Harry Potter’s Porto

If there’s one place you have to go in Porto it’s Livraria Lello.

Inspiration for Hogwart’s moving staircases?

It’s said that this beautiful bookshop is where JK Rowling enjoyed a coffee whilst she was teaching English in Porto, and where the germ of an idea – about a boy wizard, and a school with magical  twin staircases – was born.

I stumbled across Lello by mistake at first as I was wandering down from the Rua de Santa Caterina  attempting to find my way back to the hotel. It was a happy accident. I’ve always loved bookshops, but I have never seen a bookshop as beautiful, as inspiring as this one.

There’s been a bookshop at 144 Rue das Carmelita (just around the corner from the Clerigos Tower, a hard-to-miss Porto landmark) since 1869 and Lello itself has been in situ since 1906. From the street the gothic facade – all spires and arched windows – beckons you in. It doesn’t invite you. That would be too polite. It’s more like a magical spell that comes over you and drags you in through the forboding front door into a cavern dedicated to the pleasure of reading and writing.

At it’s opening (as Lello) in 1906 Abel Botelho paid tribute to its architectural magic by calling it a “beautiful temple to the divine cult of emotion and idea…”

He left out ‘magic’ and ‘wonderment’ and ‘fantasy’.

Entering Lello is like walking into a set of Hogwarts from Harry Potter. The place smells of that peculiar (but wonderful) smell of thousands of slightly-dusty books. From floor to ceiling the carved wooden bookshelves are filled with books, and in the front of the store piles of books are displayed – jumble sale style – imploring visitors to rifle through their pages. I saw all kinds of books. From the Karma Sutra to Euripides and Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook – in Portugeuse, of course. Upstairs, via the red forked staircase there’s even more books and a small cafe and a couple of chairs, where JK Rowling once sat.

Or so they say.

Whether that’s true or not, I didn’t care. It seems likely given the cavern like room and the ornate carved wooden ceilings and pillars, like arms full with letters of learning. It’s hard to not see the magical moving staircases of Hogwarts in the forked red staircase at Lellos. So much so that as I climbed it I half expected it to move beneath my unsteady feet.

The staff told me that this was the reason why photography and videography is strictly forbidden in Lellos. Apparently a tourist had been so intent on capturing it on camera she fell down the stairs, and created considerable damage. Ever since photography has been strictly banned. And it is strictly upheld with staff members positioned at key points throughout the store requesting ‘no photos’.

But I’m just a girl who can’t say no. And won’t accept ‘no’ for an answer!

In the end I negotiated  exclusive access to Livraria Lello so that my Englishman (the better photographer of the Vegemitevix team!) could capture the insides of this beautiful store.

I still smile as I think back to our morning at Lellos. Imagine being in such a beautiful place, surrounded by books, in an atmosphere imbued with centuries of learning and passion and, yes, emotion and ideas..

All this mixed in with the smell of floor polish and the early morning light catching the colours of the stained glass ceiling, making fairy light patterns on the carved wooden floor. I do believe this was Harry Potter’s Porto, but even if it wasn’t, for me, at least, it was my inner librarian’s version of heaven.

Where: Livraria Lello 144 Rue das Carmelita, Porto, Portugal

When: Open from 10am

Why: To enjoy a truly magical atmosphere, where moving staircases and boy wizards exist

How much: Free to enter. Though I dare you to not spend anything. Not even a wee fridge magnet to remind you of Livraria Lello, the most beautiful bookshop in the world?




'Harry Potter’s Porto' has 16 comments

  1. September 20, 2012 @ 11:48 am JulieB

    Wow, that is GORGEOUS. I think I was too busy tasting port to see this when I went to Porto many moons ago – what a shame I missed it!


    • September 20, 2012 @ 11:49 am vegemitevix

      Thanks Julie it was gorgeous! Truly a shrine for writers and readers alike. Know what you mean about the Port though. I had so many Port Tonics during my week in Porto and the Douro.


  2. September 20, 2012 @ 12:33 pm nikki

    that’s just breathtakingly beautiful. i envy you! i lived in France for over 10 years and never made it to Portugal – damn!!


    • September 20, 2012 @ 12:35 pm vegemitevix

      Thank you Nikki for your lovely comment. It was truly one of those places I used to dream about as a little girl. Yes, I was a librarian at school and I love bookshops. I didn’t want to leave.


  3. September 20, 2012 @ 1:11 pm MidlifeSinglemum

    Amazing staircase!


    • September 20, 2012 @ 4:04 pm Vicki Jeffels

      It was incredible. A little worn and preloved now with scuffs on the stair risers but oh boy the history in that place. I’m pretty sure you would have loved it.


  4. September 20, 2012 @ 2:04 pm Sarah

    Wow, that bookshop alone makes me want to visit Portugal! That staircase is magical. Thanks for the armchair escapism.


    • September 20, 2012 @ 4:05 pm Vicki Jeffels

      Thanks for the lovely comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the armchair escapism. That’s what I want to do and sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing it effectively


  5. September 20, 2012 @ 8:00 pm Steve

    Definitely a wingardium leviosa moment.


    • September 20, 2012 @ 8:11 pm vegemitevix

      Erm. (runs to daughter for on the fly translation) Yes.


  6. September 20, 2012 @ 10:22 pm Helen McGinn

    How beautiful!


    • October 17, 2012 @ 10:07 pm vegemitevix

      It was absolutely beautiful Helen, I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to grab a coffee and explore.


  7. September 20, 2012 @ 10:44 pm Jody Brettkelly

    Wow, this place is utterly fabulous. I had imagined some formica and grimy floor joint where she parked her stroller – didn’t she always have her baby with her? – and made one cuppa last all day…


    • September 23, 2012 @ 8:58 pm vegemitevix

      Apparently this was when she was splitting from her husband and taught English in Porto, well before she started writing. Having said that I think once you’ve been to Lello you can’t help but notice the similarities between the bookshop and Hogwarts for example. I found the place absolutely compelling.


  8. October 17, 2012 @ 9:59 pm Pete S

    A great read and brilliant photos Vicki! I’m a Harry Potter fan and was simply in awe of this place when I visited. For anyone who has seen the film or read the books, they will automatically feel a connection with the place. I have visited Oporto twice in the last 4 months and both times I went to the bookshop!


    • October 17, 2012 @ 10:09 pm vegemitevix

      Thanks so much Pete! Delighted you enjoyed the post. I have a few more tales from Oporto and Douro to publish on the blog. And Venice and Burano and Rome..whew there’s so much to write about these wonderful places!


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