Did J.K. Rowling Write Harry Potter in Porto?

By | Last updated: May 20, 2020

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I spent a lot of time in Edinburgh, a place that’s so closely linked with the creation of Harry Potter that it’s part of the fabric.

Everyone in the city knows that a young single mum named Joanne Rowling used to spend her days writing in what is now the Elephant House café. Well, actually, some people disagree with that.

Other rumours say she wrote Harry Potter at Nicolson’s Café on 6a Nicholson Street, which closed and later became a Chinese buffet restaurant, and has since re-opened as a cafe’s called Spoon.

Regardless of where she wrote it, if there’s once thing that people from Edinburgh can agree it’s that J. K. Rowling was so inspired by the view across the higgledy-piggledy gravestones of Greyfriars Kirkyard and the gothic spires of George Heriot’s School that she brought her magical world to life. Or so I thought…

With Edinburgh’s Harry Potter connections firmly cemented in my mind, you can imagine my face when our Porto walking tour guide told us that Harry Potter was written in Porto and not Edinburgh.

Was someone lying? Had I been lied to? Where was Harry Potter written? Portugal or Scotland?

Portuguese Potter

Before she became a single mum on benefits, J.K. Rowling taught English as a foreign language in Porto. She lived there between 1991 and 1993, which became the formative years of Harry Potter.

During this time she outlined and developed her ideas for the entire seven-book series, and even got started on book one.

Fernando Pessoa and Harry Potter are both style icons in Porto

She writes on her website “in those first weeks in Portugal I wrote what has become my favourite chapter in the Philosopher’s Stone, ‘The Mirror of Erised’ – and had hoped that, when I returned from Portugal I would have a finished book under my arm. In fact, I had something even better: my daughter, Jessica.”

There are lots of rumours about how she weaved inspiration from the city into her novels. Although some are a bit tenuous, they’re well worth knowing if you’re creating your own Harry Potter tour of Porto.

Harry Potter legend has it…

1. J.K. Rowling scribbled down notes on napkins while enjoying a coffee break in Cafe Majestic.

This gorgeous bell époque space is one of Porto’s most exclusive cafés, complete with glittering chandeliers, smartly dressed waiters… and linen napkins. Maybe she brought her own to write on?

Visit: Cafe Majestic, Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto. Open 9:30am-11:30pm, closed Sundays.

2. Diagon Alley’s premium bookstore, Flourish and Blotts, was inspired by Livraria Lello.

This ornate bookshop in the heart of Porto has been voted one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.

A Livraria Lello e Irmão bookshop in Porto, Portugal
Photo source: Wikipedia

It’s such a big tourist attraction that you now need to pay €3 to enter (don’t worry: you get it back as a discount if you buy something).

Visit: Livraria Lello, Rua das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto. Open 10am-7:30pm Mon-Fri, 10am-7pm Sat and Sun. Buy your ticket from the booth outside (pictured above).

3. Escovaria de Belomonte inspired the Broom Shop on Diagon Alley.

Porto’s artisan brush store dates back to 1927. Although you won’t find a Nimbus 2000 inside, you will find handcrafted brushes made from fine wood and natural fibres like horse hair and pig bristle. Four thousand brushes are made by hand each year and exported around the world.

Visit: Escovaria de Belomonte, Rua de Belomonte 34, 4050-096 Porto. Open 8am-7pm Mon-Fri, closed weekends.

4. The university students black cape uniform inspired the way Harry and his pals dress for school.

You might feel like you’ve bumped into a group of Potterheads when you spot them wandering around the city. The difference is Portuguese students only wear black ties, not colourful ones like the Hogwarts students.

(Apparently they also dislike being called ‘Harry Potter’ and much prefer their old nickname, ‘Batman’).

5. The Fonte dos Leões, with its winged lion statues, provided inspiration for the Gryffindor house symbol.

praca dos leoes
Could this winged lion be an inspiration for House Gryffindor? Image: Otourly via Wikimedia Commons

Visit: Fonte dos Leões, Praça de Gomes Teixeira 10, 4050-159 Porto.

