Buying books in English in Amsterdam

Waterstone’s bookshop in Amsterdam

Water, water everywhere, and plenty of paperbacks too.  Amsterdam may not be renowned for its literature but that won’t stop you from filling your boots with books when you are here.  Whether you’re visiting or living here already, we hope to provide you with a not-so-comprehensive but useful treasure island map of Amsterdam bookshops selling books in English.

Fortunately for me, I know for a fact that if you are looking for a gift – in the form of an English text, from classics to ‘hot off the press’ releases, literary and non-literary – you won’t make any mistakes heading to either The American Book Center (Spui 12), the New English Bookstore or Waterstones, both on Kalverstraat.  All within a stone’s throw of one another, if (like my partner) you are picking up a pressie for a book lover in a hurry these are the best places to go.  Not only do they have a wide selection and well-stocked, organised shelves of shiny new covers, their staff are also clued up and confident at making very good suggestions. Trust me; I’m yet to be disappointed!

If  time allows, you might like to check out the Poetry at Waterstones evenings.  Hosted by their very own dedicated and enthusiastic staff, namely ‘Tim Butler-Books’ (you’ll have to go along or look him up on Facebook to find out if that is his real name), each event explores the extended works and life of famous poets.  So far this year they have worshipped texts by Larkin, Yeats, Plath and Wilfred Owen.  Described by fans as a “gateway into poetry”, make sure you sign up to the Facebook page @poetrywaterstones for Tim’s regular and often humorous updates… which may or may not include a cat.

Maybe you’re a bit of a book browser?  Like me perhaps you enjoy wandering amongst the rows of relics, guilt-free and exploring potential reads?  Even better if they are at a reduced price!  If so, pop into the English Book Exchange at Kloveniersbergwal 58, or the Oudemanhuispoort book market.  It has been dealing since the 19th century: home to a plethora of second-hand book dealers, you can splendor at the 17th century location while you browse the ever changing selection on show.  A word of warning, you’ll probably need to take a spare empty bag or pannier… it’s very hard to resist the 3 for €10 offer.

Alternatively make your way to Schetelma: one of the oldest book stores in Amsterdam, it has been providing choice print since 1853.  Modernized somewhat, you can now find a few English titles, enjoy a break in its very well regarded coffee house and find out more about how it is home to creative groups.  It is so popular they have events around the city: such as the Scheltema op de Uitmarkt 2019 (holding fast to their traditional roots, you might be hard pushed to find one in English just yet!).

If you are combining book buying with a cycle around the citys suburbs then you might find yourself near the lesser known but highly rated Van Rossum bookstore in the Zuid (South) or to the Oost (East) passing Gebroeders Winter which has a small but popular selection of English.

Perhaps you want to take a stand and keep your pennies away from the profiteers!  Other than setting up your own free English book swap close to home (this is a very popular Dutch hobby – you’ll find loaded book shelves with free books, usually on a side street), head to the infamous Het Fort van Sjakoo. Originally a squatters’ haven, it is now a non-profit bookstore and, since 1970, cultural centre. As you’d expect, texts are focused on left-leaning literature, topics include Marxism, anarchism and feminism. The buildings in the Nieuwmarket area, where this is housed, were occupied to save the neighborhood against demolishing plans.  What was the Government thinking?  I am sure you’ll agree after you visit we should be grateful not only for the literature – of which there is an ample (niche) choice (and used books at the back) – but also for saving the historical buildings.  If you were worried, don’t: this area is now legal! 

Maybe you are not a big a big reader and fancy something else?  Make a special trip to Snoek Strips – they have a wide range of comic strips, including English titles, and rave reviews.  Suitable for kids and the big kid in us all.   Rose Fawbert Mills   July 2019