Featured image credit: @martialves
This week I’m having an amazing time exploring Porto and one of the best things to do in Porto is Porto Harry Potter tour! As J. K. Rowling spent time living in Porto as an English teacher, you will find many places of inspiration for the books in this wonderful city. I booked my tour as an Air BnB experience and there are also plenty of other Porto Harry Potter tours available online. They are suitable for both Muggles and Wizards to attend. Capes and wands are not mandatory but are very much appreciated on this tour!!!
***WARNING – this blog contains Harry Potter and tour spoilers!!!***
Porto is home to several ‘world’s most beautiful’ destinations – all of which you will see in this tour:
- Sao Bento – The most beautiful railway station in the world
- Lello Bookstore – The most beautiful bookstore in the world
- Cafe Majestic – The most beautiful cafe in the world
Booking my Porto Harry Potter Tour
I booked my Harry Potter tour of Porto with Vinicius on Air BnB here and this is the tour that I would really recommend: https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/2656010
He has done a fantastic trailer for his tour:
Meeting our Guide at Sao Bento Station
I knew it was going to be an amazing tour when my guide messaged me the day before with the following….
Hello Amy! I kindly ask you to carefully read the instructions below in preparation for your experience:https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/2656010
• The tour starts punctually, so please take 15 minutes before the start time to arrive at the meeting point, this is our check-in.
• You will find the guide in the beginning of the platforms 3 and 4. Look for his wand!
• Dress code: wizarding fashion! Wands at the ready!
. Owls, cats, toads and dogs are allowed!
• The spell that makes things disappear is Evanesco! Say Evanesco out loud to possible distractions! Be present!
See you soon!
We met our fabulous and very enthusiastic guide Vinicius at Sao Bento station to find out why railway stations were so important to J. K. Rowling. Sao Bento is known as one of the worlds most beautiful railway stations due to the stunning Azulejos Portuguese tiles that line the walls.
Of course the portal to the magical world of Hogwarts is on platform 9 and 3/4 at Kingscross station in London. But what is the significance? JK Rowling first though of the idea of Harry Potter on a train from Manchester to London. Also, her parents met at Kingscross station. So it’s no surprise that Kingscross was the gateway to her magical world.
At Sao Bento we discussed the format of the Harry Potter story which follows the hero format suggested by Joseph Campbell. There is always a calling, a portal to another world, a challenge and a transformation. Harry certainly does return to London a changed person.
En route to Cafe Majestic, look out for the building that appears to have inspired Gringotts bank!
While J. K. Rowling was living in Porto, she spent a great deal of time writing her first book ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ in cafe Majestic. It’s one of the most beautiful cafes in the world with ornate ceiling cornicing. You can see why Rowling was so inspired and able to get so much work done here!
But there’s more symbolism to it than just that. Cafe Majestic is full of mirrors. The magical mirror of Erised in Harry Potter, according to Dumbledore, showed your true hearts desire. For Harry, it showed his real family. For Ron it showed him as Head Boy and captain of the Quiddich team. Mine would probably show my husband and dog here with me in Porto! What would your magical mirror show?
Next look above Cafe Majestic sign at the crest. Dragons! More about those later….
At this stop we talked about the life of JK Rowling herself and how that also followed a similar pattern to the hero story outline. Her calling to Porto happened after the death of her mother. She took a plane to Porto (a muggle portal to another world) and made a new life here as a teacher. She married and got pregnant giving birth to her first child Jessica here in Porto. But sadly her marriage was abusive and unhealthy and so it ended after just 18 months. Rowling returned to the UK< a single mother and destitute. Depression set in – the inspiration behind the dementors that suck the life right out of you.
Note: if you want to eat in Cafe Majestic you may need to book in advance.
See the cafe Majestic Menu here.
The next stop was the Atlantic Palace to explore some of Portugal’s own heros. Portugal of course has its own ‘Harry’ – Henry the navigator. The roof of the building and the ceramic artwork inside the Atlantic palace shows the story of the golden age of discoveries for the Portuguese people. The treasure is depicted as a woman with golden skin – the discovery of Brazil.
The significance of Placa da Liberdade or Liberty Square is a symbolic one in that it is the destination where Portugal was freed following 41 years of the brutal dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar, of course, is the inspiration behind Slytherin house.
