Potter’s Portugal

Most people know the story about how the amazing J K Rowling wrote the beginnings of the Harry Potter series as a single mother sat in the Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh, often staying for hours on end with a single cup of coffee and writing the story on free paper napkins.

Elephant House cafe, Edinburgh

Inspired by the view across the scattered gravestones of Greyfriars Kirkyard and the gothic spires of George Heriot’s School, she brought her magical world to life.

Less known is that before all this JKR and her then partner lived in Porto for a couple of years and in fact their daughter was born there. Joanne was an English language teacher between 1991-93 and during this time she outlined and developed her ideas for the entire seven-book series, and even got started on the Philosopher’s Stone.

So Harry Potter may have been born in Scotland, but he was likely conceived in Portugal.

The Porto tourist industry has of course not missed a trick. Most notably Livraria Lello, the self-styled most beautiful bookshop in the world, claims to have given inspiration to the young Ms Rowling and upon visiting you have to admit that the place would not look out of place on Diagon Alley.


I passed by the shop on a Friday and the queues of people desperate to spend €4 to take a look at what MIGHT have inspired our favourite living author was absolutely staggering.

I did what any self-respecting crowd hater would do and booked an advance ticket for the Sunday costing €5.50. Not only did I beat the queues, but I was also able to redeem €5 against any book purchase (also true of the €4 payers).

Not unexpectedly I did not beat the crowds, although there were a lot fewer Muggles than there had been two days earlier. I wished that I had enough floo powder to make everybody vanish for a few minutes, but had to content myself with trying to get some relatively crowd-free shots.


The iconic (& still fabulous) red spiral stairs may now bee a tad worse for wear, but the ornate woodwork, beautiful stucco plasterwork and stunning glass ceiling would easily look right at home at any wizarding establishment.



A very enjoyable thirty minutes was had by me and Mrs Wilbur – I bought a spare copy of Beedle the Bard (coz it was relatively cheap and felt appropriate), whilst Mrs W went for a Dickens.

Some people make other more tentative claims, such as the winged lions on Fonte dos Leões inspiring the griffin of Gryffindor fame or Escovaria de Belomonte broom & brush store inspiring Quality Quidditch Supplies with their pig bristle and horse hair brushes.


I would however like to offer up another no less likely theory.

75-minutes away by train from Porto is the marvelously medieval city of Guimarães. I will wax lyrical about our visit to the UNESCO listed old city centre in another post, as my subject of my theory is the Dukes of Braganza Palace.

The palace was built in the early 15th Century and its main dining room (with its magnificent wooden buttress roof), stone corridors, staircases and nooks & crannies had my head screaming ‘HOGWARTS’ at me.


It was certainly not difficult to imagine young wizards sweeping along in flowing robes between classes, Snape scolding a young Harry in the courtyard or Dumbledore addressing the Great Hall.


When I noticed the knight statue out front bore more than a resemblance to the knight chess pieces in the famous scene from the Chamber of Secrets, I was convinced. JKR had been here in the early ’90s and the wonderful place helped her imagination to run riot!

Braganza Palace Guimaraes Knight Statue

Maybe I am wrong, but in my opinion Braganza Palace should be cashing in right now!

Harry Potter Chess

The Chess Pieces, Warner Bros Studios, Watford



  1. I was travelling in Portugal last month and yes, I went to that bookshop in Porto and I bought Beedle the Bard as well! 🙂 I should have gone to Guimaraes but decided against it. Instead I went for a Douro Valley cruise. Looking at your pictures, I wish I had gone to Guimaraes. #Citytripping

    1. That’s a coincidence! Spoiled for choice really, Braga I’d said to be great too. Next time……

  2. No Way! I did not know that about her living in Porto. AND, I too have been to Guimares and I think I agree with you on that one. What is it with Portugal attracting crowds all of a sudden?? My parents moved there 5 years ago and we used to joke ‘we went to Portugal and it was CLOSED’ but not anymore! Oh well, at least folk are getting to experience this wonderful country. #citytripping

    1. I was surprised too. Porto is right up there with the best cities!

  3. Ooh this post taught me a lot – I had no idea about the Potter ties to Porto! I want to visit to see that bookshop alone. So beautiful! #citytripping

    1. To be honest, until 2 weeks ago I had no idea either!

  4. beautiful library and the castle! very Potter like:)

    1. Glad you agree!

  5. Lello was one of my favourite places in Porto! I really loved it!

    1. Unique I think. The Potter link has sent it a tad crazy!

  6. I have been dying to see that beautiful bookshop but had no idea JKR was possibly inspired by it! Thanks for the tip about pre-buying a ticket to go in! I hate large crowds of muggles too! #CityTripping

  7. …I think I’ve desperately have to visit Porto/Portugal…
    …so many interesting places, that you introduced here.

    1. More to come on Porto, wonderful place.

  8. Awesome photos and read….

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