The 8 Absolute Best Bookstores in Washington, DC

Washington, DC, is one of the most literate cities in North America. So is the area around it, nicknamed the DMV, for DC, Maryland, and Virginia. If you’re in town, you must stop and visit the best bookstores in DC. The area has some of the best independent bookshops in the United States.

Whether you live here or are visiting, you can spend a day doing bookshop tourism: going from bookshop to bookshop and browsing the shelves, looking for your favorite author or a surprise hidden gem published by an indie press. And then stop by some historical restaurants in DC after all is said and done with your new reads in tow.

man looking through a book
There’s an abundance of fantastic bookstores in DC. Photo credit: PickPik

The best bookshops in DC (no pun intended)

Bold Fork Books

If you like to read about food almost as much as you love eating, stick your fork into Bold Fork Books, located in Mount Pleasant.

At Bold Fork, you can tuck into books on food history, food prose, anthologies of great food writing, and anything else in print on the glory of cooking and eating. There’s also, of course, a large section dedicated to cookbooks.

If you need a new copy of Julia Child’s The Joy of Cooking, or really need step-by-step recipes for the joys of, say, early-20th-century Midwestern cooking (and really, who doesn’t?), this is the place.

In addition to all that, the shop offers a packed schedule of events—everything from author readings to even offering four-week food writing classes. 

Cooking Bookshop in DC
We love a great cookbook. Photo credit: RDNE Stock Project

Busboys and Poets

The name Busboys & Poets is a reference to Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at a DC hotel before going on to become a legendary poet. There are three of these progressive bookstores in DC, but try to visit the flagship shop at 14th and V Streets in northwestern DC.

There are shelves and shelves of books to browse. But this is not any ordinary Langston Hughes-referencing bookshop. Busboys & Poets has actual busboys (and some of them yearn to be poets).

After leafing through books (and maybe buying one) you can start reading while grazing on a crab cake sandwich, shrimp and grits, or fried chicken. You can also bring your vegan friends here as the menu is loaded with plant-based options.

Reading books in a sofa
What could be better than an afternoon of eating and reading? Photo credit: Cottonbro studio

Capitol Hill Books

Since 1991, Capitol Hill Books has been one of the go-to bookstores in DC for used books. Located directly across from the bustling Eastern Market and two blocks from the Eastern Market metro station. Capitol Hill has many categories of books—so much so they have individual rooms dedicated to fiction and mystery, and “closets” for other categories like business, food, travel, etc.

Make sure you check out the “weird” section to find a curious page turner. 

Used books in Washington DC
The joy of going to a second-hand bookshop is to get lost in the shelves and find something extraordinary. Photo credit: John Michael Thomson


If all that book shopping builds up an appetite, Kramers has an in-house eatery, serving up breakfast and lunch, including avocado toast, burgers, pasta dishes, and even cocktails. 

Located in Dupont Circle, Kramers has been selling the printed word since the beginning of 1976. Here you can browse the front tables displaying the latest new releases, or consider reading (or re-reading) some of the classics.

Bookshop in DC
Eat, drink, read. Kramers makes every moment of the day special. Photo credit: Hümâ H. Yardım

The Lantern

If you’re a sucker for rare books, point yourself to The Lantern, one of the best bookstores in DC, located in Georgetown. This all-used bookshop has shelves and shelves of historic tomes. Here you can find out-of-print history, travel, philosophy books, and first editions of novels.

The Lantern also sells vinyl, particularly classical and opera. Plus if you’re a collector of historic maps, this is the place to navigate yourself to.

While you’re in Georgetown, we encourage you to check out the Potomac River Cruise and Georgetown Walking Tour to really get a sense of one of DC’s oldest neighborhoods and its stories.

People looking at a bookshelf
Find rare books and vynils in these bookstores. Photo credit: Cottonbro studio

Mahogany Books

This Black-owned bookstore is a true find. Located just across the Anacostia River from the Navy Yard, Mahogany Books sells books written by or for the African diaspora. The shop is stocked with various genres. They also do a full lineup of events with well-known and up-and-coming authors. 

Couple in a bookstore in DC
Explore African literature, discover different genres, attend to interesting events. Photo credit: Yaroslav Shuraev

Politics and Prose

Perhaps the most well known of the bookstores in DC, Politics and Prose has three locations around the city—in Union Market, at the Wharf, and the original, 40-year-old location on Connecticut Avenue NW.

Be sure to check the calendar, as the bookstore has a loaded schedule of events. Nearly every day there are author talks and readings, some of whom are the biggest names in the literary world today. 

Bookstores in DC, Politics and Prose
You’ll be able to attend events at Politics and Prose almost every day. Photo credit: Politics and Prose

Second Story Books

Located in Dupont Circle, Second Story Books is one of the largest shops for used books in the United States. There are seemingly miles of aisles flanked by tall bookshelves where you can uncover tomes from decades and centuries past.

Second Story also has a large collection of out-of-print and rare books, including a room solely dedicated to hard-to-find books. 

used book store
Forget time and walk through endless aisles of used books. Photo credit: Ánh Đặng
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About the author

David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes at and

More by David Farley

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