9 best notebooks for ideas, to-do lists and journaling

·8-min read
A shiny-new notepad is a symbol of potential, of beginnings, or promises and pledges (iStock/The Independent)
A shiny-new notepad is a symbol of potential, of beginnings, or promises and pledges (iStock/The Independent)

With an increasing amount of our lives being lived online and made easier via smartphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking that notebooks are obsolete – quaint objects that belong to yesteryear.

But the truth is that the power of putting pen to paper – literally – and writing down anything from lists and memos to journals and grand ideas is still hugely popular and important for so many of us.

Studies show that it’s relaxing and therapeutic to write ideas down on paper. When making lists or intentions, you’re more likely to achieve them if you jot them down.

Aside from all this, a brand-new notebook – all clean and unblemished – holds so much promise, and the mere look of it is a sheer delight for stationery aficionados (guilty).

In this round-up, we wanted to explore the best notebooks on the market – those that were lovely to look at, easy to use and of beautiful quality.

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How we tested

The most important thing was quality, so we needed to be sure that each notebook was well made. The paper needed to be, if not thick, then strong, so that it didn’t tear easily or allow ink to bleed through onto the following pages. We also looked at the binding and cover – was it sturdy and durable?

Each notebook was put through its paces where the physical act of writing was concerned – after all, there’s little point of a notebook in which it’s impossible to write. With that in mind, we always welcomed books that had a lie-flat spine.

We wanted to see, where possible, a commitment to the environment, too, and were pleased to include products that used recycled paper or other green materials. It was also important that we tested a range of notebooks to suit all budgets.

The best notebooks for 2022 are:

  • Best for creative types – Hoxton a notebook for bad ideas: £15, Hoxtonminipress.com

  • Best luxury buy – Smythson Panama notebook: £50, Smythson.com

  • Best for journaling – Papier good things take time: £23, Papier.com

  • Best eco-friendly buy – Elvis & Kresse firehose-bound notebook: £60, Buymeonce.com

  • Best gift – Noble Macmillan clever clogs journal: £30, Noblemacmillan.com

  • Best lie-flat design – Moleskine Pinocchio notebook: £23.99, Moleskine.com

  • Best set – Prezzybox floral initial notebook set: £14.99, Prezzybox.com

  • Best budget buy – Ryman personalised initials and name notebook: £9.99, Ryman.co.uk

Hoxton Mini Press a notebook for bad ideas

Best: For creative types

Rating: 10/10

Touted as the “perfect notebook in which to risk imperfection”, this hardback number (20 x 14cm) is designed for creative liberation. It gives permission to write whatever you like, no matter how typo-ridden, clichéd or illegible. This is the domain of bad first drafts and woolly thinking – and we are absolutely here for it because these, of course, are the seedlings of every brilliant idea.

The notebook, available in red or grey, lies flat and is therefore super comfortable when writing. There are 160 pages of acid-free ivory paper – lined or plain – and it’s a beautiful place to make brilliant mistakes.

Buy now £15.00, Hoxtonminipress.com

Smythson Panama notebook

Best: Luxury buy

Rating: 9/10

From the moment this beauty arrives, all wrapped up in exquisite packaging complete with navy-blue bow, you’ll see it’s a premium product, with a price tag to match. Inside, you’ll find the notebook nestled within tissue paper and your life is rendered 100 per cent more chic. You can also have it embossed in gold – another little luxury that will seem essential after using this!

But putting frills aside – including the softest leather cover and the gilded paper edges – this is a great notebook, practically speaking. It’s small (14 x 9cm), so you’re not going to be writing draft essays in here, but it fits perfectly into inside pockets or handbags. The paper is feather light, yet curiously durable and is a dream to write on. We recommend dusting off your fountain pen for a truly deluxe experience.

Buy now £50.00, Smythson.com

Papier good things take time

Best: For journaling

Rating: 9/10

From Papier’s newest range, this is as bright and cheerful as you could expect from the cult stationer. We love the message on the front – always a comfort for anyone who works slowly – and, of course, that it’s personalised.

