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The 29 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World: Indulge Your Library Lust

Let this list of 29 beautiful libraries of the world blow your literary mind with cultural and architectural treasures, all centered around books. When traveling, I always make a point of stopping in at libraries around the world. Visiting them can give you a local history lesson, architectural education and peaceful respite from a busy itinerary. I’ve visited many of these cool libraries myself and others are sitting on my bucket list, just waiting for me to get there.

So, whether are you an armchair literary traveler, or you are looking to go out into the world, check out the following list of the world’s most lovely libraries.

29 of the Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Manchester Engtland John rylands library. gothic hall table and chairs
The great hall at John Rylands Library, Manchester England.
Manchester John Rylands Library. vaulted room desk chairs and red carpet
Vertical view of the Rylands reading room.

John Rylands Library, Manchester England

Manchester England is a UNESCO City of Literature…and no wonder, because the city is positively stuffed with beautiful libraries. John Rylands was a textile millionaire in the 1800’s. His third wife, Enriqueta had a charitable nature and she built the library in his honor as a gift to the people of Manchester. They have over 1.4 million items in their collection and one whopper of a Gothic reading room.

“Read in order to live”

–Flaubert
Manchester England Chethems library room. Old bookshelves and benches
Chetham’s Library collection.
Manchester Chethems library bookshelves and reading desk
Bookshelves and work desk at Chethems.
Chethems library exterior. Medieval building and grounds
Looks kinda like Hogwarts doesn’t it?

Chetham’s Library, Manchester England

They didn’t use Chetham’s library for a Harry Potter movie, but it sure feels like they could have. This medieval building dates back to the 1420 when it was a college for priests, and most of the books date back to that time. In 1653, Humphrey Chetham purchased the building and set it up as a Hogwarts-like school for boys (minus the magic). Chetham believed strongly in making books available to the public, and he made the building one of the very first free public libraries. It’s said that Marx and Engel passed a summer in the reading room, cooking up all sorts of social theories.

Libraries around the world: England Oxford Bodleian  Duke Humphrey's Library Harry Potter, bookshelves and table
The Duke Humphrey’s Reading Room in Oxford. Photo Courtesy of What’s Hot Blog.

Duke Humphrey’s Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

The Bodleian first opened to scholars in 1602, incorporating books donated by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester. Since then, it has expanded slowly, and it now has 31 libraries in the network. The Duke Humphrey library is one of the loveliest and it also had a starring role as the “restricted reading” section in the Harry Potter’s movies.

Some of the libraries aren’t open to the public, but many are. Check out this list of other beautiful libraries at Oxford and pick a few to visit.

London's British Library stacks. People reading and walking by
London’s British Library.

British Library, London England

The British Library may not be the prettiest, but it is certainly one of the most famous libraries on this list. It still gets a great deal of use from the general public, as evidenced by the worker bees above. The desks surround a central stack of special collections that shoots out of the atrium like a literary monolith. The library also has an amazing set of collections for public viewing, including: a Gutenberg Bible, works by Shakespeare, the Magna Carta and musical notes from the Beatles.

After you visit the library, stroll nearby Russell Square for some really cool London Bookshops. then find some offbeat things to do in London with this three day itinerary and this guide to Harry Potter sites in the UK.

Wales Gladstones library interior shelves
The interior reading room at Gladstone’s Library.
Wales Gladstones library exterior. Victorian building and grounds
The lovely Victorian exterior of Gladstone’s.

Gladstone’s Library, Howarden Wales

The library was founded by William Gladstone, a long time UK Member of Parliament and Prime Minister during the 1800’s. He had a vast appetite for books, accumulating over 32,000 volumes in his lifetime. His library is the UK’s only Prime Ministerial library and one of a very small number of residential libraries. This means that the best thing about this library, is that you can sleep there!

Read more about my literary pilgrimage to Wales and my sleepover at Gladstones.

Dublin Longroom library Trinity College. Domed wood ceiling and bookshelves
The domed ceiling of the Long Room Library at Trinity College.
Dublin Trinity College Long Room library. Shelves of books and statues
The Long Room looks like a museum, but it is an active research library.

Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin Ireland

Dublin is another UNESCO City of Literature and for good reason. They have a strong (and sometimes contrarian) literary history, and the city is filled with beautiful libraries, cool bookshops, and bookish museums. The jewel in Dublin’s literary crown is the Long Room at Trinity College, which is one of the most famous libraries in Europe. It was built in 1712 and comprises the main chamber of the library. It houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. If you are like me, you will audibly gasp when entering the room. The light streaming in from the windows illuminates row after row of books, all connected together by a beautiful curved ceiling.

