One step inside Livraria Lello and you’ll be immediately mesmerized. Consistently recognized as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, it’s usually a priority for every visitor to Porto. Gaze around and you’ll noticed the ornate details in the shelves, pillars, and ladders. The walls are covered floored to ceiling with thousands of books. With so much aesthetic stimulation going on, its easy to see why the store is a prime destination for mini-photoshoots.
Housed inside a neo-gothic building, Livraria Lello is one of the oldest bookstores in all of Portugal. Opened in 1906 by the brothers Lello, José and António, it quickly became the crown jewel of Porto. Way before the internet, books, at one time, were the main forms of entertainment and Livraria Lello became a hot spot for Portugal’s literary figures. Many of them have been honored with mini plaster sculptures throughout the store. Even today, Livraria Lello has had some major cultural influence. J.K. Rowling frequented the store when she lived in Porto and some have said that she wrote the first Harry Potter there. For the Harry Potheads, you can actually see first editions of all the books.
Sitting in the center of the store is Livraria Lello’s signature, the forked, spiral staircase. Its sharp red steps invite you upstairs to the second floor where you’ll have a clear view of the stunning stained glass ceiling above. This is the most popular spot for photos, so you might have to push and shove an annoying wannabe influencer out of your as you ascend. The upper level also has a special room which houses the store’s rarest books.
As one of Porto’s most popular tourist attractions, Livraria Lello attracts a huge crowd and lines to get into the bookstore can be long. To potentially minimize your wait, try to get there before opening (which is around 10AM). A ticket is required for admission, which can be purchased from a separate store for 5 euros. You can actually apply the ticket cost to the purchase of a book. Luckily for me, it was pouring rain the day I went, so it was quick getting a ticket and heading right into Livraria Lello. But it was still pretty bustling inside with tourists.
Paid admission was actually enacted in 2015 because 5,000 people were visiting Livraria Lello every day and no one was buying any books. As bookstores around the world go out of business thanks to Amazon, it would be troubling to see one of Porto’s icons fall victim to irrelevancy. It was smart to start charging people, as over 1.2 million people visit a year Livraria Lello. I’m sure no traditional bookstore is making that much anymore.