If you are visiting Porto the Livraria Lello may be on your list of places to see. The Livraria Lello is a famous bookshop where, reputedly, J. K. Rowling found her inspiration for a scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone involving the stairs of Hogwarts. But is it really worth a visit?
There is no doubt that it is an absolutely amazing building, dating back to 1881, with immense historical and architectural value. However, if you are only in Porto for a short break it is going to eat into your time considerably and, in my opinion, is not worth the trade off.
Unusually for me, because I rarely queue or pay entrance fees, I have been inside. This came about because I had read about it online and decided it sounded like it was worth a visit. I didn’t know that, when I eventually located, it I would have to pay for the privilege of going inside.
Perhaps I was just lucky, or maybe it was the day and time that I was there, but the queue wasn’t too long on that occasion, and so I paid the money for a ticket, having been told that I could use it as a voucher off a book purchase. Well, talk about a let down! I had read somewhere that you could browse the books, sit and have a coffee, relax and enjoy the vibe. So, I had thought it would be a lovely place to while away an hour or so.
Why I wasn’t impressed
- It involves a lot of jostling and can get VERY crowded at times
- It was hot, too hot
- There were very few books in English (when I was there)
- The books were beyond my price range, even with the €5 voucher off
- It is difficult to get up or down the famous staircase because of people taking selfies and photos
- It is actually quite small
- If you do want to buy a book you’ll have to join another queue
If you DO decide to go
I realise that many people have some sort of list that they are working through, ticking off the places they have visited, and if you are one of those people, and really want to go, then you need to be prepared.
Firstly I would suggest you buy your voucher online (ticket) because if you don’t you have to go to a different building and join a queue there to purchase a ticket. Mind you, you have to go to the other building to leave you bags anyway.
This is the building where you buy a ticket and also where you have to leave your bags in a locker.
It is a couple of doors up from the bookshop, and on a corner, so easy to find once you know that’s where you have to go (I didn’t). You really don’t want to be standing in the queue at the door of the bookshop and be turned away (like me).
Inside the Check In shop
Inside the shop you can buy a ticket, leave your bags in the free lockers, and buy a commemorative medal from a machine for €2.00. There is a fast track lane for Trip Advisor customers; sorry but I haven’t fully investigated how that works, I did see something on Trip Advisor about buying a ticket for £12.50 that included 2 books but check that out yourself. There is also an ATM available.
Once you have your ticket
Once you have your ticket you can then go and join the queue further down the street and wait your turn to be admitted to the bookshop. Depending on the day, the time, and the season, this queue will vary greatly in length and I hate to state the obvious, what do you do if you need the bathroom? (Another good reason for avoiding queues.)
When I visited there was a doorman with a top hat and fancy costume who was posing for selfies with people at the door so when you reach that point it gets a little more interesting.
When you finally get inside
These are some photos from my visit a couple of years ago. As I mentioned, when I went it was fairly quiet, but it was still very hot and not the relaxing experience I associate in my mind with a visit to a bookshop. I was there again yesterday but didn’t go inside on this occasion. However, I found an amazing shop a few doors down and had a most enjoyable, and crowd-free time, browsing in it, more about that shortly.
So where did I go instead?
I discovered this wonderful shop, Fernandes, Mattos & Ca., Lda it is down the street a bit, on the next corner. Now, I never actually buy stuff, and there are many shops that I scuttled straight back out of because of loud music or uncomfortable lighting (both things cause sensory overload for me), but this was a delight to look around. It doesn’t have all the architectural features of the Livraria Lello but it does still have some very pleasing features, including an attractive staircase for those all important photos and selfies.
There are many beautiful buildings like this in Portugal so if you are following my blog you will get to see more of them. I have so much information to pass on to you it would help to know what you are particularly interested in so please do comment.
I’ll finish up now and leave you with photos of the store
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