Dublin might be synonymous with Guinness, but the city has lofty literary associations too. A Unesco City of Literature, the Irish capital is crammed full of independent and second-hand booksellers.
Dublin’s rich literary history courses through the city’s veins. Stroll across its Georgian Squares or walk along the canals and you’ll find dozens of monuments and plaques commemorating the words of Dublin’s most writers. James Joyce immortalised Dublin in his work, Oscar Wilde was born and grew up in the city, and Samuel Beckett and Bram Stoker both studied in Trinity’s halls. With such an illustrious legacy, it follows that Dublin would have some good bookshops. And it does, in spades. From Ireland’s oldest independent bookshop to its most radical, here are the best bookshops in Dublin.
The Winding Stair
The Winding Stair is named after the Yeats poem, in honour of its creaky winding staircase. One of Dublin’s oldest surviving independent bookshops, The Winding Stair gained cult status in the 1970s as a popular meeting place for local writers, musicians and artists. When Elaine Murphy bought the much-loved spot in 2006, she transformed the upstairs into a restaurant specialising in seasonal Irish produce. The ground floor has retained its original character and charm, with shelves packed full of fiction, poetry, drama, non-fiction and a brilliant children’s section. Service is always sparkling and staff are happy to provide recommendations.
40 Ormond Quay Lower, D01 R9Y5
Now located on D’Oilier Street, Books Upstairs is as famous for its royal blue exterior and pretty interior, as it is for its vast collection of literature, history and politics books. It’s Dublin’s oldest independent bookshop and was one of the first to focus on highlighting underrepresented genres, such as philosophy, feminism and LGBTQ literature. There’s a good mix of new and second-hand literature on offer, as well as a dizzying calendar of book readings, launches and discussions. Upstairs, there’s a light-filled (and laptop-free) cafe serving a small selection of coffees, teas, baked goods and toasties. The perfect spot to pen your novel.
17 D’Oiler Street
Opened in 1768, Hodges Figgis is the oldest bookshop in Ireland and, possibly, the third oldest bookshop in the world. It’s still a local institution ten generations later, referenced in everything from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. Although Waterstones now owns the shop, it’s retained more than its historic name with the spirit of days past. Inside, there are portraits of Irish literary greats lining the staircase, an entire floor dedicated to Academia and the largest collection of books relating to Ireland in the county.
56-58 Dawson Street
The Company of Books
The Company of Books might be one of the newer additions to Dublin’s literary since, but since opening in 2009 it has quickly become one of Ireland’s leading Independent Bookshops, with a slew of awards to its name. You’ll need to hop on a bus to the southside suburb of Ranelagh to get there, but it’s worth the extra effort. Unlike most bookshops, you won’t find traditional labels for sections since the owners want to encourage people to discover books they might otherwise never have found. And, with more than 3,500 to choose from, that’s a lot of browsing potential.
This three-tiered bookshop on busy Grafton street is the perfect place to lose an hour or two. Downstairs, you’ll find all the latest releases, coffee table books and an impressive travel section, while upstairs there’s a small coffee shop serving hot drinks, cakes and biscuits. The bookshop started life in the early 1970s in the seaside town of Bray and has now grown to Ireland’s leading bookseller. There are a few outposts sprinkled across Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny and Galway, but Grafton Street is the best of the bunch.
36 Grafton Street
The Gutter Bookshop
Named for Oscar Wilde’s famous quote (“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars), The Gutter Bookshop is the perfect antidote to the bigger chains. Shelves are crammed floor to ceiling with books and the cosy space is always bustling with activity. As well as the latest bestsellers, the shop offers a good range of niche titles too and has a particularly good selection of literature from Irish authors. Time it right and you could find yourself at one of their many events, from four monthly bookclubs to bookish readings.
Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar
Few book lovers can fail to be beguiled by Stephen Stokes’s staggering collection of antiquarian and second-hand books. The tiny shop, conveniently located in Georges Street Arcade, is overflowing with hard-to-find titles, Irish history and lesser-known literature. Outside, there are baskets and freestanding shelves bursting with books, many of which are often on sale. It’s a treasure trove for bookworms. Stokes boasts a brilliant collection of Folio Society editions too, which makes it a popular spot for collectors.
19 Market Arcade
Ulysses Rare Books Ltd.
As Dublin’s leading antiquarian bookshop, Ulysses Rare Books is an essential pitstop for collectors. Enda Cunnigham founded the shop in 1969, and his two children now run the show. They stock a wide variety of books, but their speciality is 20th-century Irish literature. Pop in for a glimpse of rare editions and signed copies by James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Samuell Beckett, and many more. There’s also an excellent collection of books on Irish history and topography dating back to the 17th century.
10 Duke Street
The Secret Book and Record Store
Possibly Dublin’s worst-kept secret, this enchanting bookshop sells new and second-hand books, as well as vinyl records. Hidden down a passageway off Wicklow Street and without any shop windows, it’s easy enough to miss if you don’t know it’s there. But, as locals will attest, once you do you’ll be back for more. It’s home to Dublin’s Freebird Records and staffed by genuine literature and music enthusiasts. Shelves are piled high with books of all genres, though owner Dermot Caroll has one golden rule: if he doesn’t read it, he won’t stock it.
15A Wicklow Street
Established in 1932, Connolly Books is Ireland’s oldest radical bookshop. Named after James Connolly, Ireland’s socialist pioneer and martyr, it’s the place to find books on Irish history, politics, trade union affairs, feminism and philosophy. All of the Marxist classics are here too, as well as a wide range of radical periodicals. While it might sound intimidating to some, the staff are extremely welcoming and happy to help. Every Friday afternoon there’s an Irish language cafe and on Monday evenings the Connolly Youth Movement hold readings and screenings.
43 Essex Street