The Livraria Lello [Lello Bookshop] is the protagonist in a wonderful story involving Porto, its residents and the world of international travel. Visitors from all over the world come to this amazing bookshop to admire the beautiful details so well described in thousands of memories of people who have been there.
Having gained prestige and curiosity value in the past few years, the Livraria Lello is increasingly a must-see for tourists, who every day want to know a little more about the history of this place. But why in fact is the Livraria Lello so famous worldwide?
Why do thousands of visitors come to see this building in downtown Porto? We will tell you all about it.
Located in the centre of Porto, the famous bookshop was opened on 13 January 1906 by José Lello. He was a curious and enterprising man, whose history and journey lay within the world of books and literature, since he had already opened another bookshop on Rua do Almada. When he acquired this space on Rua das Carmelitas, José Lello managed to attract the attention of illustrious literary figures and artists of the day, such as Guerra Junqueiro, Abel Botelho, João Grave, Bento Carqueja, Aurélio da Paz dos Reis, José Leite de Vasconcelos and Afonso Costa.
The opening of the book store had a great cultural impact on the aristocratic milieu in the early twentieth century, and placed Porto at the focal point of national attention with regard to literature. It was 1906 and José Lello had a dream that Porto would prove to be the literary destination of choice – something that came to pass in the first few years of the bookshop’s life. Today, 114 years after it opened, Livraria Lello continues to stand as one of the most influential bookshops in the world, having also been singled out as one of the most beautiful internationally.
At this time, the book store was not only selling contemporary national and international books, but many people interested in appreciating the architecture of the building also came to visit it. The pride of having a building of great architectural distinction meant that José Lello and subsequent owners paid special attention to the details and conservation of the interior areas and the façade, taking care to preserve its structural beauty, even today. Many years later, in 1995, an art gallery and social gathering space was created, which came to be a significant centre of culture in Porto. By this time, the book store was already one of the city’s iconic buildings.
Nowadays, it is difficult to think of Livraria Lello without picturing the beautiful central staircase that is such an eye-catching feature in the majestic room full of books. It is practically impossible to find a photograph of Livraria Lello without the wonderful red staircase that rises to the imposing painted plaster ceiling, yet another of the building’s special decorative details. Livraria Lello is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and quirky sights in Porto and this is one of the reasons why the bookshop gets thousands of visits every year.
However, at a certain point in time, the story of Livraria Lello received an international boost with considerable repercussions, related to the fantastic world of books and world fiction. During the years that J. K. Rowling lived in Portugal, the author of the best-selling Harry Potter saga often visited Livraria Lello and let herself be captivated by the magic that she imagined existed within. Thus, thanks to the allure that the beauty of the building had for the author, the bookshop served as an inspiration for some of the most important chapters in the best-selling fiction story ever.
The author was inspired by the decorative ornamentation of the bookshop in her description of the setting and decoration of the saga, and the stairs at Hogwarts that moved from one side to the other and took students to areas of the castle where they should not have been were suggested by the grand red staircase in Lello. It is wonderful for the city of Porto that a world-famous author was inspired by a Porto building and that this should generate thousands of visitors to the city to see the most famous bookshop in the world. The all-time best-selling Harry Potter books are thus the most important impetus in the history of Livraria Lello.
Notwithstanding this notable aspect of Lello, it is not just the Harry Potter books that we can find in the book store. Today, you can read or buy any contemporary book there. It is also possible to find original copies of first editions of famous national or international books on display, such as Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary, Romeo and Juliet, Os Maias, The Wizard of Oz, The Little Prince, Mensagem.
Since 2015, Livraria Lello has developed a way to combine the useful with the pleasant when it comes to buying books. To visit the book store, you will need to buy a voucher which, after the visit, can be discounted from the cost of the book you purchase. This way, you will not only have a simple visit to the beautiful building, but you will also have the chance to take a literary souvenir in your luggage.
If you don’t know exactly where Livraria Lello is, you only need to get to the beginning of Rua das Carmelitas to be able to find out, even from a distance, which building we are talking about. You will see a huge queue full of people keen to enter the most beautiful bookshop in the world… they are waiting resolutely for the moment when they will be able to feel the scent of the books and the sublimity of one of the most symbolic houses in Porto.
Please don’t be alarmed by the length of the queue or the seemingly interminable wait – the visit to this magnificent monument will be unforgettable and will stay in your memory forever. About 50 support staff specialized in literature and a range of subjects are waiting to help you navigate the endless cultural estate that does justice to the highly-acclaimed, majestic, Livraria Lello.
Check out our other ideas for things to to in Porto.