The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Igor Plotnikov/Shutterstock

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Discover art, literature and culture among the shelves of these institutions
The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Igor Plotnikov/Shutterstock

Many libraries around the world are as stunning in their architecture and organization as they are in the sheer amount of knowledge they contain. With shelves and shelves of books, various collections and coveted historical and cultural displays, there are plenty of undiscovered wonders

George Peabody Library (Baltimore)

George Peabody Library (Baltimore, Maryland)

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Although technically a research library of Johns Hopkins University, the George Peabody Library in Baltimore is open to the public. It is a stunning venue, notable for its intricate black cast-iron balconies and 61-foot-high skylight.

Johannine Library (Coimbra, Portugal)

Johannine Library (Coimbra, Portugal)

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The Portuguese city of Coimbra is known for its historic and picturesque sights, such as monuments, museums and beautiful churches you need to see as well as its libraries. Built in the 18th century, the University of Coimbra’s Joanine Library, or Biblioteca Joanina in Portuguese, has thousands of volumes on its gilded and painted wooden shelves.

Stuttgart City Library (Stuttgart, Germany)

Stuttgart City Library (Stuttgart, Germany)

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From the outside, the Stuttgart Library (or Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, as it’s locally known) in southern Germany looks like a concrete cube. On the inside, however, is a stunning, nine-story labyrinth of books that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie or television show.

Trinity College Library (Dublin)

Trinity College Library (Dublin, Ireland)

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The Trinity College Library is one of the most magical spots in Ireland as well as the nation’s largest library. It is particularly well-known for its Long Room, the main chamber of the Old Library that stretches more than 200 feet and is home to more than 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.

Austrian National Library (Vienna)

Austrian National Library (Vienna, Austria)

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Vienna may be one of the safest tourist cities, but it’s also quite stunning, thanks to sites like the Austrian National Library. Located within the famous Hofburg Palace, the library is beautifully decorated with frescoes and sculptures.

Vasconcelos Library (Mexico City)

Vasconcelos Library (Mexico City, Mexico)

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Mexico City’s Vasconcelos Library, or Biblioteca Vasconcelos, has 600,000 books displayed on glass shelves that seem to hang in midair, which makes for a mesmerizing scene.

Morgan Library (New York)

Morgan Library (New York, New York)

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The Morgan Library and Museum was founded as the private library of Pierpont Morgan in 1906 before being opened to the public by his son in 1924. Today, the lovely museum and library has three rooms of shelves surrounded by golden decor and ceilings covered in frescoes.

Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)

Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)

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The all-white, five-level Tianjin Binhai Library has floor-to-ceiling terraced bookshelves as well as a large sphere in its center. The sphere serves as an auditorium and is nicknamed “The Eye” due to its appearance from the outside of the building.

National Library of France (Paris)

National Library of France (Paris, France)

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One of the oldest libraries in the world, the National Library of France is one of the most notable landmarks in Paris. It has circular rooms and domed ceilings as well as more than 12 million printed books and a huge collection of manuscripts, prints and other historic items.

Old Bodleian Library (Oxford, England)

Old Bodleian Library (Oxford, England)

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One of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian Library is Oxford University’s major research library. Its reading room, Duke Humfrey’s Library, served as the magical filming location for the Hogwarts library in the “Harry Potter” movies.

Admont Abbey Library (Admont, Austria)

Admont Abbey Library (Admont, Austria)

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Admont, Austria, is home to the world’s largest monastery library. Its architecture, frescoes and sculptures are built in the late Baroque style, and it holds about 70,000 volumes, with its oldest manuscript dating back to the 8th century. If you can’t visit in real life, this is one of many stunning places you can take a virtual tour of.

Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.)

Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.)

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The largest library in the world, the Library of Congress is a historic American site, having served as the official research library for the U.S. Congress since 1800. Today, it has more than 170 million items in total, including more than 39 million books and other printed materials and more than 73 million manuscripts.

