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Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris is the city’s most famous bookstore and one of the most famous bookshops in the world!
It’s an independent, English-language bookstore that was founded by George Whitman and many famous literary figures over time have haunted these halls.
As you can imagine, this bookshop is a very popular attraction in Paris and there are long lines to get inside throughout the day.
But, it’s always worth the wait as you’ll step into a labyrinth of books, murals, curios and bohemian flare.
Here is a guide for visiting the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris with some top tips to enjoy your visit!
What is Shakespeare and Company bookshop?
Shakespeare and Company Bookshop is an independent bookstore near Notre-Dame Cathedral on the left bank of the River Seine. They sell a mix of new, used and rare books.
It’s set in a historic 17th-century building on Rue de la Bûcherie and was founded by George Whitman in 1951.
It’s an English-language bookshop set in the medieval Latin Quarter which is home to many historic cathedrals and universities.
This small area in Île de la Cité is known as ‘Kilometre Zero’ or the point at which all French roads begin.
This legendary literary institution has stood the test of time and is now one of the most revered bookshops in the world.
“I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations.” – George Whitman
Shakespeare and Company history
This bookshop had its humble beginnings as the ‘La Maison du Mustier’ monastery in the 17th century.
When the bookshop first opened in 1951, George Whitman called it ‘Le Mistral’.
But, on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, he changed the name to Shakespeare and Company.
He was largely inspired by Sylvia Beach who founded the original Shakespeare & Co. in 1919.
Beach’s store was located on 12 Rue de l’Odéon and it was open as a place for writers to discuss ideas.
Famous authors such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald all visited the bookshop.
Whitman decided to honour this tradition with his bookstore and he hosted famous literary figures such as Alan Ginsburg and Henry Miller.
Whitman gained a reputation as the ‘Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter’ and after a 50-year run, he handed over the bookshop to his daughter Sylvia Whitman.
She introduced offerings like their literary festival, the Paris Literary Prize and a Shakespeare and Company publishing arm.
George Whitman passed away in 2011 but his story is still being written. His legacy still lives on through his daughter Sylvia and the thousands of visitors who buy books in this shop every year.
The main reason why this bookstore is so famous is due to its Tumbleweeding.
Before he moved to France, George Whitman was an avid traveller. After the Great Depression, he started a ‘hobo adventure’ with just $40 in his pocket.
He floated through life like a ‘tumbleweed’ until he moved to Paris to become a bookseller. But, he wanted to honour those who hosted him throughout his travels.
George would invite ambitious writers into the store as ‘Tumbleweeds’. They would have a place to stay in exchange for help around the bookshop.
The only rules were that they had to read a book a day, help out in the bookstore for a couple of hours and write a short autobiography about themselves that George would keep in his archives.
This is still a tradition that they uphold today and thousands of rolling stones have been hosted to spend the night in their bookshop!
Who were the famous people in Shakespeare and Company?
This literary utopia has seen many famous figures visit and even stay as a Tumbleweed. Here is a list of the most famous people who have called Shakespeare and Company home;
- Allen Ginsberg – American poet and writer, a core member of the Beat Generation.
- Henry Miller – American novelist and short story writer. Famous for the Tropic of Cancer.
- Richard Wright – American author and poet famous for writing Native Son.
- Langston Hughes – American poet, and social activist famous for The Weary Blues.
- Lawrence Durrell – British novelist and travel writer known for The Alexandria Quartet.
- Anaïs Nin – French-American diarist and essayist known for the Delta of Venus.
What movies is Shakespeare and Company bookshop in?
Throughout the years, this famous independent bookshop has been featured in several Hollywood movies.
More recently, you can scenes of Shakespeare and Company in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It also featured in Before Sunset and Julie & Julia.
If you like TV shows, you’ll see this book trove in Highlander: The Series and Hong Kong’s Triumph in the Skies 2.
Plus, there have been many documentaries made about this store such as Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man and Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure.
Is Shakespeare and Company worth a visit?
100% YES, you must visit the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, especially if you’re a reader!
This is one of the most famous bookstores in the entire world and so it has to be on your bookstore bucket list.
Yes, it is very popular and touristy. Yes, there are always queues to go inside. But, it’s so worth the wait. I went twice on my most recent to Paris as I loved it so much.
It doesn’t hurt that there’s a really good café next door either and it’s a lovely place to relax with views of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
But, if you need more convincing, here is what to expect on your visit and some top tips to ensure you have the best time.
It’s a small bookstore so be prepared to queue
The one thing to note about Shakespeare and Company is the fact that it’s a historic 17th-century building and it’s not very big.
As one of the most famous bookshops in all of Paris, it can quickly get crowded so they have a capacity limit.
You’re almost guaranteed to have to queue to go inside and these queues always look really long.
But, don’t be put off, they move pretty quickly. I think I only waited around 10-15 minutes in the end and that was on a weekend afternoon.
The different sections of Shakespeare and Company
I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the bookshop. So, I can only describe to you how gorgeous it is.
This book trove is like a labyrinth of quirky rooms filled with books on the shelves and you can visit two floors during your visit.
Each section is sorted by genre. They have all sorts of sections for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, history, art etc. There’s even a large fantasy section which I was really happy to see.
As you browse their huge selection of books, you’ll find lots of beautiful bohemian features. Plush rugs on the floor, bookish murals, pictures of famous visitors and quotes on the walls.
If you look up, you’ll find bird cages and all sorts of bric-a-brac hanging from the ceiling.
Despite the crowds on the bottom floor, there were lots of quiet nooks and crannies and small areas to relax on the upper floor. I believe this is where the Tumbleweeds stay.
You’ll even find a desk area here where you can write your very own mini auto-biography to pin on the wall.
