When you step inside the majestic Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal, you may feel like the bookstore has instantly transported you to a magical world. And you’re not alone. J.K. Rowling lived and worked as an English teacher in Porto in the early 1990s while conjuring the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And the shop’s beautiful Neo-Gothic façade and majestic Art Nouveau interior with a breathtaking crimson staircase are said to have inspired the author’s depictions of both the Grand Staircase at Hogwarts, and the Flourish and Blotts book shop in Diagon Alley. Take one step inside and you’ll immediately see why the bookstore is widely proclaimed to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
Livraria Lello, which opened in 1906, struggled financially during the last few decades as bookstore sales around the world dwindled. In recent years, the talk of the Harry Potter connection brought visitors from around the globe to its doors in droves. But many of them came only to snap photos of the gorgeous interiors instead of buying books, so the shop began charging a small admission fee.
The shop takes its name from brothers José and António Lello, who hired Portuguese architect Xavier Esteves to design the Neo-Gothic building. Its most striking feature is the iconic curved crimson staircase that forms a bridge across two sides of the carved wood balcony. At first glance, the intricate blue-and-gold design of the first floor ceiling may look like carved wood, but look closer and you’ll see that it’s actually painted plaster. On the second floor, a colorful and enormous stained glass panel that bears the brothers’ monogram and motto (“decus in labore,” which translates to “honor in work”) decorates the ceiling. Bookshelves span floor to ceiling on both floors, and there are busts of some of the most important Portuguese writers including Eça de Queirós, Camilo Castelo Branco, and Teófilo Braga throughout.
To cover the expensive maintenance of such an architectural gem and to account for all of the non-paying customers who visit the shop to snap a pic for Instagram, Livraria Lello does now charge a fee. The €5 ticket can be purchased either online before your visit, or at the ticket office around the corner, and it also serves as a €5 voucher for the purchase of a book. You won’t have much trouble finding something to take home with you: The shop stocks everything from valuable first editions to recently-published novels and cookbooks…and of course, the Harry Potter series. They also have their own collection of hardcover classics like Pride and Prejudice and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which have beautifully illustrated covers and endpapers, and make a perfect souvenir.
If you decide to visit Livraria Lello once it becomes safe for the world to travel once again, be forewarned. There are often long lines to get into the shop, crowds of people once you get inside, and Instagrammers doing personal photoshoots are everywhere you look. But putting up with the modern-day annoyances is well worth the trade to be able to immerse yourself in such a breathtakingly beautiful, book-filled space that has the power to transport you to back to 1906, or to a magical world of wizardry.
Livraria Lello is at Rua das Carmelitas 144 in Porto, Portugal.