In this blog post Paulo Rui Anciaes, a researcher at UCL, shares his favourite bookshops in Porto, Portugal. If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, find more information about contributing below.
The second city of Portugal, Porto, does not have big monuments like Lisbon or Sintra. Its charm lies instead in the narrow streets of the old neighbourhoods, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This area is popular with visitors, but has suffered from a continuous decline in both businesses and residents in the last few decades. Porto’s independent bookshops in particular have suffered from the opening of larger book stores in suburban shopping centres, but, fortunately, there are still a few great ones left, and plenty of cafés, gardens, and squares to accommodate a quiet afternoon in which to read a book and watch the world go by.
105 year-old Lello & Irmão, on Rua das Carmelitas, is always included in the lists of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. The splendorous Art Nouveau design, with wooden floors and red staircase, never fails to impress, and even regular customers remain in awe. The shop merits a visit not only because of its appearance but also because it is actually one of the largest bookshops surviving in the city centre, stocking a wide range of academic and non-academic books in many languages.
Lello is a victim of its own success. Many tourists come to take pictures but buy little. From time to time there are rumours that the owner will start charging an entrance fee, but fortunately that has not happened yet. Browsing books is not easy here, mostly because of congestion inside the bookshop and the fact that many books are housed on shelves with difficult access. Visitors might wish to time a visit during an “off-peak” time such as a weekday morning.
Away from Lello, visitors will have more breathing space if they go off the beaten track and explore the smaller bookshops in the centre of Porto. If you read Portuguese and are seeking first and special editions, these are the places to go. If not, the shops are still worth a visit for the cosy atmosphere, a chat with the owner, or to buy memorabilia such as old fountain pens or antique souvenirs.
Livraria Académia is another centenarian bookshop, opened in 1912, on Rua dos Mártires da Liberdade. The building is picture perfect, always adorned with flowers. The owner has worked here since 1948 and is obviously someone who loves books dearly, as readers can see in this three minute documentary. Inside the shop visitors can find a plaque that the owner’s friends offered him some years ago, which bares the inscription of one of his quotes: “What a joy to have always lived among books”.
A little bit north of here on Rue Regeneração there is Utopia, one of the best bookshops in Portugal to find books about all those -isms: socialism, libertarianism, anarchism, environmentalism, surrealism and so on. The shop also stocks poetry and other genres, mainly from small, independent publishers.
From the magnificent to the cosy, Porto’s historical centre is a great place to browse independent bookshops. It is not difficult to find Lello, Livraria Académica, and Utopia. But don’t worry if you lose your way – there’s always something interesting on every street!
Paulo Rui Anciaes is a researcher at the Centre for Transport Studies, University College London. He completed his PhD. at the Department of Geography and Environment of the London School of Economics. Paulo blogs about Community severance and Alternative Environmentalism and contributes to the UCL Street Mobility project blog.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, then now’s your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a new weekly feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.
Bookshops could be academic, alternative, foreign language, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, second hand outlets, or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 100 words per bookshop, detailing why this place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.
Email us now if you’d like to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org