If you’ve traveled around much in countries where English isn’t the primary language, you know that finding a good English-language bookstore can be difficult if not impossible. So you may be happy to know that Amsterdam isn’t one of those places. There are two large and excellent English-language bookstores, plus a famous weekly book market that is right in the heart of the city center. There are several other smaller bookstores in Amsterdam that specialize in English books, so you’ve got quite a few choices.
Amsterdam Boekenmarkt (Book Market)
Held for 8 full hours every Friday of the year, the outdoor Amsterdam Book Market is so conveniently located that it’s very likely that you’ll accidentally wander through it whether you are interested in it or not. Here you’ll find 20 to 30 stalls, each run by a regular participant who might come from a long distance away in order to run their book-selling business in public. There are many art books and even prints on sale, so it’s an entertaining browse even if you have no intention of buying a book.
Most of the vendors here are book collectors and dealers, so this isn’t quite like a flea market where popular books at low prices are on blankets everywhere. There are definitely some cheap books mixed in, but also a huge variety of rare and out of print books, often at prices that seem shockingly high. So if you fancy yourself a book collector, this is a must-stop, but if you are looking for a cheap paperback you might instead try the Waterlooplein flea market, which is only a short walk away.
What you’ll find
As mentioned above, most of the sellers are book collectors and dealers, so the majority of the books have some kind of value aside from just the text on the page. Most books are in Dutch, but you’ll also find plenty of English language books at many stalls, so it’s just a matter of looking around. There are plenty of coffee table-style books and art books in addition to novels and classic non-fiction, but you won’t find much in the way of travel guides in case that’s what you are after.
The outdoor book market is located in a large open plaza called the Spui, which is actually pronounced “spow” (rhymes with cow), but locals are used to English speakers calling it SPOO-ee anyway.
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Hours: 10am to 6pm every Friday, rain or shine
American Book Center
Conveniently overlooking the Spui plaza, where the outdoor book market is held, is the new location of Amsterdam’s famous American Book Center. It’s a huge multi-level store that used to be located around the corner on Kalverstraat, and it’s a big part of the social scene for English speaking expats in Amsterdam. There’s nothing too special about it really, but it’s large with a great selection of new books, all in English, and you can find just about anything you might be looking for, including a huge supply of travel books.
They have free Wi-Fi, which is rare in Amsterdam, and also a series of readings and other events that are popular with the expat community. If you are American you might be shocked at the book prices here, though they are the same in most of Europe, so this isn’t really a place to get a bargain, but it is a great place to get your next Lonely Planet if that’s what you have in mind.
Location: Spui 12 – If you are walking toward the large Spui plaza from the city center, just look to your right and you can’t miss it.
Hours: Open 10am until 8pm most days, and 11am until 6:30pm on Sundays
Waterstones – The English Bookshop
This British chain is new to Amsterdam, and they’ve arrived in style with a huge 4-level bookstore that is jammed with everything you would expect to find at a similar store in London. They’ve also got all the most popular magazines, so this is a good place to look for light reading for your next train ride. They’ve also got a huge selection of travel guidebooks so if you don’t find what you want at the American Book Center, you’ll probably find it here.
Location: Kalverstraat 152, on the corner of Spui, so this place is also overlooking the outdoor book market and across from the American Book Center.
Hours: 9:30am to 6:30pm most days
New English Bookstore
There’s another small bookstore that specializes mostly in discount books along Kalverstraat 223, so if you’ve got time and you are hunting for a bargain this might be a good place to look. The selection is much smaller than the others mentioned above, but at least it’s just a couple blocks away, down Kalverstraat toward Centraal Station.