Where To Shop For Second Hand Books In London

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 9 months ago

Last Updated 07 September 2023

Where To Shop For Second Hand Books In London
Exactly what a bookshop should look like. Photo: Lloyds of Kew

Here at Londonist we love a bookshop, be it an independent store or a fabulous literary haunt. But what about when you're craving that old-book smell, and you fancy thumbing through some proper antiques (or alternatively, just something that's thrifty)?

Enter London's second hand bookshops and markets: here you can snap up everything from the latest blockbuster thriller to antiquarian gems and tomes of historical significance. E-readers? Pah! Even better, some of these second hand shops now have online stores, so you can stock up on preloved reads without leaving the house.

Second hand bookshops and markets in London

These places are dedicated entirely to second hand/used/preloved books.

South Bank Book Market, Waterloo Bridge

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

Probably London's best-known second hand book spot — certainly the one most discovered by tourists — South Bank Book Market sprawls beneath Waterloo Bridge on the south side of the river, open in all weathers. What's not clear to the casual observer is that it's a collection of separate stalls owned by different people, rather than one large business. As for what you'll find here... well, what are you looking for? Paperback, hardback, fiction, non-fiction — it's all there.

In 2016, the 1000 Londoners project, spoke to Gareth Thomas, who runs the book market, in which he revealed their most requested book of all time, and the threat posed to the business by the likes of Amazon.

South Bank Book Market, underneath Waterloo Bridge, outside BFI Riverfront bar. Open daily.

Any Amount Of Books, Charing Cross Road

Photo: Any Amount Of Books

Depending on your approach to reading, Any Amount of Books could be a threat, or it could be a name full of promise. Their Instagram bio ("We sell anticipation & books") suggests the latter, and we couldn't agree more.

Beyond the forest green awning wait floor-to-ceiling shelves laden with second hand books — some even spill out onto the pavement — with prices starting from £1. The area's known for it bookshops, and there's been one on this particular spot since at least the 1920s.

Any Amount of Books, 56 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0QA. They also have an online catalogue if you can't get there in person.

Black Gull Books, Camden Market and East Finchley

Split across two locations, in Camden Market and East Finchley, Black Gull Books is an absolute gem full of the unimaginable, as we discovered on our 2009 visit (we never did solve the mystery of the prehistoric penwiper). More than a decade later, the business is still going strong, packed to the rafters with second hand books, and is the sort of place you could lose several hours to. They also deal in art and collectables, but it's the books we're here for, and they span every genre imaginable.

Black Gull Books, 121 High Road, East Finchley, and 70-71 West Yard, Camden.

Bookmongers, Brixton

Photo: Bookmongers Brixton

Just minutes' walk away from the madness of Brixton Road and Brixton Market, the yellow doors of Bookmongers are a portal into some much needed calm. As a brief scroll through their detailed Instagram posts verifies, the staff here are passionate about books — and equally passionate about Popeye, the shop's resident cat who may be found curled up among the tomes or posing in the window.  Wonder what he thinks of the Bowie-esque dog mural on the side of his shop?

While the whole place is dedicated to second hand books, the second hand gems section online is particularly worth perusing — a leather bound edition of David Copperfield was among the literary goodness available when we browsed.

Bookmongers, 439 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, SW9 8LN. There's also an online shop.

Lloyds of Kew

Photo: Lloyds of Kew

With shelves rammed full of books, more books piled on the floor, on trollies and anywhere there's space, Lloyds of Kew is a bibliophile's paradise. Charming, handwritten signs and labels point you in the direction of what you want, among the the thousands of rare, vintage and modern second hand books. It's not uncommon to see books heaped on tables on the pavements outside too. You're going to need to put aside a decent chunk of time to have a proper browse; it's not the sort of place you can hurry.

You'll also find Lloyds of Kew at Kew Village Market on the first Sunday of each month.

Lloyds of Kew, 9 Mortlake Terrace, Kew, TW9 3DT

Osterley Bookshop

Photo: Londonist

Be still our beating heart. A second hand bookshop, in a former tube station? That's Osterley Bookshop for you.

The cottage-esque ghost station houses shelves upon shelves of second hand books. It'll take you a few seconds to orientate yourself, but you soon realise that the apparent mishmash is handily categorised ('Bizarre books' and 'Ghouls and ghosties' were some of the labels present on our visit).

But it's not just books. Greeting cards are readily available — nothing too odd about that — but also house plants, mismatched buttons and vintage crockery. You don't get that on Am*zon.

Oh, and that rumbling sound? Just Piccadilly line trains passing nearby.

Osterley Bookshop, 168A Thornbury Road, Osterley, Isleworth TW7 4QE

Skoob Books, Bloomsbury

Photo: Skoob Books

Second hand academic books is the specialism at Skoob, with philosophy, psychology, modern literature, art, history, politics, economics, classics, science and technology all covered. It knows its audience too — students get a 10% discount all year round. There's a fiction section, for when you require literary escape from all that studying. Skoob claims to have "London's largest selection of second hand books", but to be honest, we haven't counted. It's been in business since 1979, bouncing around several locations before washing up at the Brunswick Centre where, at time of writing, it has two shops.

Skoob, 66 The Brunswick, WC1N 1AE. Online shop too, which often sells rare and out-of-print books.