Russian State Library (Moscow)

Russian State Library (Moscow, Russia)

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More than 47 million books, documents and other items make up the Russian State Library. The second-largest library in the world, the Russian State Library is located in the famous city of Moscow.

New York Public Library Main Branch (New York)

New York Public Library Main Branch (New York, New York)

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The main branch of the New York Public Library, also known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is an iconic American landmark in Midtown Manhattan. Visitors are greeted at the steps by two stone lions before finding frescoed ceilings, grand chandeliers and charming wooden shelves within.

Wiblingen Abbey Library (Baden-Württemburg, Germany)

Wiblingen Abbey Library (Baden-Württemburg, Germany)

Courtesy of Staatliche Schlösser and Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Günther Bayerl

The library at Wiblingen Abbey, a former Benedictine abbey in southwestern Germany, has two stories and a domed ceiling, with every inch covered in decoration. The raised ceiling and photogenic hues of golds, blues and pinks give the library a dreamy brightness.

Royal Library of El Escorial (San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain)

Royal Library of El Escorial (San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain)

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The Royal Library at the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is part of a breathtaking, protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is filled with gorgeous frescoes and old scientific instruments including astrolabes and globes used in studying subjects like astronomy, cartography and history.

Klementinum Library (Prague)

Klementinum Library (Prague, Czech Republic)

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Part of the National Library of the Czech Republic, the Baroque library at Klementinum has domed ceilings painted with frescoes of breathtaking views. Carved wooden columns stand between bookshelves, and the library has a scalloped and gilded balcony, old globes and many, many books.

Library of Parliament (Ottawa, Canada)

Library of Parliament (Ottawa, Canada)

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The Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada, is a building that looks as enchanting as a castle, with more than 1,600 designs on its wood panelling. The unique Gothic building is so iconic that its vaulted dome ceiling is even featured on the Canadian $10 bill.

Palace of Mafra Library (Mafra, Portugal)

Palace of Mafra Library (Mafra, Portugal)

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Rose, white and gray limestone tiles make up the floor of the library at the palace-monastery in Mafra, Portugal. The library’s intricate bookshelves contain more than 36,000 lvolumes. The palace and library have been around for centuries, just like these landmarks that were almost lost to time.

Metten Abbey Library (Metten, Germany)

Metten Abbey Library (Metten, Germany)

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An 18th-century library in an eighth-century Benedictine monastery, the Metten Abbey Library in the German state of Bavaria looks like it’s stuck in time. Its ornate interior is characterized by a vaulted ceiling as well as Baroque sculptures, frescoes and intricate bookcases.

Suzzallo Library (Seattle)

Suzzallo Library (Seattle, Washington)

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Among the many beautiful features of the campus at the University of Washington, such as its cherry blossoms and a light rail station, Suzzallo Library was built in the Collegiate Gothic style. Its buttresses are decorated with 18 terra cotta figures featuring prominent academics and writers such as Plato, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Galileo, Beethoven, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Rio de Janeiro)

Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

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Carnival is a life-changing experience, but it’s not all Rio de Janeiro has to offer. A wrought-iron chandelier and stained-glass skylight take center stage at the city’s Royal Portuguese Reading Room, but the Brazilian library is also made grander by its limestone exterior and the details of its interior, including carvings, huge pillars and elegant arches.

Library of Birmingham (Birmingham, England)

Library of Birmingham (Birmingham, England)

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The largest public library in Europe, the Library of Birmingham has interlacing rings characterizing its facade that are meant to evoke the tunnels and canals of the city. Inside, the library has a futuristic vibe with 10 floors. It was officially opened in 2013 by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girls’ education advocate whose Nobel Peace Prize win was one of the happiest news events of the last decade.

