The Harry Potter Porto Connection
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you probably already know that London and Edinburgh are full of locations that influenced and inspired JK Rowling as she was writing the Harry Potter books.
But what about Porto???
Not many people know it, but there is indeed a Harry Potter Portugal connection, and it’s particularly evident in the northern Portuguese city of Porto. Read on to find out why anyone who loves Harry Potter should definitely visit Porto.
The JK Rowling Porto Years
JK Rowling moved to Porto in 1991. This was a difficult time in her life, as her mother had recently passed away after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. And to rub salt in the wound, her house in Manchester had been burgled, and everything her mother had left her was stolen.
Eager for a change of scenery, she accepted a job teaching English as a second language in Porto at a private language school on Avenida de Fernão de Magalhães called Encounter English.
Rowling spent her evenings teaching English to young teenagers, business people and housewives and spent her days working on the manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
While living in Porto, she fell in love with and married a Portuguese journalism student. The next year, at age 27, she gave birth to their daughter, Jessica. Unfortunately, the marriage quickly deteriorated.
In 1993, when Jessica was just a few months old, Rowling left her husband and returned to the UK with her daughter. While she had not managed to finish the manuscript in Portugal as she had hoped, she did have the first three chapters completed.
The time Rowling spent in Portugal was in many ways a dark and painful period of her life, and one that she rarely talks about. For this reason, it’s hard to know for sure exactly which elements of the Harry Potter saga were inspired by her experiences in Porto.
Nevertheless, the influence is clearly there. Many people have speculated that Rowling took inspiration from certain Porto landmarks, shops and cafés.
Some of these supposed inspiration locations almost certainly did inspire her, while others require a stretch of the imagination. Rowling may have been subconsciously influenced by them, even if she didn’t recognize it at the time.
In any case, Potterheads young and old will get a kick out of catching glimpses of Harry Potter’s wizarding world as they explore Porto.
Harry Potter Portugal - Sources of Inspiration
António de Oliveira Salazar -- The Original Slytherin
Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of Hogwarts and the namesake of Slytherin House, is named after the dictator who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968. While other Harry Potter Portugal connections are mere speculation, we know for sure that this one is true. JK Rowling herself confirmed it on Twitter:
I did indeed take his name from António Salazar, the Portuguese dictator. https://t.co/an6l8U3ma5— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) April 14, 2017
António de Oliveira Salazar is known for, among other things, refusing to grant independence to Portugal’s African colonies and using military force to quell revolutionary movements in Africa.
As a leader who upheld outdated, racist policies, Salazar is perhaps an appropriate inspiration for the Slytherin founder who wanted to ban all Muggle-born wizards and witches from Hogwarts.
But, while the toppling of Salazar’s dictatorship in the Carnation Revolution is widely celebrated every April 25th and is a source of pride for many Portuguese, it’s worth noting that not everyone in the country thinks he was evil. In fact, in a 2007 television poll, Salazar won the vote for the “greatest Portuguese who ever lived”!
Swing Club was a popular bar and nightclub in Porto, which unfortunately closed a few years ago. It was a favorite hangout of JK Rowling and her flatmates, Jill Prewett and Aine Kiely, when they lived in Porto in the 1990s.
This explains the dedication in the front of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which reads:
"To Jill Prewett and Aine Kiely, The godmothers of Swing".
It may sound hard to believe, but university students in Portugal really do wear long, black robes that look uncannily like the uniforms worn by Hogwarts students. The uniform is called a traje académico (academic suit) and is worn by male and female students alike.
The traje académico was made optional more than 100 years ago, and yet many students continue to wear it proudly, even modeling it on Instagram.
If you visit the University of Porto campus, you’ll probably see students walking around with their black capes flowing behind them.
To get a taste of what it feels like to shop for new robes at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions on Diagon Alley, visit the A Toga shop on Rua de Fernandes Tomás in Porto. They sell all kinds of student robes, but probably not invisibility cloaks!
