Calling all book enthusiasts and lovers of fine architecture! There is nothing quite like the feeling of paging through a classic book in an incredible location, right? Libraries have long been hubs for literature, learning and innovation. Thousands of these historic, hallowed halls can be explored across the globe so we have decided to put together a list of the most beautiful libraries in the world!
Many of us will be familiar with the more ordinary libraries of our own lives: rows of bookshelves lined with fiction, biographies, cooking books, travel guides and more. Luckily for us, the world is home to a number of spectacular book-filled buildings that up the ante tremendously! From historic palaces and gilded halls in Europe to sleek, modern architectural marvels in Asia, these are no run-of-the-mill libraries.
Get ready to add to your travel bucket list because these libraries need to be seen to be believed!
Take a look at our pick of the grandest, most beautiful and architecturally striking libraries across the world:
Location: St Gallen, Switzerland
This magnificent Rococo style building is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Switzerland. Imagine curving balconies and detailed frescoes. A centuries-old Greek inscription above the entrance reads psyché iatreion and translates to “apothecary of the soul”. The Abbey Library of St Gall is also the oldest library in Switzerland! The earliest evidence of the library dates back to the early 9th century while the library hall that we see today was built in the 18th century. Here, you’ll find around 160,000 volumes plus books printed before the 1500s and just over 2,000 handwritten manuscripts – although they are not all on display at the same time. The medieval monastic library is even home to a 2,700-year-old Egyptian mummy named Shepenese!
Did you know? Visitors to the Abbey Library of St Gall are required to wear slippers over their shoes to protect the old and delicate wooden floors.
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Nestled in the heart of Dublin is Trinity College. Walking through the grounds feels like stepping back in time. The sensation continues into the halls of the Old Library. This is where you’ll find some of the college’s greatest treasures! The library, was constructed in the 1700s and is home to the famous Book of Kells – an intricate illuminated manuscript written by monks, containing the four gospels of the New testament. Many people will recognise the impressive Long Room which is 65m in length and is the library’s main chamber, being home to about 200,000 volumes!
Location: Admont, Austria
During a visit to the Admont Abbey Library, you won’t know where to look first! This impressive Baroque building seems like it has been lifted straight out of a fairytale; complete with exquisite ceiling frescos, bronze statues, gold-gilded sculptures and pale bookcases lined with nearly 70,000 books (the Abbey itself is home to 200,000 volumes). The library’s construction was completed in 1776 and is the largest monastery library in the world. Be sure to look up and study the intricately painted frescos. Each one represents the spirit of Enlightenment; from thought and speech to Divine Revelation. In the main hall, you’ll find four carved statues which represent the figures of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. A visit is sure to show you why Admont Abbey Library deserves a spot on the list of the world’s most beautiful libraries!
Travel Tip: In addition to the entrance fee, an additional photo fee charged per camera if you plan on snapping some pictures.
Location: San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain
In the 16th century, King Phillip II of Spain commissioned the creation of this grand library. His idea was for it to hold books of philosophy and theology as well as instruments of scientific learning. The library is located in the palace and monastery complex of San Lorenzo de El Escorial – once a popular destination for kings and royalty – which is 45 minutes from Madrid. Stroll beneath the dramatic curve of the painted ceiling and see the thousands of books on display (it is said that this was the first library to display its volumes in rows of shelves along walls instead of in cases). Keep an eye out for the ornate globes and astrolabes which were great instruments of scientific discovery hundreds of years ago.
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
The Royal Library of Denmark is a striking sight to behold! Known as “The Black Diamond” the extension to the Royal Library was completed in 1999. Crafted from glass, metal and iron, the shimmering black facade reflects the water and skyline of the harbour in front of it. Inside, you’ll find an impressive, airy atrium as well as a 200 square meter ceiling fresco painted by Per Kirkeby. The Black Diamond contains thousands of books including original manuscripts of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard along with an original copy of his first known book! The library is also home to the national photography museum and a performance hall.
