New York is an excellent base for those with a strong case of wanderlust. There are international flights to every corner of the globe, restaurants serving cuisine from countries you’ve never heard of, and frequent gatherings of travel addicts.
But what I sadly didn’t realize during my years living in the city is that New York is surprisingly well-rounded when it comes to another travel-addict necessity: travel bookstores. While internet searches followed by frustratingly fruitless trips around Manhattan showed me that many of these shops have shuttered their doors in recent years, there are still a few going strong. Next time you need a guidebook, a great travel novel or just a bit of inspiration, skip the big chains and head to one of these independent New York City travel bookstores instead.
I must have walked by Idlewild Books, just moments from Union Square, a hundred times during my years in NYC. So how did I never know this place existed? It was probably best for my college years’ productivity that I didn’t because I could lose hours exploring this undeniably charming little space.
Books are grouped by geographic location, with a mixture of guidebooks, novels, memoirs, cultural studies and more. There is even a children’s book section, perfect for inspiring the young traveler. Idlewild also offers a monthly book club and foreign language classes in Spanish, French, and Italian. They’ve recently added a second location in Brooklyn, which I hope means they are doing well and will be around for years to come.
I was deeply impressed by the selection and layout at this store. This is a must-stop shop for New York City visitors or residents who love to explore.
Website /Address: 12 West 19th Street, New York, NY 10011 / Phone: 212.414.8888
Monday – Thursday: 12-7:30
Friday – Sunday: 12-6
Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore
The Complete Traveller bookstore takes specialization to a new level: They feature antique and rare books that are also of the travel genre.
Don’t come here looking for the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Glasgow. Come looking for a fifty-year old signed copy of a book featuring hundreds of tartan designs, a coffee-table tome of highland landscapes, or an age-worn antique map to hang on the wall. This is a place for gifts and keepsakes rather than practical guides or modern memoirs.
Website /Address: 199 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016 / Phone: 212.685.9007 / Email: email@example.com
Monday – Friday: 9:30-6:30
Traveler’s Choice Bookstore
The Traveler’s Choice Bookstore, located in SoHo, is a sister company to Turon Travel. They carry all major guidebook series and a world-wide selection of maps, as well as a few travel accessories. The selection here is nothing to get over-excited about, but if you want a one-stop shop where you can fantasize about a trip and then book it, this travel agency – bookshop hybrid might be the travel bookstore for you.
Website /Address: 2 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013 / Phone: 212.941.1535 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday – Friday: 9 – 5
Saturday – Sunday: Closed
While this company has an office in NYC that welcomes visitors, it is primarily an online travel bookstore… making it the perfect destination to round out this list for my readers not based in New York! I really love the idea of supporting independent booksellers even if you live miles from anything but a big box store or simply prefer to do your shopping online. You can search their catalog by destination or by curated reading lists. www.longitudebooks.com
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I really enjoyed my little tour of New York City’s travel bookstores. Each had their own highlight, but for me the one I will return to again and again is Idlewild. In fact, I love them so much that despite being on a book-buying ban (my suitcase overfloweth) I just had to support them in some way. So instead of buying a book, I bought something for one of you!
To win this $25 giftcard simply subscribe to this blog via RSS or email and then leave a comment telling me your favorite travel book (it can even be a guidebook!). I’ll use a random number generator to pick a winner next week. This gift card never expires, so even if you don’t live in NYC, please feel free to enter. You never know when you might find yourself in my favorite city!
I never realized there were bookstores dedicated solely to travel books. Is that just a NYC thing?
Well as a matter of fact I just re-watched Notting Hill on a plane today and remembered that Hugh Grant’s character is the owner of a travel bookstore in London! So they must have them all over….
When I was last in New York (in October/November) I wanted to visit Idlewild Books, but unfortunately never made it there. Now I am cursing myself for this oversight!
It’s funny that you mention that some of these places carry maps, because a while back Tony and I traveled all over Nashville trying to find a world map, and after visiting 3 different stores, gave up the ghost. It just wasn’t going to happen. Google Maps is great and all, but sometimes you just want a big wall map to plan your travels, you know?
