June 9, 2023

Photoessay on Livraria Lello, Portugal’s most beautiful bookshop

It was a dull and rainy day in Porto when I walked into Livraria Lello. And my world was instantly filled with glorious sunshine. Even before I landed in Portugal, this bookshop featured on my must do list, especially thanks to its association with JK Rowling.

In her brief time in Porto as an impoverished writer in the 1990s, Rowling is believed to have frequented this store – and there are even wild theories that it was the inspiration behind the Harry Porter books. Whether that is true or not, it is not tough to believe that the interiors of Livraria Lello made her conceptualise Hogwarts the way she did.

Portugal itself seems to be a land of books, with a cute bookshop on practically every street, and even a whole city of literature. But the crowning glory is easily Livraria Lello, opened in 1906.

As soon as I entered, it was the grand architecture that first caught my attention, especially the stunning Art Nouveau spiral staircase at the heart of the store, that seems to have been created for photography. Then there is the stained glass ceiling and the rich wood panelling that makes it seem more like an ancient church than a contemporary bookstore.

In fact, the whole shop is a selfie-taker’s delight, every single corner offering some kind of unique and attractive frame.

The store has an eclectic collection of both English and Portuguese books, a wide range from popular fiction (including, of course, the Harry Porter series) to books on fine wines and quirky street art.

On that rainy afternoon, I also chanced upon Alice and the Mad Hatter chatting with each other in one corner of the upper floor, inviting kids and adults alike to their tea party.

This bookstore has become such a popular tourist attraction that it now charges 5.50 euros just for entry (redeemable against purchase of books). Despite that, there was a long queue outside the door when I reached; having bought the tickets online earlier, I could march right up to the entrance and make a quick entry.

Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to visit it once again in future, at a time when it is less crowded and it is actually possible to see more books than people!

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