Stumbling across charming English-language bookshops is among the many joys of exploring Amsterdam. Concealed along the city’s canals are cave-like treasure troves of second-hand books, attics packed with pre-loved literary treats and inconspicuous markets selling antique rarities. These seven are a delight to discover – just make sure you bring an empty suitcase.
Evenaar sits on the corner of the Singel and Oude Spiegelstraat and stocks more travel books than you’d think would fit under one roof. The real appeal though, is displayed at the shop’s rear, where perfectly preserved for-sale newspapers documenting major world events, like the outbreak of World War Two and the assassination of JFK, can be found. Look out for gems in the bargain-basement bucket, too.
The Book Exchange
If you’re looking for a first edition or a rare collectible, you’ll probably find it at The Book Exchange – a shop whose bookshelves tower all the way to the ceiling and whose rooms seem to go on forever. It’s a layout that belies its modest Kloveniersburgwal shop front, which has stood overlooking the canal since 1978. It would be easy to spend an entire afternoon in the fiction section at the back of the shop.
Top floor at Scheltema
In 2015 this store moved from the corner of Koningsplein and the Herengracht to Rokin, one of Amsterdam’s best-known streets. While Scheltema itself isn’t hidden, its top-level fifth floor – located above 2 km of shelves and well over 100,000 titles – is. This is where its collection of second-hand English books is kept, and because they’ve all been handpicked, there’s usually a great find or two to be had.
Boekenmarkt Op Het Spui
Boekenmarkt Op Het Spui is located at the heart of Amsterdam’s literary quarter, opposite the American Book Center. This market’s inside-facing stalls are somewhat concealed by their canvas frames and a grand row of trees. Second-hand rarities are the order of the day – always a Friday, the only day it opens – with sellers travelling from cities as far away as Groningen to sell their literary wares.
Look out from Evenaar’s shopfront, over the Singel, and you’ll notice Antiquariaat Brinkman, a modest bookshop whose shelves are packed with second-hand history, literary criticism and linguistics titles. The shop, which opened back in 1954, is a member of the Dutch Antiquarian Booksellers Association.
The English Bookshop
The English Bookshop is situated in a quiet side street in the Jordaan, the neighbourhood directly west of the city centre. Its collection of new books is handpicked by the shop’s staff who, in addition to offering customers recommendations, will serve a deliciously frothy cappuccino. For now, the store has temporarily shut its doors while the owners, in their own words, work on “an exciting advanced technology project” concerning its future.
The House of the Happy Bookieman is almost certainly Amsterdam’s quirkiest literary secret. Located half way down the Herengracht, not far from Dam Square, this front-room-cum-bookstore is as charming as it is unusual. Most second-hand titles, which compete with giant chess pieces for shelf space, are priced at €1.50. There’s a canal-facing bench outside where customers can peruse their latest purchase.