I’ve been living in Istanbul for many years and have seen numerous changes and casualties in the bookshop scene over the last decade, with several independents closing their doors for the last time. Some have survived - thanks to specialized literary niches or bookshop/café style shopping experiences that you don't get when shopping from online retailers - and some new ones have opened in the last few years. There are many bookstores in Istanbul, but most are part of large chains or are dedicated to books in Turkish. Below is a list of Istanbul’s independent bookstores that also stock a range of English titles. Many of them are located within walking distance from one another at the literary heart of the city, Beyoglu and also Besiktas and Nisantasi.
I’ll start with my favourite one, and the rest are in alphabetical order.
Minoa Books and Coffee
I think that all booklovers have one favourite bookshop that they are loyal to, and Minoa has been mine since its opening in 2014 because it offers the best overall selection of classic and contemporary fiction in English in Istanbul. Every bookstore on this list stocks a few international bestsellers, books on Istanbul or titles by celebrated Turkish authors in English. If you are in Istanbul and want to read the novels that are long-listed for the MAN Booker Prize in Fiction that year or browse through books that are on the shelves in other independents such as Shakespeare and Company in Paris or even Foyles in London, this well-curated bookshop is the place. The majority of the English titles are located on the ground floor; sci-fi, fantasy and comics are on the lower ground floor; and there is a good range of coffee table books, travel guides, magazines in English and also bric-a-brac on the first floor. There is also a lovely café that is surrounded by books on the ground floor, which ensures that the atmosphere here is buzzing at all times.
Located in Beyoglu, Encore is the bookstore of the publication house that bears the same name. The stock in this left-wing store is mostly comprised of Turkish translations of the works of high-brow philosophers but there is a small section dedicated to English titles that vary from The Communist Manifesto to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. What really stands out is the used book section at the back. Although only a few small shelves’ worth, it offers the best selection of second-hand books in English in Istanbul. Most are in good condition and reasonably priced. As in any used bookstore, titles change irregularly, but I’ve spotted Jean Baudrillard’s Selected Writings, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and even Morrisey’s Autobiography here, which aren’t hard to find if you’re buying new copies, but almost impossible to track down in any other used books section in the city. So if you are interested in buying second-hand books or decide to clear out your bookshelf one day, you now know where to go.
Homer started out as an academic bookshop and specializes in books on ancient greece (hence the name), byzantine history, archaeology and philosophy but has expanded the variety of genres over the years and today it carries contemporary and classic fiction as well. It is a charming bookstore in a tiny three-story building in Beyoglu and looks as if it belongs to a long-gone era of bookselling, before the days of online shopping. It is not Instagrammable, doesn’t have an attractive window display or a café but grabs you as soon as you cross the threshold. Its walls are covered with stacked wooden shelves and there are piles of books, magazines, booklets on display tables and even on the steps of the narrow staircase. Academic books in Turkish and English and are arranged according to genre, not language - which makes browsing much more practical if you speak both languages. When you are looking for academic books or simply prefer a traditional bookstore to the new bookstore/café places, Homer might be the best spot in Istanbul.
Formerly located in Beyoglu, Pandora moved to its present location in Harbiye in 2013. It is a beautifully decorated shop with large windows and offers a wide range of genres for a medium-sized bookshop, which varies from literary fiction to political science. It is the only bookstore in Istanbul that stocks contemporary graphic novels and the works of philosophers like Michelle Foucault or Jacques Derrida and classical literature in English under one roof. The variety, the carefully selected stock and their stimulating presentation make Pandora one of the most inviting bookstores in Istanbul. Despite all this, I think they are very rude towards their clientele, which is why I stopped shopping here a few years ago. Yet, I still go there occasionally, browse through the store for a good 15-20 minutes and then leave without buying anything. I’m sure the shopkeepers hate me. I added Pandora to this list mostly to prevent you from thinking that I missed a spot and also because it still remains very dear to many bookworms in Istanbul.
A bookshop that specializes on coffee table books, Patika may be one of the prettiest stores in Nisantasi - one of Istanbul’s main shopping districts. The variety of coffee table books and their tempting display on floor-to-ceiling shelves and broad tables make Patika as charming as it is. Here you’ll find coffee table books on almost anything - including special edition Taschen books which may not be able to spot anywhere else in Istanbul. Also, its knowledgeable staff are always happy to help if you cannot see a specific book on those tall shelves that are lined with thousands of books. There are only a few titles in popular fiction, best sellers and children’s books in English. I am not a big fan of coffee table books and because the literature section here is limited, I rarely go to Patika but whenever I am looking for a gift or a coffee table book about coffee tables, this is the place I go to.
Robinson Crusoe 389
For any bibliophile living in Istanbul between the years 1994 to 2014, Robinson Crusoe 389, the shop’s original premises at number 389 in Istiklal Caddesi was surely one of the most loved bookshops in the city. It had to move out due to a financial crisis it was going through in 2014 and today it is dispersed over three branches. You’ll find comic books in Gon/Robinson Crusoe 389 , a few titles in English at their branch in Salt Galata, some classics and sci-fi novels in its largest branch in Salt Beyoglu. This branch was closed for renovation since the last few years and reopened recently. Because the other two branches are very small and do not have enough storage space, they stopped ordering English books over this period but are planning to expand the stock soon. Even though its current stock is a bit depleted compared to a few years ago, no list of English bookstores would be complete without this literary institution, still among the finest in Istanbul.
There are a few other independent bookshops in Beyoglu that stock literature in English and other languages that I think are worth mentioning. Denizler Kitabevi sells books printed in 19th and 20th centuries in English and French. Kırmızı Kedi Kitabevi has a small section of popular titles and English translations of Turkish authors. Mephisto has a small section English titles and also stocks books in Arabic and Russian and last but not least, Türk-Alman Kitabevi has an impressive selection of books in German.