Second only to the uneven hills and cobblestones, Lisbon is a city where you can’t move without tripping over a book shop.
Portugal’s notorious love affair with books is everlasting. Don’t take my word for it, just ask J.K. Rowling, who used Livarario Lello in Porto as an inspiration for Harry Potter.
Lisbon, however, is home to some of the world’s oldest bookstores, some in operation for almost a century. Throughout the city, open-air markets sell second-hand paperbacks and hardcovers as well as retailers, and in Parque Eduardo VII, Lisbon holds its annual book fair, which has been taking place for 90 years.
The book bounty in Lisbon is enough to keep any tome-enthusiast occupied for a lifetime. Just in time to kick off a new collection of summer reading properly, here is a list of the city’s essential independent bookshops.
One of the world’s most beautiful bookstores can be found at the hyper-trendy LX Factory in Alcântara. Built inside an old printing factory maintaining its original iron framework and machinery, spruced up with a few cafés, it has been mentioned in many publications as one of the most visually stunning on the planet. The shop’s hip location also makes Ler Devagar a site for many events and draws people from everywhere to see the shop itself as well as its copious new and second-hand loot.
The Livraria do Simão
Who says good things can’t come in teeny tiny packages? The Livraria do Simão, found on the south side of the hill of the São Jorge Castle, is only big enough to contain one person at a time (the owner has to step out for you to step in) this charming, infinitesimal store feels magical, and should be on anyone’s itinerary for a visit to in Lisbon, if just to be awestruck by how 4,000-plus books fit into such a tight space.
This one is newer to the city, boasting exclusively English second-hand books. Livraria Bivar is located north of the city centre, near Saldanha. Here you can find a variety of secondhand books in English, most of them in excellent condition, with prices ranging from only 4 to 7 euros. Genres include general fiction, classics, poetry & plays, sci-fi & fantasy, crime & thriller, YA & children’s literature. There is also a varied non-fiction collection where you can find anything from history books to economics, from travel books to dictionaries, biographies, spirituality, self-help and much more. The latest addition to this cozy indie shop includes an entire children’s section. Livraria Bivar is also a cultural hub where book-swapping events, book club meetings and community writing courses take place.
Livraria Bertrand do Chiado
“We share our heart and face” boasts the Livraria Bertrand do Chiado’s website, distinguished by Guinness World Records as the oldest bookstore in the world in operation. Entering the Bertrand do Chiado bookstore and going through its seven rooms is to go through part of Portuguese history and literature. Bertrand do Chiado lives up to the motto “antiquity is a post”, as it has effectively sold books since 1732. What truly makes this place a stand-out is that in addition to being a book store, it is a space where you can take an expedition through history perusing each of the rooms, which are individually sponsored by Portuguese historical figures and authors. While there are multiple offshoots of Bertrand bookstores across Lisbon, the Chiado location is where the legend begins, and ends.
A quaint shop in the heart of Old Lisbon, next to the cathedral near Alfama, Fábula Urbis is fully stocked with a huge selection of books about Lisbon. It is the go-to bookstore for learning all there is to know about the city. Those unable to speak—let alone read—in Portuguese—have no fear, despite the niche nature of this shop, Fábula Urbis sells books written in multiple languages. For those looking to take a deep dive into learning all about Lisbon, there is no better place to start. While the shop is currently closed as the country reopens, they are still taking online orders.
Livraria Letra Livre
Add this to the trendier category of bookstores in Bairro Alto, Livraria Letra Livre opened in 2006, with a bevy of both new and old books, most focused on Portuguese literature and social sciences. Another cool destination to shop/browse/interact that hosts events and has an easy to navigate website (not always the case for many Lisbon retailers and restuarants). The customer service is always happy to help the many lost tourists and expats that frequent Livraria Letra Livre.
This used bookstore and antique dealer founded in 1960, in the heart of Lisbon is for the collector of rare Portuguese antiquities. “Moving from father to son, it now has three generations of values based on quality, excellence and honesty”. The current manager “embraces the opportunity to reach people with books that are no longer in the commercial circuit. Currently, there are fewer and fewer publishers that edit and reissue books of research, specialty or by renowned authors. In addition, the excessive information present on the internet often becomes information noise, hindering a reliable analysis. This reality combined with the diverse needs of society, namely, the search for specialised and true content.” I have gone in just to chat with these guys a few times about their unique offerings, clearly, and suggest you do too.
Palavra de Viajante
Palavra de Viajante, which translates to ‘Traveller’s Word’ is the only bookstore in Portugal devoted entirely to travel. Fancy taking a journey to places unknown, even if it’s just via pages in a book? It is here that you are sure to find whatever it is you are looking for, among guides, travel stories, fiction tales about places unknown, and maps. The staff of friendly folks could double as travel encyclopaedias that speak. Add to that, a cute café on-site, you can hang out and learn everything your heart desires about travelling the world all day at Palavra de Viajante.