6. António de Oliveira Salazar (Portugal’s dictator from 1932 to 1968), lent his name to baddie Salazar Slytherin.

Slytherins are cunning, resourceful and ambitious so we can see why Rowling named the house founder after Portugal’s ex dictator. He kept Portugal neutral during WWII, and used those three skills to keep both the Allies and Axis powers happy despite massive pressure to pick a side.

Portuguese literacy levels remained low throughout his regime, as education wasn’t a priority, so we can see why an English teacher (and aspiring novelist) might take a dim view.

Even Harry Potter would find this Chamber of Secrets a bit creepy
Voldemort would feel right at home in these creepy catacombs beneath the gothic Igreja de São Francisco

Bittersweet beginnings and happy endings

When her marriage broke down, Joanne packed up her infant daughter (and the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) and relocated to Edinburgh. This is where the story we all know begins.

Life was hard for the newly single mum, who had to sign onto state benefits in order to sustain herself. Thankfully there was a happy ending.

Despite battling with depression, bereavement and poverty, she created a multi-billion dollar sensation that inspired a passion for literature in countless children. Take that, Salazar.

Heading to Coimbra?

As one of the biggest university cities in Portugal, Coimbra probably had a big impact on Harry Potter as well. 

It’s also home to a café that serves Butter Beer. Mocca coffee shop doesn’t advertise the drink on their menu but, if you ask for it, they’ll make it for you. It has a salty caramel flavour and comes with “H P” written on the top of the drink. 

  • Address: Mocca Coffee Shop, Centro Comercial Girasolum Loja 117 Piso 1, 3030-328 Coimbra (map)
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9 thoughts on “Did J.K. Rowling Write Harry Potter in Porto?”

  1. Hi James!
    I spent one Year in Oporto 1989 /1990 as a host student- in this time the town was very different from today! The ribeira was almost grey and there were only a few tourists in the sommer- during the winter season there were almost no foreign people. The cafe majestic hasn’t been renewed by this time: it was only a little bit more expensive than other cafes in this area and no touristic place at all. The livraria Lello was a place I discovered without hints in guides. Porto’s beauty is now much better known in Europe and Harry Potter helped to make it much more known – it is really worth being visited – also for its warm , friendly and welcoming people!
    Ismene

    Reply
  2. I visited both the bookstore and cafe today. Both were amazing. I had the Majestic dessert with a 30 year old tawny port pairing which is 11 euros and it was worth it!

    Reply
    • Hi Margaret,

      Nice to hear a positive review from someone as a lot of people don’t have good things to say about Majestic. Glad you had a good time!

      Reply
  3. 30/12/2019
    The Majestic Café does have paper napkins now. However, be prepared for its prices. A coffee with milk is normally about €1.5, at the Majestic €6 and a hot chocolate €7. The café itself is beautiful but it’s beverages are very much the same as anywhere else.
    The Lello bookshop is spectacular and well worth a visit but it now costs €5 per person to get in, irrespective of whether you are a child, a pensioner, or form part of a large party of visitors. Yes they do deduct those €5 if you buy a book, but their books are about 40% more expensive than anywhere else. Here are some more example: Harry Potter Hedwig kit €19.90, €10,17 on Amazon; Collectible Quidditch Set €49.90, €19.53 on Amazon. You expect a mark up in tourist areas but isn’t this a little excessive?

    Reply
    • Hi Mercedes,

      Yes, I was shocked when I saw the prices this year. It was €5 for an espresso – which you could get for 50-60 cents in a basic café around the corner.

      Thanks for doing the price comparison for Livraria Lello. Books are more expensive in Portugal overall, so I think I would need to compare it to another Portuguese bookshop to be completely fair to them. That said, when I was there I didn’t buy anything even though I had already paid €5 towards something, so it’s likely that they are more expensive.

      Reply

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