Walden Books, Chalk Farm

Literature and visual arts are the specialisms of Walden Books, though with 10,000 used books in stock at any one time, there's something to interest most people. For a sweet deal, browse the shelves outside on the street before you venture inside, as that's where they keep the "bargain bins for cheap and cheerful paperbacks".

For added 'wow', visit during wisteria season, when the front of the building — located in a Victorian terrace on a quiet residential street — is draped in the lilac flower.

Walden Books, 38 Harmood Street, NW1 8DP. There's also an online catalogue.

London bookshops with a second hand/used section

Photo: Word On The Water

These shops sell a mix of new and used books. Some of them have a 50/50 split. In others, you have to dig a little deeper to find the second hand offerings among the newest releases.

Arthur Probsthain, Great Russell Street

Photo: Arthur Probsthain/ Tea and Tattle

Arthur Probsthain started as a bookshop specialising in books from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. More than a century later, the business is still going strong, selling carefully curated old and new books, along with music, films and gifts — plus there's a gallery where Oriental and African art is displayed. There's the added bonus of a tea room on site, so you can pore over your new purchases as you tuck into tea and cake

Arthur Probsthain, 41 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3PE (with a second branch at SOAS). You can also shop online.

Gays's The Word, King's Cross

The UK's oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop, most people think of Gay's The Word as selling new books (its sleek exterior and well-organised shelves certainly don't have that second-hand-book-shop vibe). But online, it has a rare and used LGBTQ books section, where you'll find anything from second hand Dusty Springfield autobiographies to rare and historic pamphlets ('Psychiatry and the Homosexual, 1973', being one example).

Gay's The Word, 66 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB

Halcyon Books, Lee

Academic titles are the speciality of Halcyon Books, which lends itself more to specific hunting than casual browsing (it doesn't open on Saturdays or Sundays). Stock is a mixture of new and used books, with records and collectable postcards thrown in. Bonus points for having a coffee shop within a bookshop.

Halycon Books, 266 Lee High Road, SE13 5PL

Judd Books, Bloomsbury

Photo: Judd Books

Both new and used books — over 50,000 of them — are available at Judd Books, which specialises in arts and social sciences. There's also a decent local history and London architecture section.

Judd Books, 82 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AG

Kirkdale Bookshop, Sydenham

Photo: Kirkdale Books

There's a whole floor of second hand reads at Kirkdale Bookshop spanning folios, travel, history, art history, philosophy, science fiction/fantasy, literary criticism, film, theatre, gardening, sport, classics, first editions, and children's books. We've seen books going for as little as 50p on the display tables outside the shop's pale green frontage, so definitely one to explore if you're on a budget.

Kirkdale Bookshop, 272 Kirkdale, Sydenham, SE26 4RS

Pages of Hackney

Photo: Pages of Hackney

While most don't associate Lower Clapton bookshop Pages of Hackney with second hand reads, head downstairs to Field Books, the company's second hand book shop, curated by crime fiction specialist Patrick Mills (though the offerings extend far beyond that genre, and into non-fiction too). Preloved books are also available at the company's online store — meaning you can support a local business without leaving your house.

Pages of Hackney, 70 Clapton Road, E5 0RN (second hand books also available online)

Primrose Hill Books

Located next to Primrose Hill Pets and opposite Primrose Hill Butchers, Primrose Hill Books is one of the many small businesses which give Primrose Hill its village-like feel. Head for the blue awning on the small high street to step inside a world of new and second hand books. Did we mention that it's in Primrose Hill?

Primrose Hill Books, 134 Regent's Park Road, NW1 8XL. There's also an online shop.

Word On The Water, King's Cross

Photo: Word On The Water

If you're at all familiar with London's book scene, Word on the Water is one of the first places that springs to mind. Set on a 100-year-old Dutch barge, the floating bookshop was previously moored in Paddington, but can now be found in King's Cross. On board, you'll find a fascinating mix of new and good quality second hand reads, plus they hold regular poetry readings, live music and other events on the 'roof stage'. Oh, and extra points for getting their priorities straight on their Facebook page:

Word On The Water, York Way, Granary Square, King's Cross, N1C 4AA

Rare and antiquarian bookshops in London

Photo: Sotheran's

Looking for something a bit more unusual? These bookshops specialise in rare and antiquarian tomes. You're unlikely to find your next beach read here, but you will find beautiful, leather bound books, first editions, signed copies, plus some items worth thousands of pounds.

  • Sotheran's, near Piccadilly: One of the oldest antiquarian book dealers in the world, Sotheran's has been going since 1761, and even bought books from the library of Charles Dickens himself. A welcoming physical shop, an impressive online catalogue, and well worth following on Twitter for charmingly nonsensical lighthearted relief.
  • Heywood Hill, Mayfair: New, old and antiquarian books on various themes, carefully curated due to the limited space on the shop's shelves.
  • The Bookshop on the Heath, Blackheath: The stock here is "deliberately wide, both in terms of genre and affordability" and includes signed first editions, and stock dating back to 1660.
  • Jarndyce, Bloomsbury: Located opposite the British Museum and operating for over 50 years, Jarndyce Booksellers specialises in 17th-19th century English literature and history.
  • Cecil Court: And finally, Cecil Court close to Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, is one of the best spots for rare, first edition and antiquarian bookshops in London, with a long literary history — you can read about the individual shops in Cecil Court here.

Occasional second hand book fairs and events