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. Well… I can’t help to love my country, good old Portugal. 😀 Porto and Edinburgh inspiring the making of HP sounds perfect. Haven’t yet been to Lello, but must!
    Thanks for this article, enjoyed reading it 🙂

    1. I really enjoyed our visit! Thanks for checking in. Wilbur.

  2. Oh my gosh! My family loves Harry Potter and I am sooooo happy to have found your post. Thank you. I love everything here – the trivia, the pictures, everything. 🙂
    – Amor

    1. I don’t know if you have access to BBC but there was a great programme last night with JK Rowling about the history of magic. Happy pottering!

  3. Seeing your photos really is like reading some of the pages from her books. She must have got so much inspiration from Portugal. I knew Livraria Lello was one of her haunts but great to read a bit more on her background in Porto. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    1. The legend grows. She will be considered in same vein as Tolkien.

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