Around the world, books are losing ground to screens, but Portugal hasn’t received the memo. It has become one of the greatest destinations for book lovers. The country’s capital is home to the oldest bookstore in the world and Lisbon also hosts the largest book fair in Portugal, which celebrates its 86th anniversary this year. Second-hand shops are sprinkled across the cities and stores specializing in the sale of English-print books are starting to appear.
Livraria Lello & Irmão
Porto’s Livraria Lello & Irmão tops the list as one of the most beautiful bookstores, not only in Europe but throughout the world. Opened in 1906 by a pair of brothers, it is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal.
The architecture reflects Art Nouveau style along with Gothic Revival.
The iconic red and gold staircase is the store’s main standout feature. There is no wondering how it attracts so much attention.
True, the interior is absolutely stunning but that’s not the only reason for the store’s popularity. Harry Potter writer JK Rowling is said to have visited the shop regularly while writing the beginning of the HP series. The bookshop is also recognized as having influenced Rowling during the writing process.
The Livraria Academica is another of Porto’s antique bookshops, at over 100 years old. It is a great spot for rare book collectors. Many of the titles are literary works by Portuguese writers, but a wide range of academic literature can also be found.
The Livraria Academica is a literary treasure trove, holding classics that can be purchased for a few euros to gems that go for more than the average person can spend.
Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art
The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art has a bookstore and a library in the midst of the various art exhibits. Both attract visitors as much as the artwork. Located on the Serralves Estate, the museum is situated by gardens, a park, and the Art Deco estate home.
In Portugal, coffee and wine pairs with everything, including books. The Café Candelabro in Porto is a bookstore, library, and café all in one, that attracts everyone from tourists to locals.
The Literary Man Hotel
There is even a hotel that’s filled from the floor to ceiling with books! The Literary Man Hotel is located in Óbidos, a city known for well-preserved medieval infrastructure and cherry-flavored ginjinha liqueur, but which has also been labeled a ‘book lovers dream‘.
Every spare inch of wall is covered, amounting to upwards of tens of thousands of titles. Hotels usually strive for that ‘home’ feel and the Literary Man has achieved that goal with this built-in library.
Even renovated factories are fair game when opening a bookshop in Portugal. Ler Devagar (meaning ‘read slowly’) in the LX Factory is another of Portugal’s most aesthetically-pleasing stores. It is located on a street filled with 19th-century factories that have been converted for artistic and culinary purposes. The Portuguese are known for their sweet tooth and this shop is another store and café, selling delicious cakes and pies along with their books.
Metro and Streets
Walk along the streets and even through the metro, and there are more books! Fairs are common in Portugal, and tables appear all over the place. Mostly, they sell second-hand copies, many for a euro or less. The Oriente Station is one metro stop with daily book fairs.
Don’t worry about not being able to read Portuguese because it’s possible to find titles in English too. The Bookshop Bivar, outside Lisbon’s historic center, is one shop dedicated to selling second-hand books in English. It’s Lisbon’s own ‘Shop Around the Corner’ (remember You’ve Got Mail?), complete with the cozy setting and an owner who loves to chat with customers.
Bibliophiles in Lisbon should not miss the Chiado neighborhood, home to Livraria Bertrand, the oldest bookstore in the world. Having first opened in 1732, it was destroyed by the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt a short time later in the spot where it can be found today. Across the street from Livraria Bertrand is a bronze Fernando Pessoa . Pessoa, the illustrious author of ‘The Book of Disquiet‘ was one of Portugal’s most celebrated writers and poets known worldwide.
Visitors looking for a keepsake from any of these bookstores is in luck. Even Portugal’s history has inspired world-renowned literature, including ‘The Night Train to Lisbon‘. In this philosophical novel, the author takes readers on an adventure through Europe, language, and history. The book was so successful that it was adapted for the big screen nearly 10 years after being published.
Portugal isn’t just home to one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world; it is also where travelers will find one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra offers a breathtaking display of academic works in addition to Baroque architecture and decor.
The library belongs to the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest in the world. It displays a number of collections dating back centuries, nearly 400 years in some cases.
One last look…
Since there is no getting tired of Porto’s Lello & Irmão, so here is one last look. Can you imagine Harry, Ron, and Hermione doing research for the Tri-Wizard Tournament in this spot?