Marsh's Library Dublin Ireland. bookshelves and ladder
Marsh’s Library in Dublin. Photo courtesy of Ireland Tourism.
Dublin Ireland Marsh's Library shelves. vertical
The books in this library smell so good! Photo courtesy of Ireland tourism.

Marsh’s Library, Dublin

Marsh’s Library is not as popular or well known as the Long Room, but it’s just as beautiful. It’s an eighteenth century time machine and ALL of their books are at least three hundred years old. Their rare manuscripts, maps and prints are available for serious researchers but the library is also open to the public for visits. The staff there is beyond friendly and will happily answer your questions about their collection and the Dublin literary celebrities who have visited there.

Literary tour: Dublin National Library
The reading room of the National Library of Ireland.

National Library, Dublin

But wait, we aren’t finished with Dublin yet. Ireland’s National Library collection includes materials on Ireland’s history and heritage. As a researcher, you can work on family genealogy or review Ireland’s printed history. The ground floor has an exhibit on Yeats and the main reading room is a quiet contemplative space.

Construct your own book themed itinerary with this Dublin literary tour and this list of cool bookshops.

Beautiful libraries around the world: Biblioteca do Convento de Mafra Mafra Palace library with domed ceiling and shelves
Lovely Mafra library image courtesy of Julie Dawn Fox.

Biblioteca de Convento de Mafra, Mafra, Portugal

The grand library at the Palace in Mafra is a 260 year old roccoco masterpiece. It was completed in 1755 and houses 36,000 volumes, including rare books that were hunted during the Inquisition. In an unusual bit of organic pest control, the library employs bats to keep paper eating critters out of the stacks.

You can visit the palace as a pretty easy day trip from Lisbon, and it takes only an hour by bus.

Portugal Coimbra Blblioteca Joanina
Exotic wood shelves in the Biblioteca Joanina. Photo courtesy of the Nomadic Vegan.

Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra, Portugal

This richly decorated library was founded by Dom João V in 1755. They have 300,000 volumes dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The ceilings were painted with a trompe l´oeil effect and the shelves themselves are made from exotic woods. Like Mafra, there are also resident bats in this library.

Coimbra is an easy stop on the train between Lisbon and Porto. When in Porto, you can find more historic sites and some contemporary exhibits in this Porto museum guide.

Austria Stiftsbibliothek Admont monestary library. Domed ceiling and bookshelves
Admont Monestary library. Photo courtesy of Austrian Tourism, photographer Gerhard Trumler
Austria Stiftsbibliothek Admont monestary library. hall with red carpet
Look, they are rolling out the red carpet, just so that I can lay on it. How kind of them. Photo courtesy of Austrian Tourism, photographer Gerhard Trumler

Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Admont, Austria

If I visit this library, do you think they will let me lay on the floor so that I can soak up that gorgeous ceiling? I ask, because the seven ceiling frescoes are masterpieces of the Enlightenment, painted in 1775-6 by Bartolomeo Altomonte. This is billed as the world’s largest monastery library, and looking at the picture, that does not seem like any kind of hyperbole.

” …Rejoice, the ancient spirit thrives again. For those who read a word or two, there’s hope”

–Trai Nguyen
Ulm Germany Kremsmuenster library
The lower ceiling in the Stiftsbibliothek gives it a cozy demeanor. Photo courtesy of Austrian Tourism, photographer EOS-Witzany.

Stiftsbibliothek Kremsmünster, Kremsmünster, Austria

The Kremsmünster Abbey was founded in 777 CE, making it one of the oldest on this list of libraries around the world. Its holdings include the Codex Millenarius, a famous 8th-Century manuscript of the Christian Gospels that depicts Saint Luke as a flying ox. Despite raids in the 10th century, the library largely managed to escape sacking and raiding. Like the Gladstones, you can also stay at the Abbey in one of their modest guest rooms.

El Escorial library in Spain. Globe sculpture, bookshelves and murals
Check out these beautiful Renaissance murals in El Escorial. Photo courtesy of the Nomadic Vegan.

The Library of El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

The El Escorial palace complex is the most important architectural monuments of the Spanish Renaissance. The building was conceived by King Philip II and was intended as a multi-purpose shrine to his late father. The palace site is sort of like a Spanish nesting doll, with the library inside the monastery inside the palace.

El Escorial is on the outskirts of Madrid’s metro area, making it an easy day trip. While in the city, figure out what else to do with this Madrid itinerary and this vegan eating guide.