There were cushioned seats overlooking Notre Dame and someone was even playing a piano! It was a bibliophile version of heaven.
I’ve dreamt of going inside this famous bookshop for so long, it almost felt surreal to walk around and browse.
Remember to get your books stamped
One of the best parts of book shopping in Shakespeare and Company is the fact you can get your books stamped before you leave.
I ended up buying some fantasy books on my visit like a newer version of The Hunger Games and Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller.
I got both of my books stamped and it was such a cool souvenir to remember my visit.
Each of the tills has different stamps. So, you could always buy from different counters to get different ones.
Shakespeare and Company tote bags
I’m not going to lie, I travel to many places as a travel blogger. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I always spot someone wearing a Shakespeare and Company Tote Bag!
So, I just knew I had to buy one for myself whilst I was at the store in Paris to carry my new books home.
As you can expect, these famous tote bags are not cheap. I paid €18 for my iconic blue fade tote. But, I thought it was worth it!
They have many versions such as a Blue Fountain tote and a bag with a ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise’ quote as well.
Don’t overlook the antiquarian bookstore
Just next door to the flagship Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, you can visit the Antiquarian Store. I always feel a little sorry for this bookstore as it never has a queue and is often overlooked.
I guess it’s because a lot of the books are first editions or precious antiquities and they are far more expensive than the books in the original bookstore.
But, as an avid reader, I couldn’t help but visit and admire these old tomes. Lots of them are leather-bound and the smell inside that store is amazing.
Make sure to visit Shakespeare and Company Café!
Two doors down, you’ll find the Shakespeare and Company café which is well worth a visit if you need a pick me up.
They serve up freshly made coffee and hot drinks plus surprisingly tasty vegan pastries and cakes from Bob’s Bake Shop.
You can either choose to sit inside their cosy coffee shop, or they have several seats outside that overlook the Notre Dame Cathedral.
There is usually a long line for coffee and you may be waiting for a table. But, it’s the perfect place to relax after your book shopping spree.
Just be mindful of your things as it’s a hive for pickpockets. On all the tables signs said ‘Dear dreamers, please guard your belongings’.
Why not stay over and be a Tumbleweed?
Did you know that Shakespeare and Company still honour their Tumbleweeding past by hosting travellers to stay inside the bookshop?
So far, the bookstore has hosted over 30,000 Tumbleweeds and the number keeps growing every year.
If you want to be an honorary guest, you can email them and enquire to stay over on your trip to Paris!
I believe the rules still stand to read a book a day, help out in the bookshop and write a short autobiography in exchange.
But, expect no privacy as you’ll be sharing the space with other Tumbleweeds.
Note: at the moment the bookshop is not hosting Tumbleweeding due to construction work. Check here for updates.
Shakespeare & Company opening times and prices
Shakespeare and Company bookshop is open from Mondays to Saturdays from 10 am to 8 pm. It’s then open on Sundays from 12 pm to 7 pm.
If you wanted to avoid long queues, I would visit during the week and get here just before opening time!
The café is open from 9.30 am to 7 pm from Mondays to Fridays and from 9.30 am to 8 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
At the moment, this bookstore doesn’t charge to go inside. But, there are always long lines to get in.
How to visit Shakespeare and Company in Paris
Shakespeare and Company Bookshop is in the Île de la Cité area of Paris and is almost opposite the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The easiest way to move around Paris is a combination of the Paris Metro and walking.
The closest Metro stops are Saint-Michel or Cité on Line 4 or Cluny La Sorbonne on Line 10.
Alternatively, you can use the RER B or C to Saint-Michel Notre Dame. It’s just a short walk away from the station.
The address is 37 Rue de la Bûcherie. Click here for a Google Pin!
Top tips for visiting
- Visit early morning – there are usually long lines throughout the day so I would get here early if you didn’t want to queue for too long.
- Don’t bring large bags – they won’t let you in with large backpacks or suitcases.
- The ground floor is accessible – you can access the ground floors of the original bookstore, the antiquarian bookstore and the café with a wheelchair.
- Watch out for pickpockets – there were lots of signs from the café/bookshop for ‘dreamers’ to watch their things. It’s an easy target for thieves as it’s packed full of tourists.
- You can’t take photos inside – they have strict rules on photography inside the bookstore and there are signs everywhere that you shouldn’t take photos. The outside is fine though.
- The antiquarian bookstore is not a shortcut – many people think they can cut the line by entering the antiquarian bookshop next door. However, there’s no way inside from there and you’ll only end up having to join the back of the line again.
Looking for more things to do in Île de la Cité?
Shakespeare and Company Bookshop is in the Île de la Cité area of Paris or the Latin Quarter. This is the former medieval Palais de la Cité, and there are plenty of attractions to visit nearby.
The most famous is the Notre Dame Cathedral meaning “Our Lady of Paris”. It was established as a religious temple in the 4th century but the building we see today was constructed in the 12th century.
It’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture.
If you wanted to visit another famous English-language bookstore then I would head over to The Abbey Bookshop. It’s nearby on Rue de la Parcheminerie.
Another church worth visiting is Saint-Chapelle or the Jewel-Box church. It’s a gothic medieval chapel with 1,113 colourful stained glass windows that represent scenes from the Old and New Testament.
After you can explore the Palace of Justice and the Conciergerie. This was a medieval royal palace that became a prison during the French Revolution and where Marie-Antoinette was held awaiting trial.
Lastly, I would recommend a stroll around Jardin de Luxembourg. It was constructed by Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry IV after Luxembourg Palace became her new residence.
A highlight would be the Medici Fountain built in 1630. It’s exquisite and a bit of a hidden gem but was a marvel for its time as it provided free-flowing water to the district.