BRUSSELS, Belgium — Even as Kindles and iBooks compete with brick-and-mortar stores, bookshops can be found in virtually any metropolitan city throughout the world. But in Brussels, bookshops are particularly revered. In fact, most Brussels stores are closed on Sundays — except for bookshops. It’s a favorite pastime for locals (as well as expatriates like me) to take in the city’s finest bookshops on a late Sunday afternoon.
Take a peak below at a few of my favorite Brussels bookshops. And drop by a couple of them when you visit Brussels. Perhaps one of these shops might become a favorite of yours, too.
1. COOK AND BOOK
Cook and Book is a store consisting of nine mini-bookshops and two restaurants, all under two roofs. Each bookshop carries a central theme. For example, there is a travel room, a lifestyle and interior decorating room, an art room, a music room, a children’s room, etc. But each of the theme rooms goes beyond the norm.
My children particularly loved the travel room where an Airstream mini-plane is converted into a dining table for eight people. The Sunday Brunch Buffet is very popular with locals and tourists alike, so reservations should be booked as far in advance as possible. In addition, a lovely outdoor courtyard in front of the bookshop offers kid-oriented entertainment including a playground and a small fleet of mini-scooters.
Tropismes — as close to a literary labyrinth as a bookstore can be — can be found within one of Brussels’ most famous landmarks: The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, billed as the world’s first indoor shopping arcade. This glazed wonder proceeded other famous 19th-century shopping arcades such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan and The Passage in St. Petersburg.
In order to visit Tropismes, one must use the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert entrance walkway under its world-famous, arched glass roof. What’s really fun is to risk getting lost in this bookshop by walking through hidden passages from one room to another, and meandering over to the children’s bookshop (Tropismes Jeunesse).
Ask a store clerk to walk you around the full pathway, since everyone tends to miss a few rooms here and there. The pathway is magical, just like the shop’s location.
3. BOEKHANDEL SELEXYZ DOMINICANEN
This contemporary bookshop in an 800-year-old former Dominican church is not in Brussels, but is a 40-minute train ride away. Regardless of the distance from the city-center, this unique landmark bookshop is well worth a visit. The shop has received numerous accolades from far and wide for its preservation work.
Those who assert that reading is a religious experience would truly feel at home within the walls of Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen.
Every major international city offers a TASCHEN store location, and Brussels is no exception. They are the ultra cool bookshops that exclusively stock those great glossy books from the high-end publishing house TASCHEN. The shops are located in high-end shopping districts around the world, and renowned designer and architect Philippe Starck, who designed all the TASCHEN outlets, makes every store a one-of-kind experience.
Note: In 2008, Posada Books located in downtown Brussels was rated by The GUARDIAN as one of the top ten bookstores in the world. Sadly, the husband and wife team in charge of Posada Books closed their doors a few short months ago after 35 years in the bookshop business. Let’s hope that, somehow, there will be a storybook ending here.
1. BRITISH SCHOOL OF BRUSSELS BOOK WEEK 2012
It’s not a bookstore per se, but it’s never too early to have the kids start reading up for the British School of Brussels 2012 Book Week. This event — a celebration of literature — is held every two years and is next scheduled for October 15–19, 2012. The impending program, the 17th edition of BSB Book Week, is entitled “A New Book, A New World,” and will feature esteemed children’s book authors such as Adam Bushnell, Claire Asquith, Marcus Sedgwick, Nicky Singer, Paul Johnson and Chris Ridell among the participants.
If you are eager to get your little ones on track to appreciate fine writing, BSB Book Week is an ideal starting point. Plus it serves as another terrific reason for a visit to Brussels.
Italian artist Massimo Bartolini has installed a huge outdoor library, dubbed “Book Yard,” in the middle of an actual Belgian vineyard. The exhibition is part of TRACK — a project in Ghent, Belgium devoted to art experiences in public spaces that is exhibiting the work of 41 international artists.
Visitors to “Book Yard” are encouraged to bring home a piece of artwork, i.e. books, if they leave a donation in a small box supplied by the artist. All proceeds benefit the Belgian public library. TRACK officially ends on September 16, 2012.