A golden hare, a rare bird, and an armchair: Edinburgh’s best independent bookshops
The world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh overflows with bookish charm and history. Literary allusions drip from its crooked Gothic buildings, modern literati stars shine at its book festivals, and at least 94 cafés claim to have kept JK Rowling fed and watered whilst she wrote the Harry Potter books. We’ve picked out some of our favourite independent bookshops in Edinburgh for picking up the perfect good book for a cosy night in at your holiday cottage.
Rare Birds Books founder, Rachel Woods, lives and breathes her love of recommending great books by great women to other readers. Her cult book subscription company Rare Birds Books has been uniting thousands of readers with literary heavyweights and breezy beach read since 2017, and in 2021 she opened the doors to Scotland’s only bookshop dedicated entirely to women’s writing. Sitting amongst the trendy shops and cafes of Stockbridge, this bright and beautiful bookshop is a great place to discover a new book to take back to your holiday cottage. Don’t miss Rare Birds Books brilliantly bookish gifts either. Choose from genre scented candles like the jasmine perfumed ‘bodice ripper’ and the ‘ghost story’ with a hint of lavender to accompany your reading.
Book lovers from Bath, Ely and St Andrews will be familiar with Topping’s. Known for its sparkling programme of author events and book festivals, you might discover some of the most exciting writers from across the literary spectrum amongst the bookshelves, from novelist, Maggie O’Farrell, to food writer, Yotam Ottolenghi. Edinburgh is the youngest branch of Topping’s and comes with its signature rolling library ladders and complimentary tea and coffee. Its events programme is full of treats, so be sure to check out the upcoming author talks, book clubs and poetry nights during your visit.
This bright bookshop staffed by genuine literary enthusiasts is a recent addition to Portobello high street, having been converted from a fishing tackle shop in 2019. It launched just in time for the pandemic but, having survived those tricky first years, has flourished into a shop that carries a carefully curated selection of titles in everything from graphic novels to children’s books and standard fiction. The columns that were revealed during the renovation give it a stately feel and make it a fine place not just to shop for reading material, but also hang out at their famous cheese and wine book clubs.
Head to Edinburgh’s West Port for a little ‘very nearly alphabetised chaos’, as Armchair Books describes itself. This antiquarian bookshop is a labyrinth piled high with books. Peruse 1960s paperbacks, dog-eared with the love of previous readers, and shabbily genteel hardbacks with peeling gilt covers. Pad across creaking floorboards and threadbare Turkish rugs in search of a hidden gem before leaving to discover more treasures in West Port’s other vintage emporiums.
Golden Hare Books is a small but perfectly formed gem of a bookshop. In 2019 it was crowned the Independent Bookshop of the Year, recognizing it as a lynchpin of its community in Stockbridge. Readers love Golden Hare for its booksellers’ personal recommendations, dished out in store and via its podcast, consultation service, and subscription boxes. Its wood-burning stove and beautiful dark blue and gold exterior also make it a very appealing stop-off point whilst exploring the city.
Ruth loves a good story. Following a decade living in London and working in publishing, her ears are always pricked for a spicy plot twist or unforgettable character. She delights in meeting hosts and discovering the history that brought saffron to her spaghetti, the hiking detours that will lead to temple ruins, and why someone cares so passionately about their special corner of the world. She loves that as a marketer for Sawday’s she can share these stories with others too.