This is a sturdy, hardback tome (21.5 x 15.cm), although there is an option to choose a softback. Inside, you’ll find 96 pages of FSC-certified 85gsm paper, which is excellent quality and a joy to write on with any pen or pencil. We opted for lined paper, but plain or dot grid is also available.

This notebook is slightly wider than other options on the market, which means you get lots of words in per page – perfect for journaling!

Buy now £23.00, Papier.com

Elvis & Kresse firehose-bound notebook

Best: Eco-friendly buy

Rating: 9/10

As the name suggests, this really is a notebook bound by decommissioned fire hoses salvaged from British fire brigades. We love this ingenious idea by Elvis & Kresse – a company that rescues all sorts of materials from landfill before turning them into something unique, useful and long-lasting.

The handmade cover of this notebook (22 x 16.5cm) is tough, waterproof and durable. It comes with 98 plain pages which, when all used up, can be easily replaced by any A5 pad.

It might seem expensive, but when you consider that the company offers repairs for life on all of its products, no matter what happens to them, as well as donating 50 per cent of its profits to charities – you’re getting a lot of green credentials for your dosh.

This notebook really is a truly unique item – we’ve never seen anything like it before. Who’d have thought old hoses could be rendered so chic, cool and charming?

Buy now £60.00, Buymeonce.com

Noble Macmillan clever clogs journal

Best: Gift

Rating: 9/10

We were immediately delighted by this notepad (15.4 x 10.5cm) – bound with gorgeous scarlet leather and embossed with a cheeky greeting. This is a great gift, either for yourself as a daily aphorism or for a loved one who is nailing it (especially as it can be personalised) – and Noble Macmillan always packages its products beautifully.

Inside, there are 100 thick, unlined pages full of potential. The paper itself is a pale-cream shade and has a smooth finish, allowing any pen or pencil to glide easily across.

Buy now £30.00, Noblemacmillan.com

Moleskine Pinocchio notebook

Best: Lie-flat design

Rating: 9/10

When it comes to stationery, Moleskine has long been synonymous with excellence, and this limited-edition notebook (21 x 13cm) is no exception. It’s also available in four different colourways, each with a Pinocchio themed embossed cover illustration. With stickers and a cute story card, this notebook comes with a heavy hit of nostalgia for bookworms.

The inside is full of ruled ivory, FSC-certified, acid-free paper of a 70 g/m² – super luxurious and eco-conscious in other words. It feels gorgeous to write on – biros, pencils and fountain pens glide smoothly across the page. Not only this, but the spine lies at a completely flat 180 degrees, so you won’t have to wrestle with the covers to write.

There are all the little details you might expect from Moleskine, including a bookmark ribbon, an elastic closure and expandable inner pocket for receipts and the like. It’s these little things that make a notepad a keeper.

Buy now £23.99, Moleskine.com

Prezzybox floral initial notebook set

Best: Set

Rating: 7/10

This notebook ( comes complete with a slim, silver ballpoint pen, making it a super cute set – ideal for anyone who can never seem to find a pen. As well as being personalised with an initial, there’s also the option to have a vivid-orange background for the cover. We were really impressed by the quality of the lined paper within, too – it felt absorbent without allowing ink to bleed and seemed really substantial and strong.

Buy now £14.99, Prezzybox.com

Ryman personalised notebook

Best: Budget buy

Rating: 7/10

This personalised softcover notebook (21.5 x13.5cm) is an absolute steal at under £10. It’s smart, well-made and understated, despite the silver foil-lettering. Aside from the 96 pages of 70gsm ivory ruled papers, there are lots of helpful features included, such as an elastic closure, ribbon bookmark and an expandable inner pocket. We thought this was brilliant value for money – no one would ever believe how inexpensive it is.

Buy now £9.99, Ryman.co.uk

The verdict: Notebooks

The notebook for bad ideas comes out on top because of its charm, low price point, beautiful design and – most of all – for its ethos. For all-out luxury, you can’t ever beat Smythson, while Elvis & Kresse’s reusable firehose cover gets major kudos for being both eco-friendly and completely original.

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