For those traveling to or through London (unlike people such as fellow blogger Steve, lucky enough to live nearby), there is one bookstore you must visit. Before you hunt down the recently purchased John Donne painting in the National Portrait Gallery, or dubiously buy tickets for The Lord of the Rings musical, or drag your weary feet to Buckingham Palace, every dedicated traveler needs to search out Stanfords. It is, in a word, travel gluttony.
With 3 stories packed with possibly the largest collection of travel guides, travel literature, maps, gear, and travel-related kids’ toys anywhere, Stanfords has catered to some of the world’s most famous travelers (and hundreds of thousands of nobodies like me) since 1901. It’s not just books, not just a place to browse. It’s for map junkies, too, people driving across Europe or trekking through Nepal. The massive map table and specialists allow you to choose Ordnance Survey maps from anywhere in the world, or make your own, to scale. If, like me, you love to hike, this is the place to figure out where you’re going.
If I sound like I’m writing an advertisement, I apologize. But sitting in the sticks in upstate New York, Stanfords calls to me every time I feel like a travel-porn fix. No more scouring that sad little section in Barnes & Noble for an insightful memoir about Labrador — Stanfords has everything you could want out of a travel bookstore. I had exactly 10 hours in London in July, and there was only one place I cared to go. “The new Colin Thubron,” I asked the Polish clerk. She hadn’t heard of him, which was sad, but the woman behind me had, and when I said he was my favorite travel writer, she nodded. “And he’s such a nice man,” she said. “I know him.” Ah, Stanfords. Home. I enter it, and my mouth starts to water. And I’ve never even eaten in the cafe.