Off the mainland and amidst the tourist-filled canals and boat ways of Venice, is one of the more unique bookstores I’ve ever come across. So much of Venice is a crowded tourist filled din – albeit a beautiful one with gelato – that it’s nice to get off the street and find a quiet area for an hour. There’s no better place than the Libreria Acqua Alta, a name that translates to something like “the high water library” as far as I could tell – though Italians and language learners alike may wince at my attempt. The name feels appropriate for the bookstore, however, because it opens up on the canal and is filled with both books, bathtubs, and boat. Actually, the books are in the bathtubs and boats more often than not, which forces one to sometimes dig (literally!) for a good book.
This shop can be found amidst a number of other bookstores, near the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo , an art gallery, and the Biennale Gardens near the tip of the island. The bookstore is just a bit west of the gardens, but manages to be slightly outside of the busy tourist center of San Marco. While obviously worth visiting, the crush of people can be exhausting, and this is a great break for anyone of a literary bent and a little extra room in their bag.
What the shop can’t claim in organization, it makes up for with style and artsy wares, as well as a wide collection of different types of distinctive old books. Some are in English, some are in German, but most are in Italian. If you want a copy of the new Dan Brown novel, this is probably not your best bet, but if you look around you’re likely to find something truly unique or worthy of comment, and the price for many of the books is quite reasonable, although not always clearly marked. The shop also sells pieces of art, making it a good place to look for souvenirs, although the price of these is slightly steeper.
While crowded with books, the store wasn’t overly tourist filled, at least when we visited, making it reasonable to sit and look through a book near the waterway window. And some of the books are really worth looking through, because many of them are used and vintage, and have funny little notes in Italian in the margins, or are clearly a well worn cookbook with bizarre recipes from 40 years ago. The street outside had other books and souvenirs for sale, and the neighborhood as a whole had a bookish feel, making it easy to pop outside and go next door if you can’t find what you’re looking for at the Libreria Acqua Alta.