The Literary City: St Petersburg’s Best Bookshops
St Petersburg’s heritage is steeped with literature. Literary greats such as Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Gogol and Akhmatova have used the city as a backdrop for their works, immortalising St Petersburg as a surreal and mythical place.
Given the city’s literary history and the voracious reading appetite of Russian people, St Petersburg’s streets are home to uncountable bookshops – from the palatial and famous, to tiny independent shops run by groups of friends. No visit to St Petersburg is complete without a trip around the bookshops – as coined by one of St Petersburg’s most famous bookshops, «Не были в книжном – не были в Петербурге» – if you’ve not visited the bookshops, you’ve not visited St Petersburg.
Все свободны (Everyone is free)
In this independent bookshop, every wall, surface and corner is chock-full of books. Their selection comprises humanities, art, culture, and social sciences, alongside magazines and a children’s section. They keep well up to date with academic literature and prioritise independent and amateur publishers. Все свободны’s Instagram page honours other independent bookshops all over Russia, giving you many ideas of where else you can visit! Head up to the mezzanine floor, sink into a comfy sofa with a cup of coffee, and enjoy your new book! As well as books, visitors can find book presentations, film nights, and even exhibitions.
Location: Ulitsa Nekrasova, 23
Подписные издания (Subscription publications)
One of St Petersburg’s oldest bookshops, founded in 1926, Подписные издания holds pride of place on Liteynyi Prospekt and combines St Petersburg’s literary heritage with an attractive and trendy space to appeal to everyone. You could spend spend hours poring over the collections in this warm and welcoming atmosphere. Literally packed to the rafters with every sort of book, bookworms can find classical and academic literature, publications on history, culture and social sciences, coffee-table art books, a wonderfully designed children’s section, and a foreign language section. As well as books, Подписные издания sell a range of cool postcards and stationery, badges and posters.Whilst there, you must visit Подписные издания’s mezzanine cafe overlooking the shop.
Location: Liteynyi Prospekt, 57
Жёлтый двор (Yellow Courtyard)
Жёлтый двор is a unique bookshop which specialises in art, history, culture and more, from the Far East – the first bookshop of its kind in St Petersburg. It boasts a huge range of books, antique and new, from tiny guides to beautifully illustrated coffee table books in both English and Russian. The shop is cosy and colourful, adorned with artwork and plants, and it feels more like a being in someone’s house than a bookshop! Жёлтый двор is hidden in the second courtyard of Kovenskii Pereulok 14. To get there, go straight through the first courtyard and at the top left you’ll find a tunnel with a painting of a rabbit on it. Go through, and you’ll come out into a second courtyard.
Location: Kovenskii Pereulok, 14
Англия is a bookshop of foreign literature. Nearly all their selection is in English and other languages, acquired from foreign publishers. Browse their collection to discover books on art, architecture, music, history, and a wide range of Russian classics translated into English. If you’re looking to get into the Russian classics, this may be the bookshop for you! They also sell a variety of language learning textbooks in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, with discounted prices available for teachers. The bookshop hosts seminars and lectures on cultural and literary topics. Англия is located in a building rich in literary history: Turgenev formerly used to reside in Fontanka 38, held literary salons and debates in his apartment, and entertained guests such as Tolstoy and Nekrasov.
Location: Fontanka River Embankment, 38
Искатель is one of St Petersburg’s most popular second-hand bookshops. This is a bookshop for serious browsing (hence the name), bursting at the seams with all sorts of books layering each table, shelf, even spilling out of the drawers. You’ll find rare and antique books, academic literature, and first editions. Искатель almost feels more like an antiques shop than a bookshop – visitors can also explore the collection of stamps, cassettes, ornaments and postcards. Искатель is a haunt of St Petersburg’s cultural and academic crowd, and frequent visitors include collectors, lecturers, and writers.
Location: Moika River Embankment, 51
Фаренгейт 451 (Fahrenheit 451)
Фаренгейт 451 is one of St Petersburg’s independent bookshops and is located right in the city centre, very close to Liden and Denz. The shelves have no alphabetical arrangement and books are acquired from many different places, including bookswapping! Whilst searching through an eclectic medley of titles, you never know what you’ll find: books about magic, botany, history, psychology or more. Pop in to browse the selection and have a cup of freshly brewed tea. Alternatively, check out their website for news of upcoming events: Фаренгейт 451 often hosts book presentations, literary masterclasses, discussion groups, and lectures about contemporary art and culture.
Location: Ulitsa Mayakovskogo, 25
Старая книга (Old Book)
Старая книга is another of St Petersburg’s second-hand bookshops dedicated to antiques and second-hand literature. The extensive collection of antique literature includes very rare and valuable books hidden in closed cabinets which you must seek permission to look at. In Старая книга you can discover a fascinating range of local history books, publications about art, theatre and music, and also foreign language books. As well as books, visitors can browse old maps and periodicals, paintings and prints, and even Soviet artefacts.
Location: Nevsky Prospekt, 3 ; Gorokhovaya Ulitsa, 12 ; Pereulok Svechnoi, 5
Книжный магазин ФотоДепартамент (FotoDepartament Bookshop)
Local company ФотоДепартамент runs an educational institute, library, and organises exhibitions to support local artists. On top of this, their bookshop is any photographer’s dream. Browse books by Russian and foreign authors on visual culture, the theory and philosophy of photography and art, gorgeous photo albums, magazines and newspapers, basically everything related to the field of photography. If you’re not able to make it to the shop in person, visit ФотоДепартамент’s online shop.
Location: Grazhdanskaia Ulitsa, 13-15
Книжная лавка писателей (Writers’ Bookshop)
One of the oldest bookshops in Russia, Книжная лавка писателей is a centrepoint of St Petersburg’s literary culture. It began as a publishing house in pre-revolutionary Russia, visited by Yesenin and Tchaikovsky, and Bely lived in the apartments above. The bookshop itself was established by the Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934 on the initiative of Maksim Gorky. It was described as Leningrad’s most prestigious bookshop, a literary ‘mecca’ in which rare literature could be acquired and cultural life could be truly enjoyed – Anna Akhmatova lived nearby and was a frequent visitor. Nowadays, the bookshop is registered as an important site of cultural heritage in St Petersburg. As well as selling books with an arts, literature and culture focus, the shop has a dedicated section selling publications by local writers, and also hosts exhibitions, author presentations and weekly concerts. Each year, Книжная лавка писателей organises biannual ‘book alleys’, street fairs in which you can browse an enormous selection of books and enjoy them in the open-air reading spaces.
Location: Nevsky Prospekt, 66
Make sure you head down to one of these bookshops during your stay in St Petersburg. There’s something for everyone, whether you love the classics, art and history, are keen to discover local authors, are on the hunt for unique antiques, or want to experience St Petersburg’s local literary scene. To find these bookshops and more, check our interactive map of St Petersburg’s most interesting sites. And if you’re heading further afield in Russia make sure to visit this brand new website, which has a comprehensive map of independent bookshops all over Russia. Happy reading! До встречи, Rachel.