Have you ever been to a bookstore that charged a fee for admission and came with its own brochure? We had this experience on our recent trip to Porto, Portugal. The full name of the bookstore is called Livraria Lello & Irmão, or Lello Bookstore for short, and it was well worth the price of admission.
We arrived at the bookstore on a Saturday morning, and were quite surprised to see an actual line-up out the door of people anxiously waiting to get in!
In order to get in though, you first have to purchase admission tickets, which can be bought at this funky little red ticket booth across the street:
Admission was 3 Euros per person, and came with a brochure outlining the history of the bookstore. (The brochure gives you something to read while you wait in line.) The nice thing about the admission fee though, is that if you end up buying a book, your admission fee goes towards your book price. This is actually a great marketing strategy!
The bookstore was built in 1906 and owned by Jose and Antonio Lello, two brothers, and is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. But, other than its age, why is this particular bookstore so popular, you might wonder? It’s probably easier if I just show you:
This is the facade, which is decorated in Art Nouveau/Neo-Gothic style. The figures painted on the exterior represent Art, on the left (holding a sculpture in her hands) and Science on the right (she’s holding an anthropological symbol in her hands). Pretty nice, right? But wait until you see the inside…
Bam! Spectacular, isn’t it? This is one of the reasons why Lello Bookstore is so popular. Lonely Planet named Lello the third most beautiful bookstore in the world. But it depends on which list you read; some consider this bookstore to be the most beautiful of them all.
There is another reason why this bookstore is so famous: while J. K. Rowling lived in Porto, she frequented this shop. In fact, this staircase was apparently her inspiration for Hogwart’s staircase in the Harry Potter series. What do you think?
I personally found the stairs a bit difficult to navigate. They’re all different shapes and the curve makes them a bit narrow. Add to that the sheer number of people you have to maneuver around and you really have to take your time and watch your footing!
The ceiling is also something to behold. Look up and admire the 8×3.5 meter stained glass skylight. The insignia in the center reads “Decus in Labore” in Latin, or “Diginity in Work”.
The detailing everywhere is really remarkable. It’s hard to take everything in, especially if you’re there to actually buy a book! It’s easy to see why this is often called one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world though. I mean the ornamental styling is just jaw-dropping:
And yes, we did actually purchase a book! We got a Porto guide book to help us plan our stay in the city. 🙂 The Lello bookstore website has great information on the history of the bookstore and its architecture: Lello Bookstore