It is a fact much acknowledged that I ADORE a gorgeous bookstore. Most bookstores and libraries, really, but especially the interesting ones. Add in a Harry Potter connection, and I’m toast. Just take my money. And that’s what you get with Porto’s Livraria Lello.
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Livraria Lello makes almost every list you’ll find of the world’s most beautiful bookstores (as does Buenos Aires’ gorgeous El Ateneo, which I strongly suggest you check out).
And for good reason…I mean LOOK AT IT!
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How to visit Livraria Lello
The bookstore is in a really great central location, so easy to walk to from just about anywhere tourists would be staying. The most important thing to know is that you have to have a ticket ahead of time! Due to its popularity, there’s now a €5 (as of 2021) entry voucher that you have to purchase it ahead.
The easiest way to do it is online at their website. My understanding is that if you aren’t able to do that, there’s a shop a few meters away that will sell the tickets as well, but I haven’t been able to confirm that in these COVID/post-COVID times. I strongly suggest buying online.
The entry fee goes towards any book purchase if you choose to buy something. There’s also a €15 “priority” ticket you can purchase instead.
Is the Livraria Lello priority pass worth it?
In my opinion, absolutely. I went this route and was glad I did. I arrived shortly after opening on a Sunday morning and the line was SO LONG. It would easily have taken me 30-60 minutes to get inside (maybe more) but I was able to walk right up to the priority line and walk right in.
One note, the priority ticket amount does not go against a book purchase. You do get a small, pretty little classic book to take with you however (look at which priority ticket you choose, it has the author on it).
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The bookstore was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves in a Neo-Gothic style and also incorporates Art Nouveau and Art Déco styles. The Lello brothers officially opened it in 1906.
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But the bookstore isn’t just beautiful…it has another claim to fame as well. It’s rumored to have been the inspiration for J.K. Rowling when she created Hogwarts (and particularly the moving staircases of Hogwarts)!
She spent two years in Porto while she was writing the first Harry Potter book, and when you experience the charming and dizzying effects of the multi-level spiral staircases, you can definitely see how that could be true. For a HP fan like myself, that was an extra reason to visit.
(An update here, a site commenter clued me in that Jo Rowling has debunked this, as she never knew the bookstore existed when she lived here…it took a bit of searching to one blog post substantiating this and showing her tweets while the Forbes and T+Ls of the world still report the connection, but worth knowing if this is really important to you!)
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Even with the crowds inside being a little smaller due to COVID restrictions, it feels very wall-to-wall. In particular, there are a few places that are super popular for photos, and I found that people largely self-managed a little “mini queue” to take turns and were decently considerate.
Just be patient and wait your turn, and also realize that getting a “perfect” picture is almost 100% not likely. And be quick!
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Exploring the store is a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you look you have intricately-carved Gothic wood-paneling or overlays. Make sure to peek underneath the spiral staircase for some of these, and look up to see the amazing ceiling carvings.
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Speaking of looking up, the stained glass skylight gives it such a light and airy feel despite the Gothic details, and includes the phrase “Decus in Labore”. This was the Lello brothers’ motto and means “Honor in Work”.
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There are so many other gorgeous little details, from the bold light fixtures to the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Even many of the books themselves have lovely cover art or are extra beautiful in some way.
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From what I read, if you’re wanting to just enjoy the browsing experience but not necessarily get the best pics then try toward the end of the day. It should be less busy (but the light might be a little weird).
You definitely need to know that Livraria Lello is small and crowded, and for some people might feel claustrophobic (especially during peak times). If that’s a huge issue for you, or you’re especially COVID concerned, it might not be the right choice.
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So what’s a hungry, book-laden girl to do after visiting one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores??? Why visit Manteigaria right around the corner and devour multiple pasteis de nata, of course!
This is another must-do in Porto, and there’s nothing like sipping espresso and custard tarts while surveying the beautiful Harry Potter book you just bought.
And if you’re looking for an even better caffeine fix, check out Fabrica Coffee Roasters, a pretty little third-wave coffee shop not too far from Livraria Lello where you can get a darn good cappuccino or flat white.
Bottom line is that if you’re planning a trip to Porto, then Livraria Lello should definitely be on your itinerary. It’s just important to plan ahead, think about timing, and book your ticket online!
Other beautiful or nerdy places you’ll love:
- Indulging Our Inner Nerds at Hobbiton, New Zealand
- A Magical Day At The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter
- St. Michael’s Mount & A Whirlwind Tour of Cornwall
- Scotland’s Elgin Cathedral & Driving The North East 250 Route
Pin for later!
November 15, 2021 at 6:33 am
The Harry Potter connection has been debunked by JK Rowling herself. She never stepped foot in the library, or had even heard of it before a few years ago.
Believe it or not, the bookstore has not always been a tourist attraction, or even well-known by Porto residents. It’s only through that spurious connection to Harry Potter, one of many made by overzealous promoters of this city, which led to the massive spike in the bookstore’s visibility.
It seems this literal-minded city ascribes this Harry Potter-inspiring status to everything it can, overlooking in their enthusiasm the possibility that human imagination is often quite capable on its own.
December 11, 2021 at 9:26 pm
Thank you for the comment! It is truly a stunning bookstore, regardless. It’s interesting that many well-known publications like Forbes and Travel + Leisure continue to report that but after some serious digging on the Google machine I’ve found her tweets 🙂 Those of us who love Harry Potter love to believe other beautiful things that are related to it, and I suppose that will never change.