When travelling in Italy, a great thing to buy is a nice book.
In the day of electronic devices allowing you to read, take photos, check your email and what not, there is still nothing like a good ol’ fashioned page-turner…with actual pages.
And you never have to worry about the batteries running out.
Reading a book certainly helps pass the time on public transport (the best way to travel around Italy). Seeing what someone else is reading provides a great conversation starter– and offers a great excuse to end unwanted approaches.
Besides the ever-helpful travel guides such as Rick Steves or Lonely Planet, travel stories and even locals’ biographies provide excellent insight into the places you are visiting.
Art books from your favourite museum make great coffee table books that provide excellent conversation starters (“Oh, that – I picked it up at the Vatican”).
For avid foodies, we suggest cookbooks-cum-souvenirs from travels around Italy. Traditional Italian cuisine changes not only region by region but also even within each town or village area at times, with recipes based on the fresh local produce combined with traditional ways to cook Italian recipes.
Books make great gift ideas to bring back to family and friends. A copy of their favourite-ever book published in Italian or even a book bought at a famous book fair or second-hand book stands at one of the great markets around Italy makes for a unique thing to buy in Italy.
But what are our favourite bookstores in Italy?
We asked around our guides in Florence, Rome, and Venice to create this list of the best places to buy books in Italy.
In Florence, we love the Paperback Exchange for a great collection of English books. This charming bookstore, right in the heart of Florence on street away from the Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo) not only has an extensive range of new and used books (they also –as you may have guessed from their name- exchange books), but it is also a lovely place to just browse around as you cool down in the summer or warm up in the winter.
If you’re hungry not only for food for thought, but also food for feeding, then try Brac. The entry on Via dei Vagellai, 18 is hard to spot but once you find it, you’ll love it! They have a great menu of café-style food. It’s all vegetarian, but so delicious even the most devout of meat-eaters may not notice.
In Venice we are head-over-heels for Libreria Acqua Alta as much for it’s great selection of books as for it’s unusual décor. The books are kept in old gondolas and a bathtub – plus occasionally even on the shelves – in what may be one of the world’s only flood-proof bookstores. The cats who live here are very happy about that. Libreria Acqua Alta can be found at Sestiere Castello, 5176/B, 30122.
Looking for books in Rome? Then try Libreria Fahrenheit 451 in Campo de’ Fiori. It’s a stunning little bookstore decorated with local artists’ artworks. This may be one of the trendiest bookstores around, offering not only books but also a great place to mingle with the cool kids of Rome.
Around Italy there are also book carts including across the road from the main train station of Rome (Roma Termini) as well as just off Via del Corso (also a great shopping street in Rome!) and in Piazza Strozzi in Florence you’ll find a great selection of used books on wooden carts for some book browsing al fresco.
The Best Bookstores in Florence
Whether it’s to keep you company on a long train ride, or a newly-found interest, or simply token to take back home – shopping for books is part of almost anyone’s itinerary when on holiday.
With Italy having culture and the arts so deeply rooted in its daily life, it comes to no surprise that shopping for books should be a piece of cake (or better, a piece of tiramisu).
Taking Florence as an example, here’s some of our favourite book shops, where you can also get books in English, about pretty much everything:
With it being one of Italy’s leading bookstore chains, it comes to no surprise that La Feltrinelli is one of the best-stocked bookshops in Florence. There are a number of branches spread around the city, including two in the Santa Maria Novella train station, one on Via de’ Cerratani (one of the streets that lead to the Duomo Square), as well as one on Piazza della Repubblica. This one also features a cool café where you can sip on your cappuccino whilst reading your newly purchased read. All branches have a range of books in English, including books about Florence and Italy.
IBS + Libraccio
Another leading chain here in Italy – with its store in Florence being on Via de’ Cerratani. You can find a wide range of books, including a section that sells second-hand books as well.
The store also has convenient seating where you can sit and read your book surrounded by fellow book-lovers, whilst relaxing after a day walking around the city.
This is the place you want to go to if you’re looking for an experience that goes beyond just buying a book. This independent bookshop houses several events during the week, including readings – and also includes a space where you can have your coffee (or glass of wine). Their only branch is on Via de Fossi, 12/R – just a stone’s throw away from Santa Maria Novella.
The Paperback Exchange
This is the go-to bookstore https://www.papex.it/for books in English – once a small family business, this independent bookshop has grown into one of the most important English-language bookstores in Italy.
This bookshop also stocks second-hand books, aside from new ones, which vary from university textbooks, to books about history, art and literature. You can also sell your paperbacks and use the credit towards more books – hence the “exchange” part in the name. It’s also very centrally-located, with it being a few steps away from the Duomo on Via della Oche 4R.