The Oxford Student discovers: the best bookshops in Oxford

Art & Lit Literature

Image Credit: tejvan (CC BY 2.0)

Oxford is not a city lacking in books. Whether you visit the Bodleian, your college or faculty library, there are always plenty to be found! Even outside the libraries a literary influence is never too far away, be it the “dreaming spires” of Matthew Arnold’s Thyrsis or nearly everywhere in the Inspector Morse books. If you’re inspired to get some books of your own, we have some recommendations about where to go!

Blackwell’s

No overview of bookshops in Oxford would be complete without the legendary Blackwell’s. Although there are now nine branches of Blackwell’s in the city, and more than 50 throughout the UK, the original is still the one to head to every time. 

Established on Broad Street in 1879, it covers four floors and houses more than 250,000 books. 

The Norrington Room holds the official title of the largest single room selling books in the world in the Guinness Book of Records, and at 10,000 square feet with three miles of shelving that’s hardly surprising. 

As well as boasting an unbeatable book collection and incredibly knowledgeable staff, the shop also holds over 300 events every year, including signings, talks, and readings.

48-51 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BQ 

01865 792792

Oxfam bookshop

The two-storey Oxfam bookshop on St Giles Street was the very first Oxfam bookshop in the world, opened by Sir John Mortimer in 1987.

Because of the huge student population in the city, the second-hand bookshops are always well-stocked with academic and foreign language books to tick off your reading list. These are found alongside slightly food-marked cookery books (perfect for students who have just moved away from home!) and a plethora of fiction, travel and art publications. 

You never know what you’ll find at the Oxfam bookshop, which is one of the joys of visiting. The shop famously sold a very rare, donated Graham Greene novel for £15,000 in 2008.

56 St Giles Street, Oxford OX1 3LU 

01865 310145

Last Bookshop

Tucked away in the trendy Jericho area of Oxford, the Last Bookshop never disappoints.

With its year-round ‘two books for £5’ offer and its tiny make-shift cafe (consisting of a coffee/tea machine and two mint-green tables posed outside the shop), it’s difficult not to love this Jericho gem.

It’s a discount bookshop with a difference, offering a huge range of both brand new and second hand volumes. The chance to buy philosophy, art, history and fiction books at bargain prices is a blessing for anyone daunted by their reading list, and the chance to sit down and mull over new purchases over a cup of coffee is a nice touch to any visit. 

The store also sells used vinyl records, and if you head downstairs you’ll enter a wonderland of second-hand books, all individually priced. 

The shop is split into sections marked with specialisms, which makes navigation a little easier, but really all you’ll want to do is have a good browse and see what there is to discover. 

25 Walton St, Oxford OX1 2HQ 

01865 554488

Arcadia 

I stumbled upon Arcadia by accident one day after grabbing a coffee at the lovely Nosebag cafe and restaurant. 

Just off Cornmarket St, the shop is understated from the outside and easily missed. Once inside, however, you will find a charming medley of second-hand books, vintage postcards, and an assortment of intriguing odds and ends that can make unique gifts for friends or family. 

The shop specialises in rare and antique books, and the collection of vintage Penguin Classics is well worth some attention.

4 St Michael’s St, Oxford OX1 2DU

01865 241757

Waterstones

It may not be an independent bookshop or have the same kind of character and atmosphere as Oxford’s other bookshops, but Waterstones still deserves a mention. 

Standing in the heart of the city on the corner of Cornmarket Street and The Broad, Waterstones Oxford occupies a Grade II heritage listed building and offers five floors filled with books, stationary and gifts. 

You will also find a cafe on the second floor, which offers great views and a peaceful place to work if you need a break from the library. 

The shop is also host to many events throughout the year and has recently welcomed bestselling author Patrick Gale former UK Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. 

William Baker House, Broad St, 

Oxford OX1 3AF

01865 790212