I haven’t been to Lello bookstore, one of the most popular monuments in Porto, in a long time. Nonetheless, my absence makes no justice to the famous bookstore, as visiting Lello bookstore is indeed one of the best things to do in Porto.
If Lello bookstore is definitely not the right place for a peaceful reading, it is nonetheless a journey to the ancient bookstores of Porto, and hence deserves my full attention.
Join me on a journey through the history of the Lello bookstore!
The booksore itself, excluding the building that now houses it, originated in the international bookstore of Ernesto Chardron, founded in 1869 in Rua dos Clérigos.
In 1894, after several acquisitions, the bookstore reached the hands of the Lello family. The Lello brothers started looking for a space where they could build a bookstore from scratch, and in 1906 the Lello bookstore was born, precisely where it is now, at the beginning of Rua das Carmelitas.
The opening of Lello bookstore was a highlight of the cultural life of twentieth century’s Porto. Besides all the media coverage, extended even to Brazilian newspapers, great literary figures of Porto were present, such as the famous writers Guerra Junqueiro and Júlio Brandão. (You probably never heard of them but they are both great. Portuguese literature is not all about Saramago and Pessoa, by the way).
It isn’t hard to imagine the impact Lello bookstore had in the city of Porto. One only has to go back a hundred years to a time when the spread of information was very slow and the mediums for it few and, therefore, books and newspapers were the centre of the city’s cultural life, defining trends and driving the great debates of the twentieth century.
To this, one must add the style of the building itself which was absolutely ground-breaking, as well as the fact that it was the city’s first architectural structures built with reinforced concrete. A real luxury to nineteenth-century’s eyes, a charm that has lasted until today.
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What is all the fuss about Lello bookstore and Harry Potter?!
Lello bookstore is widely famous – it was considered the 3rd most beautiful bookstore in the world by Lonely Planet – that some even claim that JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, wrote the first Harry Potter book inside the bookstore.
We just need to think about it for 30 seconds to realise that it couldn’t possibly be true. JK Rowling lived indeed in Porto. She was married to a Portuguese guy with whom she had her only child. But then they divorced (I bet he still regrets it up to this day!), and she had a really hard time. Single mother, unemployed, with no family or friends support… why on earth would she go to Lello bookstore, that has no proper place to sit down, to write a book?! It just makes no sense. I hate to break the news!
However, one can easily understand why she would feel inspired by Lello bookstore to create Flourish and Blotts, the bookstore where Harry Potter buys his books before going to Hogwarts. I think Lello bookstore is way more beautiful than Harry Potter’s imaginary one… but let’s keep it just between us 😉
How to get the tickets to Lello bookstore?
Until a few years ago the entrance was free of charge, but Lello bookstore was getting around 4000 visits a day and less than 5% would make any purchase.
Nowadays, you pay to enter the Lello bookstore. There are two ways to acquire the tickets:
- On the store Armazéns do Castelo, a few meters away. The ticket costs 5€, fully deductible in books. Then you simply need to face the long queue to enter inside the bookstore!
- You can also buy the online ticket to Lello bookstore. It is more expensive – it costs 5,5€. When you buy it there is a field to include your VAT Number. You can simply introduce this number: 999999990 (this is legit information, I actually called the managers of Lello bookstore to know how to go around this VAT issue). No prints needed, just show it on your smartphone.
Expert tip: if you are getting several online tickets for the Lello bookstore, don’t buy them in bulk, but rather one by one. I suggest you to do this because if you buy them in bulk, only the value of ONE of the tickets will be deductible in books, whereas if you buy them separately, the value of each one will be deductible.