Despite my salty nature, I do not like writing posts that disparage tourist traps.
This however, will be an exception.
I love bookstores. As a child, I was nicknamed “The Librarian” because of my quiet, thoughtful nature. I used to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning reading. I hid books under my pillow.
As I’ve entered adulthood, my love for reading has dissipated, unfortunately. But I’m trying to bring it back, hence, a new initiative to read more, visit more libraries, and of course, frequent bookstores again. Which brought me to Livraria Lello in Porto, Portgual this past summer.
I was stoked. Livaria Lello is one of the world’s most popular and well-known bookstores. Often listed on “world’s best bookstores” kind of lists on Buzzfeed and Lonely Planet, with the likes of Shakespeare & Co., Livaria Lello is perhaps best known for it’s spiral staircase, rumored to be the inspiration for the magical staircase in Harry Potter.
From the tall ceilings to the intricate wood work, I eagerly awaited the opportunity to browse aisles and aisles of books in what was to be, one of the greatest bookstores I would ever see.
I was in and out of Livaria Lello in about ten minutes.
There’s always a type of dread I feel before knowing I’m about to be terrible disappointed. I felt it as I stood in line to buy a ticket for entry, as I tried to squeeze through crowds of numerous selfie happy tourists. It finally settled when I couldn’t find one – just one moment without being pushed into another individual.
People, Livaria Lello is not a bookstore. It’s a tourist trap, through and through. It’s not even really the store’s fault – pretty much anywhere that brought such inspiration to an author like J.K. Rowling is going to draw a crowd.
But a bookstore consisting of just people taking pictures of themselves is just sad. I don’t think I saw a single person look at, or purchase a book. Perhaps that’s the reasoning for the tickets, which Corporate Melissa totally understands the reasoning behind. If you have an attraction that draws people, people who may not purchase what you’re actually selling, sure – sell tickets.
However if your expectation is or was to simply pop in here and pick up a paperback, maybe wander around a little and browse through titles — you’re going to be disappointed. I had to check all my stuff into a locker before I was allowed to go in. It’s damned impossible (as photographed) to get a picture without at least three other humans unless you’re taking a picture of the ceiling.
People are hot, sweaty, and frantically trying to capture an angle of themselves that makes them appear to be studious and wistful.
For those of you reading this and thinking – well, it’d be worth it to just see the staircase, I have more sad news.
The staircase is unfortunately, in terrible shape. To be fair, I don’t know why or if the owners can even repaint or repair it. I don’t know and I of course, feel guilty writing something so disparaging about it, but I wish someone had told me. The paint is peeling, it’s beat up. It’s difficult to look at it as being something inspirational or magical at all.
Would I go back? No, not now. Would I have visited even after reading a post like this? Meh, probably. Sometimes you just need to see these things for yourself. I will assign warning though: there will be a heavy, disheartening moment when you find yourself in the middle of a photo hungry crowd, or amongst the people fighting for moments to peek down from the balcony upstairs. You absolutely will.
It will not feel like a bookstore. It will feel like you’re trapped in some kind of book museum where everyone is under some kind of spell where they:
a) don’t know there’s books for sale
b) are unable to un-attach their hands from their phones
c) cannot form sentences except for “Oh, I can so see JK here”
For the record, I don’t blame Livaria Lello. Perhaps tourist trap is the wrong word. A better description may be – a once beautiful tourist hive where swarms and swarms of the most stereotypical types tourists conjugate to make bitter, disappointing honey.
If you need to see it for yourself, go. But if you’re looking for magic, consider also visiting and buying a book from any of the other local businesses in Porto.