When travelers think of Portugal, famous literary figures rarely come to mind, but Portugal is full of beautiful libraries and landmarks that tie back to poets and writers such as Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, and even J.K. Rowling. If you’re a literary buff, or just love to read, make sure you stop at these places on your next visit to Europe.
10. Livraria Bertrand, Lisbon
Located in the Chiado district of Lisbon since 1732, the oldest bookstore in the world, Livraria Bertrand is not only a literary mecca, but also an architectural masterpiece. With its uniquely Portuguese tiling (called Azulejos) on the outside and stained glass windows within, the Lisbon location is the first of a chain of Bertrand bookstores across the country.
The original bookstore was one of the few buildings that withstood the devastating earthquake of 1755, which destroyed half the city and killed over 250,000 people. The quake took place on a Portuguese holiday known as All Saint’s Day, on which most churches burned candles to celebrate. Unfortunately, these burning candles caused major fires throughout the city that luckily spared this historical landmark.
Housing many English-language books along with maps, travel guides, and more, this is the perfect first stop for a newbie in town.
R. Garrett, 1200-203 Lisboa, Portugal
9. Café A Brasileira, Lisbon
A walk away from the Livraria Bertrand, grab a Galão, the Portuguese version of a latte, at one of the most famous cafés in Europe. This art deco two-storey coffee shop was a favorite among artists, poets, and elites of the early 20th century.
Intellectuals such as José de Almada Negreiros, Antonio Soares, Aquilino Ribeiro, and Fernando Pessoa frequented this café to indulge in absinthe or a bica, the Portuguese version of a shot of strong espresso that originated here in 1905. Many of the painters that once socialized in its wooden booths now adorn its ornate walls, creating a museum within the building during its renovation in the 1970s.
Outside its ornamental green and gold exterior sits a bronze statue of the prized Portuguese poet himself, Fernando Pessoa. Known as his favorite coffee shop in town, Pessoa spent months here creating a prolific literary collection that often delved into extreme views of occultism and philosophy. Sit on the bronze chair next to him, if you have the chance, to ponder the universe and the meaning of life.
Café A Brasileira
R. Garrett 120, 1200 Lisboa, Portugal
8. Casa Fernando Pessoa, Lisbon
If you’re a big fan of the famous literary figure, do not miss Fernando Pessoa’s home in Lisbon for the last 15 years of his life (1920-1935). Many of his personal items are on display here, such as his notebooks, typewriter, and legendary eyeglasses.
Many seminars, guided tours, and exhibitions are held in this museum, and Pessoa’s entire personal library is available online, as well as in the library contained inside. If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat at the Flagrante Delitro restaurant, also located inside.
In the summer, the museum combines seasonal flowers with works from the poet to create a unique interactive experience both indoors and out.
Casa Fernando Pessoa
R. Coelho da Rocha 16, 1250-088 Lisboa, Portugal
7. Casa dos Bicos, Lisbon
Translating to House of the Spikes, Casa dos Bicos has been the permanent office for the José Saramago Foundation since 2012. The building itself was built in 1523 and save for the main façade, it survived the great earthquake of 1755. After years of use as storage for codfish (bacalhau in Portuguese) by the Albuquerque family, this Renaissance building was renovated in the 1980’s to its original Moorish architecture.
Saramago, the recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, explored different perspectives on historical events in his works, which have been criticized by the Catholic Church and European Union. Despite these controversies, Saramago’s books have sold over two million copies in Portugal alone.
Inside its entranceway of diamond-like stone spikes in the heart of Alfama, Casa dos Bicos hosts a permanent retrospective of Saramago’s life and work, and it is also rented for special events and exhibitions.
Casa dos Bicos, José Saramago Foundation
R. Afonso de Albuquerque 9 – 1100 Lisbon, Portugal
6. O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra, Sintra
Much like the foreign movie and book with the same title, Sintra, a small sub-region of the northern part of Lisbon, is best known for its mysterious Romantic architecture that host hundreds of weddings and special events from around the globe every year.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Sintra is home to a blend of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish, and Renaissance parks and gardens worthy of a stroll or a cycle. With castles and palaces scattered throughout the city, along with a gorgeous coastline, it’s no wonder Sintra is much loved, but also quite pricey.