At Liberty square, we learn about the significance of the dragon to both Portugal and Harry Potter. A dragon is essentially a winged serpant. Serpants feature heavily in Harry Potter – he has to fight the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. Add wings and you get a challenging winged beast that appears in many mythical stories.
Harry has to face 2 fearsome dragons in the books including a Hungarian Horntail during the first task of the Triwizard Tournament and the Gringotts Dragon guarding the vault at the Wizarding bank. Not to forget Norbet of course – the baby wizard that Ron and Hermione witness Hagrid hatching from an egg in the Philosophers Stone.
But dragons are in Porto too – you will see them everywhere! Firstly look on the monument to Pedro IV. As well as being a force of evil, dragons symbolise power, strength, wisdom and hidden knowledge. A crown and a black Dragon were added to the city’s coat of arms to signify the city’s fighting spirit and also as a reference to the ‘Duque of Porto’ – a title created for the male who was second inline to the Portuguese throne.
Where else do you find dragons in Porto? At Porto FC of course! Look at the crest and you will see a green dragon as a symbol of the team’s heroic nature – undefeated!!! In fact the stadium itself is called the Estádio do Dragão!
The next stop is the Justice Palace, to meet the man behind the inspiration for the founder of House Slytherin. This monumental building was designed following Salazar’s dictatorship. Remember back to the founders of the houses in Harry Potter…
Gryffindor – Godrick Gryffindor
Ravenclaw – Rowena Ravenclaw
Hufflepuff – Helga Hufflepuff
Slytherin – Salazar Slytherin
Well António de Oliveira Salazar was a Portuguese dictator in power for over 40 years from the 1930’s onwards. During this time there was no freedom of speech or religion. Salazar favoured the Portuguese over the immigrants and Jews (he favoured the pure bloods – another HP reference there).
But the statue of the lady of Justice still stands there today. She holds a sword to represent the fighting spirit and scales to represent balance. Her blindfold is missing – she sees everything. And the statue remains today. So why, after such a difficult past under a dictatorship does this statue of Justice still stand?
The answer is revealed in Harry Potter. It doesn’t matter what house you are from – there is good and bad in everybody. Salazar may have been a dictator, but his economic knowledge guided Portugal out of the great depression and he kept Portugal neutral during the second World War.
University of Porto
What is the link between the University of Porto and Harry Potter, I hear you ask?! Well….it’s the uniforms of course. It is a tradition of the Portuguese universities including Porto and Coimbra to wear the full traditional dress which includes….you guessed it….a cape!
Welcome to J. K. Rowlings inspiration behind the Hogwarts dress code.
In front of the University of Porto opposite Carmo Church, you will see a fountain supported by four winged lions. Could these be the inspiration behind Griffindor?
Our final stop was Lello Bookstore which is said to have inspired JK Rowling’s moving staircase. Lello Bookshop is one of the most visited places in Porto and is actually known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
J. K. Rowling actually denied that Lello bookstore was the inspiration behind the moving staircase on Twitter, saying that she had never even been there! But given that she was a writer and that she lived in an apartment within walking distance, do you really believe that she never set foot in Lello Bookstore? I certainly don’t!
Book a ticket to go inside and you will see that the similarities between the staircase in this store and the moving staircase in Harry Potter are obvious although somewhat uncanny!
I was totally spoilt today because it was the birthday of Lello bookstore, so I got cake and my ticket was FREE! Thank you and Happy Birthday Lello!
If you want to go inside Lello then a good tip is to book your time slot for around 12.30pm or 1pm so that it ties in with the end of the tour. It’s an excellent add on.
Note: Going inside is NOT included in the Harry Potter walking tours of Porto. Book your ticket online in advance here.
Top tip: If you order a book to buy from Lello you will get in for free when you go to collect it!
The Symbolism behind the tour
It’s my belief (and Vini’s too) that everything in Harry Potter contains symbolism and meaning. At the end of the tour we were asked about the symbolism behind the numbers in Harry Potter. So what is the secret symbolism behind the tour? Well, if you think about it carefully, you might figure it out.
But for now, I’m not going to give that away! You will have to go on the tour to find out!
I want to say a BIG thank you to Vinicius for such an amazing Porto Harry Potter tour – one of the best and most well planned out tours I have ever been on! Book it now!