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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Khan

Why is Portugal a book lovers dream destination?

Updated: Jun 4

Portugal has a rich literary history and has some of the most beautiful libraries in the world and more bookstores than the average country in Europe.  They have nearly 36 bookstores per 100,000 people. If you love books, then Portugal is a book lovers dream destination.

Portugal is an old country and for that reason the libraries you find there are centuries old, beautiful, and ornate. Two of the must-see libraries and oldest libraries in Portugal are the Joanine Library in Coimbra and the Library of the Mafra Convent in the city of Mafra. The Joanine Library is part of the university in Coimbra and was built in 1728. The shelves are gilt edged, holding 300,000 works dating to the 16th and 18th century. It’s often referred to as the most beautiful library in the world. The first kings of Portugal lived in what are now the university’s buildings when Coimbra was the capital. The town is a true cultural treasure.


The library at Mafra was built in 1717 by Portuguese king D. Joao V. It is 280 feet long, done in the Rococo style. Old books can become susceptible to pests, but the Mafra library has solved that problem without the use of chemicals and high-tech radiation. They employ an army of bats that live behind the stacks during the day. At night they come out to take care of any pests!


Lisbon is home to the oldest bookstore in the world! Can you imagine? That bookstore is Bertrand, located in the Chiado neighborhood which is sort of the mecca of bookstores in Lisbon. But that’s not the only bookstore you’ll find in Lisbon. How about a bookstore in a renovated factory? That’s what you’ll find with Ler Devgar in the LX Factory area (artsy area of former factory spaces now converted to artists studios, shops, and cafes). It’s huge! Literally 3 levels and there’s a café for refueling while you browse. Bookshop Bivar is a shop dedicated to selling second hand English books and you will find the shop “around the corner” from where many Lisboans live. Bookshop Bivar is a cozy shop well run and well loved. Menina e Moca in Bairro Alto is a small shop where in addition to selling books they have a bar and host musical entertainment on some evenings. Livraria Sa da Costa is a secondhand bookshop dating from the 1920’s and located in Baixa-Chiado. This shop is a treasure trove of old books in all languages and antiques and other wonderful things to buy to take home as special souvenirs.  


Quite possibly one of the most famous bookstores is Livraria Lello in Porto. This shop is supposedly where J.K. Rowling got inspiration to write the Harry Potter series. The author did live and work in Porto as an English teacher in the early 90’s, so I think there’s some truth to that. The façade of the store is neo-gothic in style and the two figures you see there represent Science and Art. The interior is utterly stunning with its wooden walls and ornate staircase. Be sure to look up to see the stained-glass ceiling. You can enter free, but they do not allow photographs. Why not buy a book AND a lovely postcard for your memories? While in Porto be sure to stop into Café Candelbro. This bookshop is also a very popular wine bar and gets quite packed in the evening.


Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art is a cultural institution located in Porto (there is a branch in the town of Matosinhos). No doubt you now realize Porto is amazing for booklovers, too!! The bookstore and library can be found inside a former Art Deco estate that is surrounded by gardens. The Serralves Foundation is dedicated to preserving contemporary artwork and the bookstore is a light, bright space selling books and graphic works. After shopping take a stroll around the gardens which date to 19th century when the Serralves area was the outskirts of Porto.             


The town of Obidos is a small medieval walled village located on Portugal’s Silver Coast. The towns was designated by UNESCO as a Literary City in 2015. Many abandoned spaces become bookstores. One of the largest is just off the main square and up the hill in a former cathedral. It’s called Livraria de Santiago. There is an organic fresh fruit and vegetable market that sells books, just to the right if you enter via the Porta da Vila (the entrance with the blue tiles dating to 1740 depicting the Passion of the Christ), and there is the Literary Man Hotel. It’s worth a walk through as it’s quite eclectic. There are also bookstores in an old fire station and a wine cellar. While perusing the quaint, hilly, cobbled streets of Obidos looking for books, be sure to try the cherry liquor called ginja, served in little chocolate cups.


So, if you love books, you won’t be disappointed to spend your holiday in Portugal. The country is one of my favorites. It’s got sunshine, friendly people, excellent food & wine and books with a capital B.

**Photo credit Coimbra Portugal Tourism



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