For fans of the wizarding world that is Harry Potter, the beautiful bookstore of Livraria Lello likely needs no introduction. Located on the fringes of old town Porto in Northern Portugal, this independent shop is characterised by its wooden panelling bookshelves stacked full of books surrounding a central (and ever so lavish) spiralling staircase. Here’s a quick guide to the history of Livraria Lello, as well as how to visit and tips on when to go!
Address | Livraria Lello & Irmão, R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
A quick history of Livraria Lello
The roots of the bookshop date all the way back to the late 1800s when the brothers José and António Lello founded a business dedicated to all things book related. On the 13th of January 1906, the brothers had opened the Livraria Lello as its known today. In 2016 & 2017, the shop was renovated, ensuring it remains beautiful for generations to come.
Wander in today at any given moment and you’ll soon be greeted by a sumptuous collection of early twentieth century Neo-Gothic architecture, stained glass skylight, plush red carpets, stand-alone glass display cabinets, and of course, shelf upon shelf of books to purchase.
The façade of Livraria Lello & Irmão is just as beautiful as its interior, with figures representing science and art created by José Bielman. Meanwhile, the interior is set over two floors and is designed by Xavier Esteves. A large stained glass ceiling panel is emblazoned with the store’s motto; vecus in labore (dignity in work).
The ground floor is open plan, while the art-nouveau central staircase means that the upper floor is set over two spaces, with several balconies from which you can peer down below. Of course, you can also expect to find plenty of crowds owing to the popularity of Livraria Lello so be sure to arrive around the opening time so as to queue less and see the store without as many of the people!
The Portuguese Bookshop & the Harry Potter connection
Of course, though the bookstore was struggling financially before the wizarding series, the store rocketed to world fame after it was alleged that the wrought iron central staircase featured as the inspiration for a Harry Potter staircase at Hogwarts. Others suggest that the description for Flourish and Blotts bookshop in the series bears a striking resemblance to Livraria Lello.
After all, JK Rowling frequented the bookshop on a regular basis during her time in Porto. Much like Harry Potter in Edinburgh, Harry Potter in Exeter, and Harry Potter in Paris, it’s said that Rowling was inspired by Porto, and in particular the interior of Livraria Lello during her time residing in the Portuguese city while she worked as an English teacher during the early 1990s.
Things to know before visiting Livraria Lello
Thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of this shop, you often have to queue for a little while (and up to an hour) before even being able to step inside. After all, on a typical day Libraria Lello can see up to 5000 visitors! It’s also worth noting that this is the first bookshop I’ve seen where you have to pay a rather hefty fee to enter.
The fee has been in place since 2015 as, despite a high number of visitors to the shop, few people were actually purchasing books. The entrance fee for Livraria Lello is €5, but this is redeemable if you buy a book in the store.
With this being said, the selection of English language books in the shop is not as wide as one might assume given the popularity of the site as a tourist destination. There is also a larger section of Portuguese language books, as well as a few in other languages such as French and Japanese. All in all, the bookshop is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re a Harry Potter fan, but bear in mind that it’s also pretty touristic!
Nearby, there are plenty of Porto attractions worth checking out. For example, the Baroque Clérigos Church + Clérigos Tower is one of the top things to do in the city, while the São Bento railway train station is one of the most beautiful stations in Northern Portugal, if not all of Europe.
Decorated with 20,000 ornate azulejo tiles, they date back to the early 20th-century. For a closer look at Porto from a local’s perspective, as well as entrance to the Lello Bookshop, then you might consider booking a four-hour tour of the historic city with a guide. Check prices and availability here.