I’ve been blogging about the inspirational trip my family and I took to Europe in March—and the challenges of travelling with a five-year-old!
I love galleries, museums, castles—you know, all things historical! But for our son, unless it’s a place where he can run around with impunity, he’s not a fan.
Still, we tried to incorporate as much of these things as possible during our trip and one of the places I was really looking forward to visiting was the Livraria Lello & Irmão in Porto.
I first heard about Livraria Lello from my in-laws, who brought back a picture book for Hiro a couple years ago. It mentions how the store served as inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s world-building. Once we knew we were heading to Portugal, we did more research on the store and realized it was a must-see destination. During my author visits to schools, one of my favourite story starters with students is something called “Lost in the Library,” in which I lead the students in a brainstorming activity to map out a massive magical library, filled with wonder and danger. I show images from many of the libraries and stores I have visited around the world—so I simply needed to experience Livraria Lello.
The store is so popular that you have to buy tickets for entry. I believe they were five euros each, but you can use these toward book purchases once you’re inside. So we purchased our tickets the day before and headed to the store for our entry time.
I was definitely surprised by the length of the line-up to get in.
My expectations were now heightened! I was super excited, and then . . .
Well, if you’re a parent of a toddler, you know you can ask your child 7,648 times before leaving anywhere if they have to go to the bathroom and they will say no 7,647 out of those 7,648 occasions. Then, the moment when it’s most convenient, there’s the most urgent need to answer Mother Nature’s beckoning.
The moment we crossed the threshold of Livraria Lello, Hiro announced for all to hear that he needed to go (and he was very, uh . . . specific in his proclamation). So, instead of having that romantic moment of gaping in wander, breathing in the aroma of books—you know, all the things—we had to deal with a panicked plea. I was having flashbacks to earlier on in the trip when I tried to take Hiro to the Picasso Museum.
Marcie said she’d take care of the situation, and whipped into action. (Byt the way, it’s no surprise, but there’s no bathroom in Livraria Lello, which meant Marcie and Hiro had to negotiate an exit with the guard at the gates, then go on a bit of an odyssey to find facilities.)
It all worked out, and Hiro was in a much better mood by the time they met back up with me.
In a way, they timed it perfectly. I entered the shop with a swarm of people, and it wasn’t until twenty minutes later that I realized the crowd had thinned. So my recommendation is if you visit and find yourself in the same situation, wait it out at bit. The visitors come in waves, as is suggested by the staged ticketing—I assumed most people would be like me and spend at least an hour in the store, but many cleared out within fifteen minutes.
There are many things to marvel at in Livraria Lello. It’s famous for its gorgeous red staircase—and it’s definitely wonderful. I even liked the underbelly of the steps, where you can find carved lion heads and—in the case of Hiro—a place to hunker down in relative solitude.
There were many different details that Marcie and I noticed and photographed; the cabinets and (Narnia-like?) lamppost on the top floor, the ceiling . . . well, it’s just one of those magical realms you have to experience for yourself.
Hiro’s favourite part was definitely the book bin. This is a bin that travels along built in rails along the bottom floor—kind of like a mine cart. My favourite part was the architecture—and, of course, the books! They came in many shapes, sizes, ages, languages, and genres.
Yep, we cashed in all the vouchers that came with our tickets! Afterward, we headed to a nearby park, sat underneath a tree at an outdoor cafe and mooned over our wares. Here’s what we ended up with (Hiro got two books, and I’ll let you guess which ones).
Oh, by the way, there’s a vending machine outside—a vending machine for books . . . just in case you get caught late at night and needing your fix.