Constance M, A Well-Read Wanderer
3 Must-Visit Indie Bookstores in Boston, Massachusetts
Updated: May 2
You probably don't know this about me yet, but I did my Master's degree at Tufts University in Boston, MA. It was a blended learning program, so I split my time between wherever I was living at the time and extended trips to Boston every few months. All this to say that doing my master's there was an amazing excuse to visit one of my favorite cities in the US on a regular basis.
So, after classes were finished for the day, what on earth could a wanderlusting bookworm such as myself do to fill up her afternoons and evenings?
One of my favorite ways to explore any city is by finding cool indie bookstores to get lost in. So after my many, many visits, here is my list of the top three indie bookstores in Boston that you absolutely cannot miss on your next visit. Boston is such an incredible city to visit, and its indie bookstores are up there with the best things to do and see.
3. Commonwealth Books
Location: 9 Spring Lane, Downtown Crossing
Commonwealth Books is a well-known, tucked away little bookstore on one of Boston's oldest streets. It's right along the Freedom Trail right near the Old South Meeting House, so it's easy to pop in while doing a self-guided walk of the trail. The store is also easy walking distance from any of the 4 main metro lines, so really there's no excuse not to check them out!
The store specializes in antiquarian and out-of-print books, so you're sure to find something interesting. In addition to books, there are loads of antique prints, engravings, and maps to browse through. All in all, it's just a fun store to lose yourself in for a couple hours.
Commonwealth Books is open 7 days a week and only closes on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving, so pop by any time. Odds are, they're open.
They are currently still open during COVID, but it's always a good idea to double check any business's website before making a special trip there.
To get here: Easily accessed from just about any line in Boston, get off at Downtown Crossing, Park Street, or Government Center and walk about 5 minutes. Or, pop in while you're doing your Freedom Trail walk.
2. Brookline Booksmith
Location: 279 Harvard St. in Brookline
Brookline Booksmith is a shop I wish I'd found earlier in my long line of Boston visits, because it's an absolute treat. And I'm not the only one who thinks so, as it consistently ranks in various newspapers' Boston Favorites contests.
It's got a cool history, too. This shop started in 1961 as Paperback Booksmith, a store among the first to advocate for "serious literature" to be published in paperback (it used to be a publishing form only for "trashy" lit). It also claims to be one of the first stores to categorize books by subject. You can read more about the store's fun history here.
Much larger and with more room to move around than the other bookstores on this list (and most bookstores, honestly), they have really embraced selling not only books but bookish merchandise and bookish culture. You can find all sorts of novelty items here, from novelty books to socks to tea towels. And it's all beautifully and cleverly curated in a way that will make you say "take all my money! I need it all!"
The main floor is full of new books and the aforementioned novelty items, and while they don't specialize in antiquarian books like the other stores on this list, you can head down to the basement for their selection of second-hand books.
It's family-owned and locally run, and all in all a delight of a business to frequent. It's right in the midst of the abundant green spaces, beautiful homes, and cute small businesses that characterize the Brooline neighborhood.
If you aren't planning to find yourself in Boston in the near future but still want to support this really cool indie bookstore, you can select this bookstore to receive the profit from your Bookshop.org purchase!
Search for a book to purchase here:
To get here: Take the green line and get off at Allston St or Fenway Station, and enjoy a one-mile stroll through a charming neighborhood on your way here.
1. Brattle Book Shop
Location: 9 West St., Downtown Boston
This is the bookstore I come back to again and again every time I'm in Boston without fail. Also without fail, I end up spending hours and not a few spare dollars here, and I just can't rave about it enough.
Located just North of Central Boston and just a few blocks away from Boston Commons, it's actually one of the oldest bookstores in the country. Dating back to 1825, the current location features three full floors of books plus an alley nextdoor that's full of bargain books (or in other words, heaven).
That alley is one of the coolest parts of this store. During open hours, if the weather is right, they roll out cart after cart of sale-priced books to browse (priced anywhere from $2-$8). To add to the aesthetic pleasure of seeing that many books (and on sale!), the brick wall above it is painted with the faces of famous authors, and the lockers that encase books along the side are painted as bookshelves. It's a very Instagrammable spot, if that's your kind of thing. Any time I turn the corner onto West street, I get giddy just seeing it in all its pretty bookishness.
I didn't know this until I was researching for this post, but the outdoor booklot is actually the former site of the store before it burned down. The owners continued to sell books in the empty lot until they could raise the funds to take over the storefront nextdoor. Now, it's become an inseparable appendage to the main shop. That kind of history and resiliency just makes my favorite Boston bookstore all the more dear to me.
Once you get inside the store (and if the book carts are out, just getting to that point might take you hours!), the shelves inside Brattle are packed many layers deep, with new, used, and antique books all mixed together so you never know what treasures you'll find while you browse. You can find the really valuable antique books on the top floor in the special collections room.
Brattle Bookshop is a wonderful place to get lost in. And best of all, the book prices are incredibly reasonable! Any trip to Boston, I always under-pack my suitcase, just to leave room for the books I'll find in this beautiful store.
After you've loaded up on books here, I recommend popping in to The Thinking Cup for a cup of tea, coffee, or hot cocoa while you dive into your new reads.
To get here: Brattle Books is very easily accessed, just a couple blocks away from Boston Commons and a couple blocks away from Commonwealth Books. You can take virtually any line to get here, getting off at Park St, Downtown Crossing, or Government Center.
However, even in the worst of weather, this part of Boston is really best enjoyed by walking. Stroll through the Boston Commons and then head into historic downtown, checking out the mix of historic and new buildings, historic cemeteries, yummy eateries, and of course, incredible bookshops.
Let me know, what are your favorite Boston bookstores? Did I miss any that you love?
Pin this now to reference when planning your next Boston trip.