The Boston Indie Bookstore Travel Guide

A few months ago, we took a look at what the self-proclaimed ‘greatest city in the world’ has to offer in terms of book culture. Now, like many New Yorkers, we decided it was time to take a break off, so we took a drive up the I-90 and arrived in Boston, the one-time home of authors Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and (allegedly) Mother Goose). After deliberation and feedback from our readers, we’ve picked five independently-run bookstores in the greater Boston area we think you’d be remiss not to check out during your trip. What’s more, we’re showing you the easiest route to get around (by car) to each, if you want to make a day of it!

Brookline Booksmith

Courtesy of Brookline Booksmith

Now in its 55th year, Brookline Booksmith is fueling its long run on its understated charm and hometown pride. Seated on the outskirts of Boston in the sweet suburb of Coolidge Corner, the shop was one of the earliest to embrace paperbacks as serious literature, not just meant for naughty books and writings of political radicals (although they do still stock those). Like most laudable local outlets, they boast a host of handcrafted local products from jewelry to wood work, but the main draw for most is the 25,000 volume-strong used book cellar. It’s also a go to stop for many notable authors on tour – coming up soon are visits from Jonathan Safran Foer, Mary Karr, and Patti Smith. Brookline Booksmith is a great first stop on your Beantown book tour.

Location: 279 Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner, Brookline


New England Mobile Book Fair

Courtesy of Best Friend Blog

Don’t be misled by the name; there’s no chasing after the founder’s car to buy books during the company’s fledgling years. However, still expect to get a decent leg workout: the New England Mobile Book fair is the largest independent book store in New England, running the length of almost three football fields. It’s no remarkable beauty on the outside, but the inside is a veritable labyrinth of more than 1 million books. It’s an unassumingly perfect square of “organized chaos” (which, if that’s what you like in your novels, they likely have).

Location – 82 Needham Street in Newton Highlands, Newton


Harvard Book Store

Courtesy of AnteDiluvian / Flickr

If you’re a follower of independent bookstores, you’re probably well-aware of this one by now. Much like Powell’s in Portland, Or., Harvard Book Store is an enduring symbol of how adaptive and passionate local stores can make a wider name for themselves. It’s a local landmark because of their intellectual approach to engaging both the academic and local shoppers. Also – no surprise here – the space is beautiful and filled with plenty of nooks and hideaways for you to read. Though it’s been around since 1932, HBS is keeping up with the new: They recently installed an Espresso book machine, where you can print any of the 3.6 million out-of-print and public domain books from Googles database in-store.

Location – 1256 Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square, Cambridge


Trident Bookseller’s and Café

Courtesy of The Manual

Trident is one of Boston’s hipster bastions, for better or for worse. If you’re not a card-carrying book nerd, you’ve still got plenty of other reasons to walk through the door, first of which is their impressive menu that features a build-your-own omelet breakfast to a New England-centric craft beer list (though we personally advise you to do one before the other). Among their bells-and-whistles is a wide-reaching magazine section, trivia night on Fridays, and open spaces accommodating to book groups (so you can flaunt your intellectual pedigree for all to see). 

Location: 338 Newbury Street, Boston


Papercuts J.P.

Courtesy of 333Sound

Though this tough-and-tiny bookstore can only claim to be about 500 square feet, it makes up for the lack of space in the vibrancy it creates inside. Transcending the traditional author/illustrator readings and conversations, Papercuts has been known to feature live music, open mics, and even a spelling bee. The selection itself also seems to have a voice all its own, stocking books mainstream stores would overlook (such as local authors and works penned by kids in the local 826 Boston writing center). As Boston Magazine put it, “Browsing in this shop feels less like shopping and more like snooping though a stylish friend’s library.”

Location: 5 Green Street in Jamaica Plain, Boston

Don’t know where to begin? Not to worry! We’ve loaded the locations into Google Maps to help you navigate the most streamlined, all-in-one trip!

What do you think of these indies? Which city’s book scene do you think we should spotlight next? Let us know in the comments and messages!


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