Switzerland Abbey Library of Saint Gall in Gallen. Decorative ceiling and bookshelves
I love the curving balcony architecture. Photo courtesy of the Swiss tourism bureau.

Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland

Like the Kremsmünster, this Abbey library is very old. It was founded in 719AD and is one of the most richly appointed libraries in the world. The library has been a scriptorium where Benedictine monks worked on illustrated manuscripts. Over time, they came to specialize in collecting manuscripts from the Middle Ages and even have an old Egyptian mummy lurking about the grounds.

Belgium KU Leuven university library
The reading room at the Leuven University Library. Photo courtesy of Everything Brussels.

KU Leuven University Library, Leuven Belgium

This lovely library needed a serious repair job after WWII. But they have lovingly restored the warm reading room filled with globes, dictionaries and lots of place for study. You can also climb 300 steps to the top of the bell tower for great views of Leuven.

You can visit the library and more in just a weekend in Leuven.

paris Sainte Genevieve library. Arched hall with bookshelves and work tables
Beautiful libraries can also be functional, as evidenced by the Sainte-Geneviève in Paris. Photo courtesy of Whats Hot Blog.

Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, France

The Sainte-Genevieve has had many iterations, starting from the 6th century. But its current iteration was born in in 1855, when it became the first library in France not to be connected to a school, Abbey or palace. The unique wrought iron ceiling has gives the library a Victorian train station sort of vibe.

The Stadsbiblioteket, Stockholm city library. round reading room
The round reading room in Stockholm’s main city library. Photo courtesy of Happiest Outdoors.

The Stadsbiblioteket, Stockholm Sweden

Modernism was definitely at work in 1924 when Stockholm’s city library was designed. The movement for a new library was in part, influenced by Carnegie’s movement in the US to democratize libraries (as seen below in Nashville). The rounded main reading room is a three tiered layer cake of books with wide open shelving and an airy feel.

See more of Sweden with these awesome images of Stockholm.

Stuttgart City Library in Germany. While walls and bookshelves
This like an Escher painting, if Escher were a book nerd. Photo courtesy of Sidewalk Safari.

City Library, Stuttgart Germany

Who says that a beautiful library has to be old? I haven’t been to Stuttgart since 1984 on a study abroad trip, but with the construction of this modern wonder, I’m going to need to go back. It rises up out of the ground like a modern crystal cube. It’s also intensely modern in its function, with an event space, loan-able art, an animation library and a rooftop deck.

Go to Stuttgart during Christmas and, in addition to the library, you can enjoy regional Christmas markets and offbeat museums.

Super cool libraries: Oodi Library Helsinki Finland
I love the wavy exterior design at the Oodi. Photo courtesy of Helsinki tourism.
Helsinki Oodi library interior
I could spend all day here. Photo courtesy of Helsinki tourism.

Oodi Central Library, Helsinki Finland

In another intersection where totally modern design meets contemporary life, the Oodi in Helsinki is “living meeting place”. It’s been designed to complement nearby public spaces like the contemporary art museum and the music center. This ingenious building offers traditional library services as well as work spaces, a maker lab, film screenings and food.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria Egypt. Reading Room
The airy terraced reading room at the Bibliothexa Alexandrina. Photo courtesy of World Travel Connector.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria Egypt

The original ancient Alexandria library in Egypt was one of the earliest (and greatest) libraries in the world. It’s said to have burned to the ground in 48BC, leaving behind only ashes and myth. In 2002, Alexandria decided to resurrect the library for the modern age, building an architectural stunner with cultural purpose. In addition to traditional library spaces (such as reading rooms), they host a research center and three museums.

Include the library on a bucket list itinerary including these other landmarks in Egypt.

Beautiful libraries: Australia Melbourne central library. rotunda and reading tables in a large room
The reading room in Melbourne’s State Library.
Victoria Melbourne state library special collections. white walls and bookshelves
Special collections of the Melbourne State Library

State Library, Melbourne Australia

Melbourne is yet another City of Literature. They not only have a ton of local literary events, great indy bookstores and prolific authors, they have one of the most beautiful libraries in the Southern Hemisphere. Built in 1864, it’s Australia’s oldest library and they are charged with preserving Victoria’s heritage by collecting items of historical and cultural significance for future generations.

“Writers speak for those who are kept in silence”

–Isabel Allende
Mexico City  Biblioteca Vasconcelos. modern interior with bookshelves
The Jose Vasconcelos is modern and modular. Photo courtesy of Jub Bryant from Tiki Touring Kiwi.
Mexico City library Biblioteca Vasconcelos
Photo courtesy of Jub Bryant from Tiki Touring Kiwi.

José Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City

This library looks to me as if an Amazon distribution center evolved from being a place where you shove books out the door, into a place where you can read and love books. It’s modern, it’s modular and it makes me wish that my Spanish language skills were more up to par so that I could read all of the books there.

Real Gabinete Português de Leitura. Royal Portuguese Reading Room Rio de Janeiro
The Gabinete Purtugues in Rio de Janeiro.

Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The awkward website translation for this incredible library refers to it as a “lusted convergence”. I don’t even know what that means, except now I want to go there. The building architecture is in a particular Manueline style found in places like Lisbon’s Belem. The building looks kind of churchy on the outside, but the inside is one big lusting convergence for books.

Maryland George Peabody library Baltimore
What a sturdy collection of books in Baltimore!

George Peabody Library, Baltimore Maryland

This architectural achievement from 1857 rains light down six stories of wrought iron railing onto books books books. The building was funded by George Peabody, a philanthropist who gifted the library to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation for its “kindness and hospitality”.

New York Mid-Manhattan branch library bryant park
The main reading room at the Bryant Park branch.

Mid-Manhattan Branch at Bryant Park, New York City, NY

The main branch of NYC’s library system was its first public library. Until 1895, other libraries had been privately built. It took sixteen years to finish, but they finally opened in 1905 with 1 million books in the collection. It’s still a busy library today, circulating books out to Manhattan’s many neighborhood libraries.

Nashville Tennessee Main Library reading room with tables and chairs
The reading room at the Nashville Main branch.

Main Branch, Nashville Tennessee

We have Dale Carnegie to thank for Nashville’s main branch as well as 2,509 public libraries around the world. He provided seed funding to support cities like Nashville as long as they demonstrated a true interest in the project and who were willing commit to maintaining the libraries. This lovely branch in downtown Nashville opened in 1904.

Stop into the library as part of a long weekend itinerary to Nashville.

seattle public library. interior with bookshelves
A geometric jumble in the Seattle Public Library.

Seattle Public Library

Seattle is yet another UNESCO City of Literature, known for great book stores and Amazon. Their library system started in 1891 with a reading room on Pioneer Square. They have since upped the ante with this new main branch. The architecture is cool on the outside as well as in, and they offer many of the same amenities as the Oomi and Austin (just below).

Austin Texas Central Library interior with chairs, stairs and shelves
This is one cool library in Austin.

Central Library, Austin Texas

Austin’s new main branch is one of the coolest libraries I’ve ever visited. It offers a modern design in both form and function. Yes, they have books that you can check out. But they also have a full service restaurant (which, brilliantly, also houses the cookbook collection). They have kid’s play spaces with over-sized chess pieces and tons of lounges. There is a top floor atrium which not only offers great views of Austin lake, but it also doubles as a busy co-working space for digital nomads.

Chicago Harold Washington library atrium with light and shadows
The top floor atrium at Harold Washing Library.

Harold Washington Library, Chicago Illinois

Harold Washington was Chicago’s first African American mayor, and one of its most beloved. Building a library as a tribute to him is far better than some static statue on Michigan avenue. This main branch is a fully functional public library that has been pumped up with literacy programs, sculptures, cultural history exhibits and a maker space.

These libraries represent the best of a bookish spirit that values form and function…knowledge and beauty. A quote by Germaine Greer featured on the wall of Melbourne library reads:

“Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, balm and continuity, lakes of mental energy.”

True that, Germaine. I hope you use this list of beautiful libraries around the world to help you fuel your own reservoir of strength and lake of mental energy.

In the meantime…..

READ MORE BOOKS!

Start with this list of the very best travel books. It includes great reads about how travel is transformative, offering wacky tales of derring do, epic quests and stories of authentic travel.

You should also check out the following series of book lists for specific destinations:

Paris | Ireland | Iceland | Cuba | Scotland | Camino de Santiago | Sri Lanka | Australia | Jordan | Colombia | Spain | San Francisco

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Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad

Friday 15th of November 2019

Holy crap!! This post is great. Those Austrian and Swiss ones are unreal! Love the Manchester ones too, I'll have to check those out. I am not so keen on modern ones, but they are still pretty cool.

Carol Guttery

Monday 18th of November 2019

The older libraries are sooo ornate aren't they?

Abdel illah

Tuesday 5th of November 2019

Loved this post! Keep inspiring people like me. :) Love lots!