This beautiful Art Nouveau café on the famous Rua Santa Catarina shopping street is said to be one of the places where Rowling worked on the manuscript of her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In his biography of JK Rowling, Sean Smith claims that she jotted down Harry Potter story lines on napkins while sipping coffee here.
I’m slightly suspicious, as the Majestic’s pricey menu was likely beyond Rowling’s budget at the time. Nevertheless, it’s known that Rowling did do a lot of writing in cafés once she moved to Edinburgh, and her ex-husband has confirmed in interviews that they used to frequent the Majestic.
Despite the high prices, there’s often a line out the door of tourists waiting for a table here. If you don’t mind paying seven times the going rate for a cup of coffee, then go right ahead. But for food, I recommend heading to the nearby Vegana by Tentúgal instead.
It’s a lovely café with very reasonably priced sandwiches, burgers and other light meals, and it’s all vegan! In the coming weeks I’ll be publishing a vegan guide to Porto with lots of other great food recommendations, so watch this space!
Livraria Lello Bookstore
There’s no doubt that Livraria Lello, or the Lello Bookstore, is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Built in 1906 in a mix of Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic styles, it has been attracting booklovers for more than 100 years.
But when rumor spread that it was the inspiration for Flourish and Blotts -- the bookstore in Diagon Alley where Hogwarts students purchase their school books -- Lello’s popularity quickly spiraled out of control. Nowadays, most visitors know it as the Harry Potter bookstore.
In 2015, Lello began charging an entrance fee in an effort to control the crowds. To be more accurate, they sell €5 vouchers that can go towards the purchase of any book in the store. So visiting the bookstore is still free, as long as you buy a book.
Some visitors are confused by the name Livraria Lello and think that it’s a library. It is not. In Portuguese, the word for library is “biblioteca”, while the word for bookstore is “livraria”.
Although, there is also speculation that Lello was the inspiration for the Hogwarts library, as well as the Grand Staircase. I’ve even read claims that Lello was the filming location for the Harry Potter scenes inside Ollivanders, the wand shop!
I’ve watched the scenes from all of these locations carefully, and there’s nothing inside the Lello bookstore that is immediately recognizable in any of them.
Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine that Rowling would have taken inspiration from the architecture here. The stained-glass windows and sweeping crimson staircase certainly would not look out of place at Hogwarts.
Beware that there’s often a long line to get into the Lello bookstore. You can purchase your voucher online in advance, but the vouchers are not issued for a specific time slot, so you will still have to wait in line.
Also, keep in mind that bags are not allowed inside the bookstore. There are lockers at the check-in area a couple of doors down, inside the Armazéns do Castelo, where you can leave your bag for free. You will need a €1 coin as a returnable deposit to open the locker, though.
Platform 9¾ inside King’s Cross Station is one of the most popular Harry Potter attractions in London. Potterheads line up for hours to get their photo taken as they pretend to run head first into the brick wall of the platform while pushing a trolley laden with old, worn out suitcases and a white owl in a cage.
One of the best-kept secrets for fans of Harry Potter in Porto is that you can pose for your platform 9¾ photo here too … without waiting in line!
Inside the Armazéns do Castelo, where the Livraria Lello vouchers are sold, is a photo backdrop that’s very similar to the one inside King’s Cross station. While there is no professional photographer here to take your first-day-of-school photo as you head off to Hogwarts, you are welcome to take all the selfies you want.
And the platform is free to access, even if you don’t buy a voucher to visit the bookstore. Obviously, the platform was placed here in the wake of the Harry Potter frenzy and is not an inspiration location. But it’s a great photo opp that you won’t want to miss!
Fonte dos Leões
On Gomes Teixeira Square, near the famous blue-and-white-tiled Carmo Church, is a fountain known as the Fountain of the Lions, or the Fonte dos Leões in Portuguese.