Related: Experience the delights of Denmark, Norway and Sweden on a Scandinavian Escape.
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro’s Royal Portuguese Reading Room is a lesser-known spot in Brazil’s vibrant, sprawling seaside city. The magnificent reading room is a combination of literature, culture, beauty and impressive architecture. Construction was completed in 1887 in Neo-Manueline style and it houses the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal. The reading room boasts around 350,000 foreign and national volumes, many sitting in the grand floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Above, hangs an impressive chandelier and beautiful stained glass dome.
Location: Prague, Czechia
The Clementinum in Prague is a collection of historic buildings in the city’s Old Town. One of the historic buildings houses a beautiful Baroque library hall which is the home of the National Library of the Czech Republic today. The complex was founded in the 1500s by the Jesuits and the library was opened in 1722. It is rumoured that the Jesuits began their library with one volume, seeing that number grow to over 20,000 in the time that they ran the library! Today, in this magnificent library, you can admire the ornate golden carvings, breathtaking ceiling frescos and geographical and astronomical globes created by the Jesuits at the centre of the hall.
Related: Enjoy a taste of Prague on a trip to this charming city during an Eastern European adventure.
Location: Alexandria, Egypt
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a revival of the ancient Library of Alexandria which has been lost in antiquity. The modern building was completed in 2002 and captures the spirit of its ancient counterpart. Perched on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the library has a distinctly modern style complete with an outer wall made out over 6,000 granite panels – all bearing the characters from the world’s known alphabets. The disk-shape of the roof represents the sun rising and the roof pattern resembles a microchip. The library also houses a planetarium. While it may not look exactly as many would imagine when thinking of “traditionally” beautiful libraries, Bibliotheca Alexandrina is architecturally stunning and pays homage to an ancient centre of learning.
Did you know? The library’s collection of books is displayed in a specific manner – the oldest volumes sit at the lowest level, to symbolise them as being a foundation for more modern material.
Location: Mafra, Portugal
Journey to Mafra Palace one hour north of Lisbon to see one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. The library which dates back to 1755, is 85m long and is lavishly decorated with marble floors and bookcases which stretch down the full length of the hall. The library is home to around 36,000 leather-bound books, produced during the 14th and 19th Centuries. The old, delicate books require extra protection from book-eating pests such as bookworms and moths. Interestingly (or strangely!) pest control comes in the form of bats! While the colony of bats spend their days sleeping behind bookcases, when night falls they swoop through the shelves on the hunt for tiny pests!
Related: See more of Portugal’s beauty on a Highlights of Spain and Portugal tour.
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Tama Art University Library in Tokyo, Japan is a modern creation with a majestic, ancient feel. It’s strikingly different from the ornate, historic entries on this list! While the library is home to over 100,000 books, the design is distinctly minimalist in nature. Glass walls, concrete and pared-back furniture add to the air of minimalism. The ancient feeling comes into play with the concrete arches which give the space a feeling of a classic vaulted wine cellar. This peaceful, clutter-free space is a space to think and learn. It’s definitely a spot for architecture lovers!
Location: Porto, Portugal
While it’s not technically a library, Livraria Lello is a stunning bookstore that is home to a large collection of books so we had to add it to the list! The store sits on a busy street and its beautiful neo-gothic facade stands out to passersby (the line of people waiting to get in will also draw some curious gazes). Inside, you’ll find intricate decorations, floor to ceiling paintings, a stained glass ceiling light, brass bronze reliefs and the centrepiece which is the sweeping, curved, red staircase. It is rumoured that Livraria Lello provided some inspiration for the Harry Potter books – and it definitely elicits that magical feeling when you visit!
Travel Tip: This bookstore is incredibly popular (considerably so in high season) and visitors will need to pay a small fee to enter.
Visiting these stunning libraries across the world is a great way to bring reading, travel, history, innovation and architecture together. Be sure to add one of these 10 beautiful destinations to your bucket list when you are planning your next trip!
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