Anyway, lately my favorite travel book is The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman. I actually reviewed it not too long ago on our site (https://www.20yearshence.com/book-review-the-good-girls-guide-to-getting-lost-by-rachel-friedman/), and I think you would really enjoy it!
My parents have a whole drawer full of maps that they actually purchased and used to take on trips in their previous travels… guidebooks from another era, I suppose.
Loved your review of the Good Girl’s Guide… might have to pick up a copy myself! Thanks!
My “Bucket List” is filling fast. Idlewood Books is nearing the top
Oh my word how did I miss those while I lived in NYC??? I will have to check for the one in London when I go at the end of the month. Mmmh my favorite travel book is definitely the one I told you about last month. “Die Schmetterlingsinsel” (Butterfly island) It is set in England and Sri Lanka. Great book but unfortunately only available in German right now. =(
Well if it’s ever translated to English I’ll be the first to pick up a copy!
Interesting to see these type of bookstores. I would have never known about them or even thought to look for a bookstore solely related to travel.
As much as I’ve come to rely on blogs and my travel blogging friends for the best travel advice, I still secretly love getting lost in a travel guide or a book about someone’s lessons through travel. I don’t like being lost when I travel, but I could surely lose myself in a travel bookstore for days.
Great post and good share, Alex.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a travel addict, no matter how computer-dependent, who wouldn’t love these places! You’ll have to check them out if you are ever in NYC!
Great post Alex! For those of you going to London, also make sure to check out Daunt Books… They now have several locations around London but are a great indie bookstore and have a fantastic selection of books organized by country (where the action takes place and where the author is from)! The most fun you can have getting lost in a bookstore…
I’m currently doing a lot of travelling, and have really loved Alain de Botton’s “The Art of Travel” for interesting insight on why we travel.
Thanks for the recommendations, Jen! I’ll have to check out both Daunt and The Art of Travel!
thanks for the tip Jen!I am going in two weeks and I already wrote down all their locations and decided on a couple of books I wanna purchase there! =)
Taking note of these stores (especially Idewild) for next time I’m in New York. Sadly, I haven’t read a good travel book in way too long – Eat, Pray, Love not counting – so this will be the perfect opportunity to find some!
Confession here- I still haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love! It’s on my list though, and I’m also hoping to hear her second book, Committed.
This is a tough one! I’ll go with Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, an account of his travels in Australia. It had me laughing out loud on city buses! Definitely adding Idlewild to my NYC itinerary…Thanks!
Glad I could help, Heather! I’ve been meaning to try Bill Bryson for years, and I’m not sure how it hasn’t happened! Maybe this is the kick in the pants I need 🙂
Bryson’s writing is great! You might enjoy A Walk In the Woods as well; it’s his account of hiking the Appalachian Trail. And now I’m off to explore some of the books other commenters have recommended…
Ahh, that bookstore looks amazing! So far my two favorite travel books have been “The Lost Girls” and “Lonely Planet Tales from Nowhere.” But I also really liked Eat, Pray, Love…I love any book that makes me want to hop on a plane!
Andrea, do you know that I work for the The Lost Girls website? So funny! Amanda, one of the authors and my boss, is absolutely lovely. I’ve never heard of Lonely Planet Tales From Nowhere, I’ll have to check it out!
I’m pretty jealous about that! I was on the waiting list for the Kindle version of The Lost Girls at my library FOREVER and when I finally got it, I couldn’t put it down for the next few days! How did you get that gig?
I think you’d like the Tales From Nowhere book, it’s a collection of stories about different people’s experiences with traveling to places that are considered “nowhere.” I read most of it while I was preparing to move to Korea, and it is definitely inspiring!
It all started when I was featured as their Lost Girls of the Week… I started up an e-friendship with them and when an editing position opened up they asked and I accepted! I’m really grateful for the opportunity, they are really inspiring girls.
Nice! Their site is really fun, I like how it has become so much bigger than the four of them. Awesome that you play a part in that 🙂
My trips to NYC are always so quick. I usually sneak in an o’dark-thirty run and last time I finally got to run in Central Park.
Maybe next time you can nip into one of these bookstores for a little more inspiration 🙂