One of the quaint outdoor bookshops in Hay-on-Wye One of the quaint outdoor bookshops in Hay-on-Wye One of the quaint outdoor bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. (Photo: Nexxo / Wikimedia Commons)

Open a book in the open air: 8 outdoor libraries and bookstores

These places make discovering your next read an adventure.

Libraries and bookstores have a certain kind of ambiance: usually quiet, sometimes stuffy, often sterile. The Kindle may be the medium of choice for some, but thumbing through a newly discovered book is a pastime that will never lose its allure. Outdoor libraries and open-air booksellers take the acts of browsing, borrowing or buying out of their usual environment.

Here are eight outdoor libraries and bookstores where such an experience is possible. 

1. Les Bouquinistes, Paris, France

Les Bouquinistes: the outdoor book sellers of ParisLes Bouquinistes: the outdoor book sellers of Paris. (Photo: Sergii Rudiuk/Shutterstock)

Les Bouquinistes have long been an important part of the Paris landscape. With stalls that line the banks of the Seine, these booksellers' displays are made up of used books. Many have an impressive selection of valuable collectable editions as well as cheaper reading materials. The open-air bookstores of the Seine are not part of a new fad. Les Bouquinistes have been around since at least the 18th century (when the term was first defined in the French dictionary). The box-shaped stalls now cover a two-mile stretch of riverbank. Because of their historic beginnings, the area where the shops are located has actually been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are currently about 900 stalls run by more than 200 proprietors. In addition to their impressive collections of secondhand books, many have other collectibles such as stamps, trading cards and pictures.

2. Brattle Book Shop, Boston

Brattle Book Shop in BostonBrattle Book Shop in Boston (Photo: Chris Ball/Flickr)

Located right in the heart of Boston, Brattle Book Shop has a history that dates back almost as far as that of the Parisian book dealers. Since 1825, Brattle has been a haven for lovers of literature. Today, the shop features rare collectibles, out-of-print volumes and a number of first editions (which are more valuable than gold to serious book collectors). Though the rarest books are placed inside, there is a bargain aisle that has been set up in the alley adjacent to the shop. Some people stop by simply to enjoy browsing through the shelves in the unusual urban setting. Because the outdoor section is filled with $1-$5 price tags, you can find some cheaper-than-a-Kindle-download deals at Brattle as well. PBS viewers may recognize the owner, Ken Goss, from his appearances as one of the appraisal experts on "Antiques Roadshow."  

3. Hay-on-Wye, Wales

An outdoor book store in the Welsh village of Hay-on-WyeAn outdoor bookstore in the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye. (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) 

Hay-on-Wye is a small market town in Wales near the English border. Sometimes called a "town of books," it draws reading enthusiasts and collectors from all over the U.K. There are more than three dozen bookstores in the town, and a number of them boast outdoor shelves. Some tourists travel here to soak in the literary atmosphere. The population of this town, usually around 1,000, swells during the annual Hay Festival. Held in late May, the event draws tens of thousands of people, including major literary figures. Attendee Bill Clinton once called Hay Fest " a Woodstock for the mind." The event has been so successful that copycat festivals have been created in cities around the world. Hay-on-Wye is located within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, one of the most celebrated nature attractions in Great Britain.

4. Mobile beach library, Tel Aviv

Mobile library on the beaches of Tel AvivMobile library on the beaches of Tel Aviv (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

People who aren't familiar with Tel Aviv might be surprised to learn that it is a great place for book lovers. Not only are there numerous bookstores and 22 regular libraries, there are also libraries that bring the books to you while you enjoy one of the city's best features, its beaches. The mobile beach library boasts a multilingual collection that includes materials available in English, Arabic, Russian, French and Hebrew. The books are shelved in a trailer that is driven right up to the edge of the sand. During the summer, tourists and visitors alike can borrow a book to take to their beach blankets, or they can use the free wi-fi provided by the library to access a downloadable collection. The trailer is located at Metzitzim Beach, one of Tel Aviv's most popular attractions.

5. Bart's Books, Ojai, Calif.

Bart's Books, an outdoor book shop in Ojai, California Bart's Books, an outdoor book shop in Ojai, Calif. (Photo: Rachel/Flickr)

Over the years, Bart's Books has enjoyed a bit of celebrity. This unique California bookseller, with most of its merchandise shelved outdoors, has both bargain-priced used books and valuable collectable editions. The shop has been a favorite of news programs, documentaries and magazines. Thanks to the ever-present Ojai sunshine, the book-filled shelves provide some really great visuals. Besides that, Bart's is noteworthy because of its unconventional honor system. Some of the outdoor sections are left open all day and night. When no cashier is on duty, people are asked to take their book and then drop the payment into a coffee can placed on the top of each shelf. With prices as low as $0.35, thieves would never find a large cash haul or score a valuable collectible book (those are kept inside). Everyone from real estate agents to tourism promotion workers cites the store's policy as an example of why Ojai is a great place to live or visit.

6. Levinski Garden Library, Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv's outdoor Levinski Garden LibraryTel Aviv's outdoor Levinski Garden Library (Photo: Itzuvit/Wikimedia Commons)

The outdoor library in Tel Aviv's Levinski Garden consists of back-lit bookshelves and a permanent awning. Like the beach library mentioned above, this is a perfect illustration of Tel Aviv's status as a great city for readers. With more than 3,000 books in 14 languages, the library offers plenty of variety. There is even a smaller children's shelf with age-appropriate reading materials in multiple languages. The books at Levinski are not organized alphabetically or numerically, but by the feeling that they evoke in the people who read them. Because there is no on-duty librarian, the last person to read the book can shelve it in any section that they think is appropriate. There is even a "boring" section.

7. Southbank Centre Book Market, London

London's Southbank Centre Book Market London's Southbank Centre Book Market. (Photo: Daniel Gale/Shutterstock)

The Southbank Centre's Book Market, which is held under London's Waterloo Bridge, features an amazing selection of secondhand books. Thanks to its semi-covered layout, it is open daily regardless of weather. The classic location (Southbank is not far from the famous Thames) adds to the experience of browsing here. Even those who are not in the market for some new reading material add Southbank to their literary-themed London itinerary. A food market and an annual holiday market are nearby.

8. Outdoor book stalls, Mumbai, India

Mumbai's outdoor book stallsMumbai's outdoor book stalls. (Photo: Honza Soukup/Flickr)

The teeming Indian city of Mumbai has enjoyed a thriving literary scene for a long time. The Kindle has not yet overtaken the reading scene, and you can find books literally everywhere in the city. Many sellers simply pile their wares directly on the pavement, perhaps stretching a tarp over the collection to keep out sun and rain. Technically, most of these shops are illegal and operate without any sort of license. Because of this, sellers have to cart off their entire collection of books every night and set them up again each morning. But that doesn't seem to hurt their popularity with visitors who like to browse through the cluttered shelves, seeking out that perfect book.


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Open a book in the open air: 8 outdoor libraries and bookstores
These unique places take reading into the great outdoors.