When I heard the theory that the lion statues on the fountain inspired the Gryffindor crest, my first thought was, “But surely the animal on the Gryffindor crest is a griffin??”
Nope, it’s a lion.
A gryffin is a legendary creature that has the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, and the head and wings of an eagle. The lions on the fountain do have wings, but not eagle’s heads.
But the Gryffindor lion has neither wings nor an eagle’s head, so it’s hard to make a strong case either way as to whether these particular lions were the inspiration behind the Gryffindor mascot.
Torre dos Clérigos
The Torre dos Clérigos, or Clergymen’s Tower, is a beautiful church tower that offers sweeping views of Porto and its surroundings. Climbing up the tower’s narrow spiral staircase is definitely one of the top things to do in Porto.
But did this tower inspire the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts? Some say it did, but I’m not convinced.
The Astronomy Tower is the tallest tower in Hogwarts Castle. It also plays a key role in the Harry Potter saga, as it was in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower that Severus Snape killed Professor Dumbledore, on Dumbledore’s own orders.
The Torre dos Clérigos is certainly tall, but apart from that I don’t see much of a resemblance between the two.
Escovaria de Belomonte
This broom shop, which has been in operation since 1927, is the Portuguese equivalent of Quality Quidditch Supplies, Harry’s favorite shop on Diagon Alley. You’re unlikely to find a Firebolt or a Nimbus 2000 here, though. The brooms here are made for sweeping, not flying.
Still, it’s pretty cool to watch brooms being made in the workshop here as they have been for nearly 100 years. Portugal has some unique, historic shops that still manage to stay afloat despite competition from large department stores and online vendors, and the Escovaria de Belomonte is a great example.
Do I think JK Rowling invented quidditch after passing by the Escovaria? Probably not. It’s not like witches riding broomsticks was a new concept in the 1990s.
But the shop is definitely worth checking out, and with a little imagination you can pretend you’re shopping for the latest quidditch gadgets.
Escovaria de Belomonte is just down the street from Porto's puppet museum. For more great museums in the city, check out my Porto Museum Guide.
Fernando Pessoa was a prolific writer and one of the greatest poets to write in the Portuguese language. Pessoa is a fascinating character. Or, to be more accurate, he is 72 fascinating characters.
He wrote under many different names, which he called heteronyms rather than pseudonyms, as they each had their own biographies, writing styles and even signatures.
Pessoa’s face can be seen all over Portugal and is easily recognized by the dark, round glasses he wore. They do look a lot like the preferred eyewear of a certain young boy wizard. Coincidence? You decide.
Prado do Repouso Cemetery
According to the Sean Smith biography, Rowling lived with her then-husband at Rua do Duque de Saldanha 59. Very close to their old residence is a cemetery called the Cemitério Prado do Repouso.
It’s known that the inspiration for Little Hangleton cemetery, where Harry duels with Voldemort, came from Rowling’s wanderings through actual graveyards.
The ominous Angel of Death sculpture on Tom Riddle’s grave was based on actual sculptures in the Highgate Cemetery in North London. And the names of several key characters in the books came from gravestones in the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.
It doesn’t seem too far fetched to think that Rowling also would have meandered through the graves of the Prado do Repouso during this dark and sad period in her life.
Harry Potter Tour in Porto
While I knew about some of these Harry Potter inspiration locations before arriving in Porto, others I discovered by joining the The Imaginary Harry Potter Experience (not sponsored), which can be booked on AirBnB. If you don’t want the hassle of trying to find all these Harry Potter attractions on your own, the AirBnB experience is a great option.
Even though I already knew a lot about the Harry Potter Porto connections before going on the tour, I still enjoyed geeking out with my guide Kiki about Harry Potter stuff.
Plus, she also gave me some useful travel tips for making the most of my Porto visit. If you’re lucky, she might even take you into the Forbidden Forest, where you can catch a glimpse of Harry Potter’s patronus!