A perfect day trip from the city, you can avoid the price of a hotel, but still indulge in Sintra’s picturesque views and famous pastries, Queijadas (sweet cheesecake tarts) and Travesseiros (fluff pastry with almond paste).
Sintra UNESCO World Heritage Site
28 kilometers northwest of Lisbon, Portugal
5. Mafra National Palace Library, Mafra
Though you cannot remove or lend any of the books contained in this massive library, with a scheduled appointment you can visit this extraordinary hallway of rare books that seems to stretch a mile long.
Part of the National Palace grounds located northeast of Lisbon, which also contains a basilica, a convent, and a monument, this Baroque library boasts some of the richest pieces of literature from the 15th to 18th centuries.
The library is known best from references in José Saramago’s book Baltasar and Blimunda, in which the main character explains the meticulous details of the construction of the 220-meter palace, which was a torturous endeavor for those who helped to build it.
Mafra National Palace
Terreiro D. Joao V, Mafra 2640, Portugal
4. Óbidos Literary Village, Óbidos
Located on a hilltop in the central coast of Portugal, Óbidos is a citadel town built during the time of the Roman Empire. Besides hosting a traditional Medieval market every July and a chocolate festival every spring, a square of this small village of 3,100 inhabitants is dedicated to bookstores, galleries, and markets for the literary-minded.
Visit the Santiago Bookshop or the Biological Market to read a variety of rare books on travel, gastronomy, wine, nature, design and more while sipping on tea or coffee. Or for the kids in your family, try O Bichinho do Condo, a children’s literary project housed in a building that was once a primary school during Antonio Salazar’s dictatorship from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.
For a more adult literary experience, indulge in a glass of wine at the Livraria da Aldega (or the Wine Cellar Library) while reading your favorite novels.
Villa Literária de Óbidos
3. Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra, Coimbra
Much farther north in the Tras os Montes province of Portugal, lies the oldest university in continuous operation, the University of Coimbra, which was established in 1290 in Lisbon and then relocated to Coimbra in 1537. In its grounds, the Baroque Library Joanina was built in the 18th century and named after the Portuguese king at the time, João V.
Joanina Library, a national monument, is split into three rooms divided by ornate arches, each showcasing two storeys of carved exotic woods and gold painted ceilings containing a total of 250,000 volumes of works on geography, law, history, science, medicine, theology, and more.
The most visited attraction in Coimbra, the library is open to tours year-round, but is still used as an educational facility for those attending the university.
Biblioteca Joanina, University of Coimbra
Pátio das Escolas da Universidade de Coimbra, 3004-531 Coimbra, Portugal
2. Café Majestic, Porto
Located on Porto’s most frequented pedestrian shopping walkway, Santa Catarina street, Café Majestic is an Art Nouveau relic from the era of France’s La Belle Epoque, where the glamorous cultural elite would socialize in the early 1920’s and 1930’s.
In the 1960’s, its stone cherubs, gilded golden arches, and Flemish mirrors once coveted by bourgeois and bohemians, began to decline along with the rise of the contempt for the rich and fancy. By the 1980’s, the coffee shop closed, and though it was declared a public interest building, it did not reopen again until July 1994.
J.K. Rowling claims to have written most of the last installment of the Harry Potter series at a table on the mezzanine, unbeknownst to the patrons surrounding her. While visiting, don’t forget to taste a local favorite, the Francesinha, a Portuguese version of a Croque Madame, slathered in a tomato and beer sauce.
Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto, Portugal
1. Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto
In Portugal’s former capital sits the magnificent Lello Library, best known for the inspiration behind the staircases at Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Rated among the best bookstores in the world, it’s always bustling with tourists and locals who cannot get enough of its lavish Art Nouveau interior and sprawling red staircase.
Brightened by an enormous stained glass ceiling and built in 1906 near Porto University, some consider it the most beautiful bookstore in the world. If you can nab a table in the bookstore’s first floor café, channel your inner Rowling and order a cimbalinho (Porto’s version of a shot of espresso) while writing the next blockbuster series.
Livraria Lello & Irmão
R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal