Inside London's Biggest Bookshop

By Zoe Craig Last edited 17 months ago
Inside London's Biggest Bookshop
Waterstones Piccadilly, London's largest bookshop. Image by Mike Massaro

Waterstones Piccadilly is London's largest bookshop, and claims to be the biggest bookstore in Europe.

The shop is spread over six huge floors of books with more than eight miles of shelves, containing more than 200,000 titles.

Simpsons of Piccadilly building

The Waterstones at 203/206 Piccadilly is the company's flagship store. It's housed in a Grade I Listed 1930s art deco building that used to be a department store called Simpsons of Piccadilly.

Opened in 1936, the new Simpsons building was designed to showcase the whole range of clothing offered by Simpsons and Daks (the latter is a portmanteau of 'dad' and 'slacks'). The architects and designers were influenced by the Bauhaus, modernism, futurism and cubism.

The building was the first in Britain to feature uninterrupted curved glass windows at the front.

You can still see some of the original fixtures inside the shop, including the 90-foot chromium light fitting suspended from the ceiling, illuminating the stairwell, and the steel and glass handrails.

Simpsons of Piccadilly stairwell lighting. Images from Wikimedia Commons

Waterstones Piccadilly Sections

As well as the usual best sellers and new releases, Waterstones Piccadilly has sections on Travel (lower ground floor); First Editions (on the first floor); Biography, Humour, Film & TV, and Transport (third floor); and History, Politics, Languages, Religion and Business (fourth floor).

Children's Section

In 2015, Waterstones Piccadilly expanded their Children's Section on the second floor.

The (Piccadilly) Circus-themed area now takes up two-thirds of the building's second floor.

Waterstones Piccadilly Children's Section. By Mike Massaro

The Russian Bookshop

There's even a bookshop within the main bookshop. The Russian Bookshop opened on the fourth floor in March 2012, and stocks around 5,000 titles. It's staffed by Russian-speaking booksellers.

5th View Bar

On the top floor of Waterstones Piccadilly is a bar, 5th View Bar & Food, with a view over the rooftops towards the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.

Photo of 5th View by delara-photos via the Londonist Flickrpool

Cafe W

There are two Cafe Ws inside.

The one on the ground floor is useful for takeaways in this busy corner of London; the second, on the Mezzanine among the plentiful stationery and gifts on offer, is a good place to settle if you're looking for a bit of peace and quiet.

Cafe W. Photo by Mike Massaro

Waterstones' lock-ins and sleepovers

In 2014, Waterstones Piccadilly hosted a sleepover for 10 lucky prize-winners.

The event was organised after a Texan tourist, David Willis, got locked in the Trafalgar Square Waterstones when it had closed for the night. Willis tweeted for help and attracted 12,000 retweets, as well as lots of media coverage and discussion on social media.

Special Events

The bookshop also hosts a variety of special events, including author events and writing classes.

The London Sci Fi and Fantasy Book Club meets at Waterstones Piccadilly once a month, and the store itself has its own book club.

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Clunking Fist

The lower ground floor was one of my favourite spots in London, maps for everywhere, everywhere. Do folk still use maps these days? Last time I purchased a map was 2002, at this store.

R

Except the staff in the cafe on the mezzanine level are incredibly rude. I was desperate for some water when I was at Warerstones one Sunday and went to the cafe to buy a bottle of water. I hadn't realised that the cake table was part of the front counter and a barrier to entry for all customers. There was a lady next to the fridge with her handbag on the counter helping herself so I assumed she was a customer and I assumed she was a customer and you were meant to help yourself, which I did, at which point I was admonished by the barista who was at the cashier, and really in a very rude way, which was loud and entirely unnecessary. I explained that I thought you were meant to get the drinks yourself, and she glared at me. I left with buying anything but did say that there was no need to be so rude. It has certainly tarnished my image of the cafe and certainly the bookstore which used to be one of my favourites.

richard hammond

I thought Foyles on Shaftesbury avenue was the largest?