The Magic of Boekenmarkt

By Romana Petkovska | Magazine | October 4, 2022

Cover Illustration: Boekenmarkt. Christina Kordes/The Amsterdammer

Magazine reporter Romana Petkovska delves into the magical world of second-hand books, highlighting the charm and enchantment of Amsterdam’s Boekenmarkt. 

Photocards at Boekenmarkt. Christina Kordes/The Amsterdammer

Boekenmarkt is a market specialising in selling books located on Het Spui, a small street in the heart of Amsterdam that is a home for book lovers. But apart from Boekenmarkt, which is held every Friday between 10 a.m and 6 p.m, there are also literary cafes and two bigger bookshops that most people know very well – American Book Center and Waterstone’s. Boekenmarkt itself consists of stalls where one can find both rare and regular books, as well as old postcards, vinyl records, and so on. It is a small space full of energy that grasps you wholly into itself, with its smell of old books, view of tables full of art, and people with the same passion who are either just ordinary people or keepers of books, also called booksellers or owners of antiquarians (for example, Fenix Books).

Being a student and expanding your book collection at the same time can be tough. As far as any student’s financial situation goes, it is easier to buy books from antiquarians or second-hand bookshops. When I first came to Het Spui to buy a book, looking to make myself at least temporarily happy, it was not a Friday, so I went to the ABC bookstore and checked through all those opportunities to read. I found just a few books that interested me, but they were mostly mainstream stories that everyone discusses on Goodreads. They were expensive, too. To be fair, and to highlight a special corner of the ABC, they also have second-hand books for sale. Maybe you can find something more interesting there, even though it’s still not the greatest deal. And after all, sometimes it does not hurt to spend more money on a hobby you love. I went out of the bookshop and tried Waterstone’s, but came out the same way. 

When Friday came, I went to visit Boekenmarkt and left with four books for 12 euros. The thing is that even though both bookstores on Het Spui are beautiful and have a wide range of options, Boekenmarkt has its own special atmosphere and good deals. Yet the thing that strikes me most is that stalls with very cheap second-hand books are organised right in front of a massive bookshop, highlighting American, which has so many mainstream books talked about on the internet every day, as well as being, let’s be honest, overpriced. And then there is the small soul of Boekenmarkt, trying to survive and follow its passion. It almost ironically shows people that you can also buy books that are special, rare, and cost you less – while still fulfilling your needs. Standing in the middle of Boekenmarkt feels indescribable – it is almost like standing in a different world, where the only things you smell are old pages, the only things you hear are those same pages being turned for maybe the thousandth time in their lifetime. The place is history. It fills the space with its atmosphere on every step. On other days of the week, you walk in the street without knowing anything about the market – just an empty street in Amsterdam. It is like a magic trick when one moment shows you the regular world, and another that there is much more to the stories that were written in the past.


A second-hand book at Boekenmarkt. Christina Kordes/The Amsterdammer

Romana Petkovska is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

+ posts