The Lello Bookshop is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and has been described as the “third best bookstore in the world”. More than just a bookshop, Lello’s building is an artistic destination in its own right which, combined with the store’s rich heritage, makes it a must-visit attraction for anyone visiting Porto, Portugal.
The store was originally established as the Livraria Internacional de Ernesto Chardron in 1869, and in fact still goes by the name of Livraria Chardron to those in the know, although it was sold relatively quickly to Lugan and Genelioux successors. Its original home was in a store on Clerigos street.
The store was later sold again, this time to Jose Lello, who had another bookstore on Almada street nearby, and moved to its current building, close to the Clerigos Tower, in 1906. It is this building that has sparked such a keen interest in the bookstore, with its beautiful art nouveau façade and plentiful gothic revival features.
The impressive interior is breathtakingly beautiful, with a spiral art nouveau staircase forming the main artery of the building, setting of the wooden panelled ceiling and beautiful carved bookcases to perfection. Like any building, Lello Bookshop began to feel the effects of decades of hard use and a more than a little neglect, however it was rescued by a huge renovation project in 1995 and returned to even more than its former glory.
It might be easy to imagine that in a building of such intense charm and character the books that are housed there would play second fiddle, but that is far from the case in the Livraria Lello. It has gained its reputation all over Portugal and beyond for its huge library of books, which number somewhere in the region of 120,000.
The collection covers all types of genres and there are some delightful touches to remind us of the stores long heritage. While many are for sale, others are now purely for exhibition, encased on glass-enclosed bookshelves for posterity. Look out for the authentic touches, including the ancient wheelbarrow on tracks which was once used to carry heavy volumes between the main door and their homes on the shelves.
Harry Potter fans will be interested to know that JK Rowling is believed to have drawn part of her inspiration for the series from spending time at the Lello Bookshop. The renowned author worked as a language teacher for several years in Porto and lived very close to the store.
Note that no photographs are allowed, as flash photography poses too much of a risk to some of the delicate ancient tomes. It is possible to buy beautiful photos from the store at a cost of five euros; however, many visitors choose to do so as a memento of their visit to this unique and unusual venue.
Rua das Carmelitas 144