Another stop on our Portugal trip was a visit to one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, Livraria Lello e Irmão. Opened in 1906 by brothers José and António Lello, the bookstore is now a protected historic building. Famous for its interior, the building’s Art Nouveau exterior is no less impressive.
Livraria Lello has, in recent years, become an attraction for fans of the Harry Potter franchise. Rumor has it that J.K. Rowling was so inspired by the beauty of the library’s central staircase that she based the fantastical staircases of Hogwarts on them. Livraria has fully embraced the notoriety, even occasionally hosting Harry Potter themed “Dinner for Fans” nights.
There are negatives to all the attention, though. The bookstore has become crowded with tourists visiting the site that inspired Hogwarts rather than coming to buy books (and yes, I realize that I was one of those tourists). Access is now controlled by a doorman and the bookstore has begun charging an admission fee (which is refunded with any book purchase).
For me, the bookstore was so crowded that our visit was much less enjoyable than I had expected. Bookstores are something to be savored, lingering over the shelves to discover something new and interesting. I’m not sure how people manage to actually browse the bookshelves at this point. I would have loved to experience this beautiful bookstore before the notoriety.