Review: Finding the routes of Harry Potter in Porto

Bridge at night - Porto

Bridge at night - Porto - Credit: Archant

Harry Potter fans Andrea Powell and hubby noticed something strangely familiar about the streets of Porto.

Majestic Cafe

Majestic Cafe - Credit: Archant

To begin with, Hubby was somewhat underwhelmed at the thought of Porto. Yes it was very nice, with its wine and beautiful buildings and even, if you are a bloke, possibly also because it has a half decent and reasonably well-known football team. But when all said and done, it really just sounded a bit of a Portuguese Barcelona – right?

“Well as far as I am aware there is no ‘Harry Potter Land’ in Barcelona,” was my response. Being an avid Harry Potter fan (we both are), that just about nailed it. What were we waiting for?!

This was not a ‘Harry Potter Land’ trip in the Universal Studios sense of the phrase. If you have ever been to Florida then the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is truly spectacular in terms of the re-creation of the set and also the special effects and excitement of the rides.

No, this was REAL!

Narrow Street in Porto

Narrow Street in Porto - Credit: Archant

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JK Rowling actually lived in Porto whilst writing the first Harry Potter book. Consequently and not unreasonably, it is thought the town may have had a heavy influence on the writing. And walking around Porto’s cobbled streets that rose steeply up from the beautiful Douro River, on a grey misty day, you could just feel the ‘Dementor air’ almost breathing down your neck.

The streets themselves are quite unlike the other well-known Portuguese city of Lisbon, which takes on something of an imperial, almost ostentatious, feel. Porto by contrast is more rustic, you never really know what to expect around the next corner. It is as if caught in a spell as you wander through the hidden alleyways, and glance up at derelict and abandoned buildings, each no doubt with their mysterious stories locked behind the crumbling walls.

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Nudging Hubby sharply in the ribs to take a look, I was convinced I had caught sight of Hermione and Ron – or was that just my imagination?

It was in fact students at the university. In true Hogwarts style, it is tradition for many students to wander the streets in their black capes just like a scene from one of the films.


Porto - Credit: Archant

Then of course there was the bookshop – Livraria Lello. Not only is it one of the oldest book stores in Portugal, but the apparent Harry Potter inspiration was clear.

As Hubby desperately tried to take a picture, despite the very strict photography policy, I could see one of the shop assistant’s eagle eyes bearing down, watching his every move (I could swear if this man’s hair was just a little longer I would have thought it was Professor Snape). Any attempt by Hubby to bring that camera closer to his face and there was no doubt as to its fate! And no matter where Hubby tried to hide, the man just seemed to appear again. After a while, admitting defeat, we instead concentrated on enjoying the shop rather than worrying over pictures. A stunning place it was too. With a fantastic red carpeted winding wooden staircase that could easily have been plucked straight from Hogwarts, an exquisite neo-gothic façade and even a striking stained glass ceiling, the 3 Euros charge to get in was worth it.

Emerging from this amazing shop, the next stop was of course the Majestic Café just 10 minutes away. Another spectacular building in itself, Hubby was less impressed at this one. It may be legend that believes this is where the first draft of Harry Potter was written on a napkin but I think he was more pre-occupied with the exorbitant price of the rather strong and bitter coffee he had just consumed.

It was, though, a beautifully lavish building. And I am positive I saw the face of Dumbledore staring down from one of the carved figures overlooking the café’s ceiling.

train station

train station - Credit: Archant

And so we continued on our self-guided ‘Tour of Urban Myths’.We took time out to visit the train station. Does Sao Bento train station hide the infamous Platform 9¾? Then the Lion’s Fountain. Were the lions the inspiration for Gryffindor? And was Harry’s enemy Salazar Slytherin named after dictator António de Oliveira Salazar?

There was of course also much more to Porto. The old town, centred on Ribeira, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, being another lovely area to explore for half a day. Then onto the traditional shopping street that is Santa Catarina and some serious time window shopping! When even that became too much, with other nice coffee shops and beautiful buildings to admire, it was easy to take a bit of time out from to relax and people watch.

At night the lights of the iconic Ponte De D. Luis lit up the Douro to bring a calm serenity to the river. But heading away from the water’s edge, and with the thick sea mist swirling around, the character of the area changed instantly. With dimly lit, narrow streets, those you passed appeared somewhat shady, almost enigmatic. A rather tall, bald-headed person was walking quickly towards us. Voldemort? Please. No. Grabbing Hubby’s hand tightly, I could see our own warm breath in front of us, I dared look up no longer and instead concentrated on scurrying as quickly as I could close to Hubby, desperate to reach the comfort of our hotel. Closer, closer… we passed without incident. Phew. That was close.

There are probably few who really know the truth as to how and where JK Rowling’s inspiration came from for the fabulous Harry Potter books. But to be honest, it matters little. Porto was certainly able to conjure up some wonderful sights and buildings that could well resemble those from Hogwarts, Diagon Alley et al.

Students in Port - could these have been the inspiration for JK Rowling?

Students in Port - could these have been the inspiration for JK Rowling? - Credit: Archant

To be honest, like the stories themselves, the rest is all up to the imagination!

Harry Potter adventures:

Porto -The cheapest budget carrier is ryanair. A three-night package next April staying at the 4* eurostars des Artes on a bed and breakfast basis including flights and transfers costs from £240 per person.

UK - For Harry Potter fans visit the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford where you can go behind the scenes for a day and see a huge array of sets, costumes and props.

Tickets cost from £63 per adult and £58 per child or you can purchase a family ticket for £232. Round-trip coach transportation from London is also included in the price.

Florida - The holiday hot-spot already plays host to the wizarding world and diagon Alley – both within the Universal Studios Theme Park.

Tickets for a two-park Universal Studios Pass cost from £132 per adult and £122 per child.

Japan - There is also a wizarding world of Harry Potter in Japan.

Plus - Out next year is the new Harry Potter stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child based on an original new story by JK rowling while in spring 2016, a new wizarding

world opens at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Andrea Powell is owner and managing director of Idelo Travel in Ipswich. Contact: 01473 231181.

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