Yesterday we ventured over to the other side and town and went to our first event at the Jaarbeurs convention center: the boekenfestijn (book festival). This is a travelling book sale that sets up in cities all over the Netherlands, as well as Belgium. It runs for three or four days in each city, before packing up and moving on. It’s not fancy, just row after row of books. Pretty close to heaven for a bibliophile like myself! Even better, the books are generally fairly inexpensive.
I knew they would have English-language books on hand, but was pleasantly surprised at just how many. On the other hand, overhearing some of the Dutch people there made me think they weren’t so pleased. However, there were other sections that were predominantly Dutch; I think they just hadn’t worked their way over there yet. In the end, we bought five or six books for about €20, and could have easily bought more if we hadn’t limited ourselves to that budget. There were some interesting cookbooks, but they were a bit pricier, as cookbooks inevitably are, so I resisted. Good practice for the diet I’m on anyway. I didn’t need that big book full of chocolate recipes.
If you’re in Utrecht and looking for a stable source of inexpensive books in English, I recommend Antiquariaat, located at Voorstraat 55, a short walk from the Neude. This used-books store has a regularly changing supply of English-language books that take up the front left corner of the store. They also frequently have special discounts where you get a third book for half price, or a discount on books displayed on the shelf outside. They’ll almost always tell you if there’s a discount, without you having to ask.
It’s a friendly shop and it looks like they have some more interesting — and probably more expensive — used (rare) books in the back. When we were in last week, we ended up chatting with the owner who had just finished speaking with a rare-books collector who deals in some lofty price ranges! On the other hand, the owner of the store also buys regular paperbacks to sell to those of us with shallower pockets. If you have any books to sell to him, the best time to go is Tuesday afternoon. He’s most likely to be in the shop then. [Edited to add it is now closed]
There are a few other spots I go to for my book needs here in Utrecht. On Saturdays at the outdoor market over at Vredenburg, there’s a stall that sells used books. They also tend to have a section devoted to English-language books, as well as some in French and German. Of course, if you want something newly released, you can always go to Selexyz Broese over on the Oudegracht across from the Stadhuis. The library is conveniently — and amusingly — located next door.
Bruna has both online and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s a Bruna in the train station that comes in handy with magazines and books (in Dutch and English) for those times when you realize you might need something to read to pass the time.
Finally, Bol.com is an online shopping option, similar to Amazon before it started selling everything and the kitchen sink. They’ve got books in multiple languages, both new and used, as well as music, games and various electronics.
[Edited to add that there is now an Amazon.nl that is almost solely books right now. 12/2016]
If you’re in Utrecht and looking for some book shops, I hope this helps. If you know of any other good sources of English-language books here in the city center, do please let me know.
[20 April 2013: See my updated list of bookstores here.]