church Street, and has now moved to 20a Notting Hill Gate.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday 10am-6pm; Sunday 11am-5pm
Nearest Tube: Notting Hill Gate
More information: Royal Trinity Hospice website
You might like…
- 8 quiet places to write in central London (with free wifi)
- Silent Reading Parties: step away from that phone… and into a book
- 21 free museums in London (without the crowds)