Literary nerds, rejoice!
One of the only countries to come out unscathed by the digital era’s death blow to the printed word, Portugal is a country that still loves books. In these atmospheric, utterly charming bookshops and libraries, you can spend an hour–or two or three–remembering that the power of the written word is made all the more exquisite by the tactical experience of a book. Spending time with Portugal’s rich literary history can help you steal some insights into Portuguese culture: its seafaring past, its Jewish history, its classic romantic tragedies, and its affinity for political subversion. These spots, made for bookworms, also boast some of the country’s most stunning views, its best local drinks, and–like any good book–tons of potential for adventure.
The Library at The Yeatman Hotel
This elegant reading room is stocked with a diverse collection of novels and historical books in numerous languages. It’s located in the storied The Yeatman Hotel, still owned by the descendants of the English merchant family once stationed here, among the “lodges” where the city’s titular Port wine have aged for more than three centuries. Guests are welcome to pair their book with a cigar or with a drink from the adjacent bar, which offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the city and an extensive list of (reasonably priced) local wines.
WHERE: Porto, Portugal
An opulent bookstore harking back to 1906, Livrario Lello immediately impresses with its winding red and golden wooden staircase and its art-nouveau façade. It was founded by the Lello brothers, who had an unbridled passion for literature and used the space as a cultural center for the city’s intelligentsia. JK Rowling frequented the store while working as a teacher in the city and is said to have used it as inspiration for Hogwarts’ architecture as she was writing the Harry Potter series.
The Library and Bookstore at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art
One of the most renowned contemporary art museums in Europe, the all-white, Art Deco-styled Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a public library with access to research materials gathered over years of acquisitions. In addition to the library, the nearby Serralves bookshop has an extensive fine arts section and many arts-themed books for children. Make an afternoon of it, and give yourself plenty of time to explore the mansion and meticulously manicured gardens.
This bar started as an antique bookstore in the 1950s and has since remained devoted to the tradition of selling old books, many of which come from local Porto book collectors. In the spring and summer, the outdoor terrace at Café Candelabro is a favorite among the city’s actors and artists, and in the mild winters, the sun-filled indoor space, decorated with heavy wooden tables, sells more than 80 wines from regions around the country. Portuguese video art exhibits, outdoor silent movie screenings, live music performances, and other social events make this spot a low-key and sophisticated social watering hole in the heart of the city.
The Literary Man Hotel
WHERE: Ovidos, Portugal
The Literary Man is a hotel devoted entirely to books in the medieval city of Ovidos. The space was once a 19th-century convert, but today is a testament to Ovidos’ reputation as a literary mecca, and has some 50,000 titles shelved on its walls, with everything ranging from vintage cookbooks to coffee table books to contemporary bestsellers. Don’t miss a visit to the cocktail lounge, where you can enjoy Ovidos’ famous sour cherry liqueur, ginja, or a literary-themed cocktail to go along with your read.
This charming bookstore, whose name translates to “read slowly,” is decorated with vintage printing presses and a whimsical flying bicycle hanging from the ceiling. Ler Devagar is located on the site of an old printing factory and the LX Factory, an old industrial complex recently repurposed into a hip art and design center. Visitors who come for the books can stay for the bar, the live concerts, the exhibits, and other cool events that attract locals and visitors alike.
Bertrand is the oldest bookstore still in operation in Lisbon’s trendy Chiado neighborhood, offering wide wooden bookcases stacked with a great selection of second-hand books and vintage albums. Bertrand Livreiros dates back to 1732, was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, then survived revolutions and the economic crisis of 2010 – 2014. Its renovated structure beside the Opera and the bronze statue of the country’s most famous modern poet Fernando Pessoa is both charming and modern. Any book purchase is eligible for a stamp testifying to the fact that you’ve bought a title from the world’s longest-operating bookstore.
Livraria do Simão
The smallest bookstore in Lisbon is also located on the quaintest corner of downtown. Behind an unassuming red door splattered with graffiti, this tiny used book spot of around 40 square feet is teeming with more than 4,000 titles and a good-sized collection of vinyl records. Ask the owner to point out the rare books in both Portuguese and foreign languages, all with exciting origin stories.
In the center of Lisbon, Bookshop Bivar offers a large selection of English-language second-hand books in excellent condition, often for as little as a few euros. The store has a big, comfy couch in the middle which is perfect for some quality reading time and is often the spot where locals and foreigners gather for the monthly book club.
Jose Saramago Foundation
The Jose Saramago Foundation pays homage to the Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, whose novels were long censored for criticizing such institutions as the Catholic Church and the European Union. The Foundation is located in a 16th-century house, known as the Casa dos Bicos, which was modeled after Italian Renaissance Architecture in the historic Alfama neighborhood. In addition to the bookshop, the space also hosts a free exhibit with Roman ruins, archaeological artifacts on the first floor, and a museum about the life and work of Saramago.
Public Library of Evora
WHERE: Évora, Portugal
This public library just a stone’s throw from Roman temple of this medieval city is bustling with university students and locals. It was built in 1666 as part of the College for the Choir Boys of the Cathedral and was opened again by the Archbishop Frei Manuel do Cenáculo as the Public Library of Evora in 1805, who filled it with his private collection of more than 50,000 books. The library has one of the most extensive collections of rare historical books, and draws crowds on days when it hosts public readings.