Walk alongside Eastern Europe’s literary giants in this bibliophile’s guide of the region’s bookstores and libraries.
From Czesław Miłosz to Svetlana Alexievich, myriad stellar literature has come out of Eastern Europe. Authors such as Nora Ikstena and Olga Tokarczuk, who have reflected upon what it was like growing up in the post-Soviet countries, have gone on to win international literary prizes for their work.
So when we walk the streets of Warsaw, Riga, and Kiev, it’s always in the steps of compelling literary protagonists. And with a rich network of bookstores and libraries all over this region, there are plenty of places to meet like-minded bibliophiles.
The following guide presents our pick of the best bookstores, libraries, and general literary haunts in the region. Be warned: After visiting them, you might find your return baggage considerably bulkier…not to mention your reading list.
Riga is the setting of Nora Ikstena’s brilliant “Soviet Milk”, a novel that has been translated from Latvian to English and gone on to reach a wide audience. But far from the bleak and challenging conditions of Soviet Latvia, the capital city is now a vibrant destination.
The National Library of Latvia was built in the shape of a mountain and houses the nation’s most important titles. From inside the stacks of books rich up to the peak, and make for great photo opportunities. Outside the architect has incorporated elements for skateboarders, and consequently, the library is far from being stuffy or quiet.
Mr Pageis our favorite book shop in Riga. Here, you must put on white gloves to handle the gorgeous art books and poetry zines. The books pick their readers here, not the other way around, or so the staff says.
Finally, if you go for a drink at Čē on Dzirnavu iela and just eavesdrop you’ll be sure to pick up some literary stirrings. This is the haunt for poets, writers, and amateur philosophers in the city.
Warsaw is another literary gem and takes great pride its national authors such as Olga Tokarczuk, who went on to win the Booker Prize. You’ll find her works in every book shop as well as those by Czesław Miłosz as well as lots on the grim history of Poland during the Second World War.
The University of Warsaw Library is shrouded in green foliage, and unusually, has a botanical garden on its roof. A great spot to hang out in the summer, this is one of the regions most distinctive libraries.
We love small printing presses and especially travel magazines, so Super Salon was an exciting discovery in Warsaw. The ambient shop has a solid selection of travel and fashion magazines, a lot of which are specific to Eastern Europe and difficult to source elsewhere, and regularly hosts magazine launches and book fairs.
Far off in Kiev, Daniil Kharms would walk the streets penning his absurdist poetry. A bookshop named in his honor is located near Besarabsky Market and has a nice selection of Ukrainian literature. The coffee is great too and costs less here than in Riga and Warsaw.
The Vernadsky Library is worth a visit for those of you who are dedicated followers of socialist realist architecture and brutalism. This monolith also holds some of the countries most important religious texts, such as the Orsha Gospel, and is worth checking out to get an idea of Kiev’s rich history.
In Tallinn, one of the coolest little bookstores, Lugemik, is perhaps eclipsed by the large UN graffiti on a brick chimney that stands next to it. Fans of the movie Stalker will immediately recognize the location and want to take some photos. But Lugemik is certainly worth a visit, too, and has an interesting selection of Estonian literature, as well as more general titles.
Yet another National Library in the guide, Estonia’s is a grand structure that dates back to 1918 and is worth a visit for the permanent exhibitions alone.
And finally, perhaps the most stunning bookstore has to be Cărtureşti Carusel in Bucharest. Fans of the @accidentallywesanderson Instagram account will have some fun here taking snaps, as will those of you who like to get lost in the romance of a bookstore, with its spiral staircases and interminable shelves.
If you have any favorite literary haunts in Eastern Europe, let us know in the comments!