 

Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch (Taipei, Taiwan)

Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch (Taipei, Taiwan)

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Taiwan’s first certified “green building,” the branch of the Taipei Public Library in the city’s Beitou district was built with sustainability in mind. French windows allow in plenty of natural light and great views of the surrounding scenery, which the largely wood and steel building blends into wonderfully.

Richard J. Riordan Central Library (Los Angeles)

Richard J. Riordan Central Library (Los Angeles, California)

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There’s a lot more to California than Disney and the beach. The main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, the Richard J. Riordan Central Library, brings together old and new architecture. Art deco on the outside, it has a bronze chandelier adorning its grand rotunda and bright, oil-painted murals on the inside.

 

Strahov Monastery Library (Prague)

Strahov Monastery Library (Prague, Czech Republic)

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Founded in the 12th century in the relaxing city of Prague, Strahov Monastery has a library with about 200,000 volumes shelved underneath colorful frescoes and in rows surrounded by gilded decoration.

State Library of South Adelaide (Adelaide, Australia)

State Library of South Adelaide (Adelaide, Australia)

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The State Library of South Adelaide in Australia has three buildings, but the Mortlock Chamber is especially impressive. A late Victorian library as well as an exhibition showcase, the Mortlock Chamber is so lovely that it’s been rented for weddings, cocktail parties, business events and other formal occasions.

Sir Duncan Rice Library (Aberdeen, Scotland)

Sir Duncan Rice Library (Aberdeen, Scotland)

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Located in Aberdeen, a city in the northeastern part of the beautiful country of Scotland, the Sir Duncan Rice Library looks like a block of ice from the outside, with stripes of white and clear glass. Inside, the spiraling atrium looks like an optical illusion, and the entire design is meant to evoke the “ice and light of the north.”

Geisel Library (La Jolla, California)

Geisel Library (La Jolla, California)

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Located in the California beach town of La Jolla, UC San Diego’s Geisel Library is centrally located on campus at the head of a canyon. Made of reinforced concrete and glass, its geometric shape comes from the Brutalist architectural style and is meant to portray hands upholding knowledge.

State Law Library of Iowa (Des Moines, Iowa)

State Law Library of Iowa (Des Moines, Iowa)

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A visit to the State Law Library of Iowa may not be at the top of many Americans’ bucket lists, but it’s a sight to see. It is located on the second floor of the State Capitol Building in Des Moines, where it has been since 1886. Beautifully decorated tiles make up the floor, and painted ceilings and stained glass characterize the Victorian style of the library’s grand hall.

Fisher Fine Arts Library (Philadelphia)

Fisher Fine Arts Library (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

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One of the most stunning man-made marvels in America, the University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher Fine Arts Library is a National Historic Landmark that serves as a research library with materials on art and architecture, the decorative arts, photography, urban design, city planning and historic preservation.

St. Florian Monastery Library (Sankt Florian, Austria)

St. Florian Monastery Library (Sankt Florian, Austria)

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A reference library situated in a monastery in northern Austria, the St. Florian Monastery Library has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with 150,000 volumes. With picturesque rooms seemingly frozen in time, it also houses 800 precious medieval handscripts.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria, Egypt)

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria, Egypt)

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The original Library of Alexandria in Egypt was a magnificent building we wish was still standing, but the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a worthy successor. A vast complex, its main reading room has a striking tilted glass-paneled roof and a granite exterior.

Handelingenkamer (The Hague, Netherlands)

Handelingenkamer (The Hague, Netherlands)

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Verbatim reports of the proceedings of the Dutch parliament are stored in the Handelingenkamer, or Old Library, in The Hague. A leaded glass dome filters sunlight onto the bookshelves and red cast-iron balconies and spiral staircases.

Melk Abbey Library (Melk, Austria)

Melk Abbey Library (Melk, Austria)

Situated on the Danube River in Austria, the coastal town of Melk is home to a lovely abbey with a library that’s expanded over the centuries but contains a Baroque section dating back to 1735.

Beinecke Rare Book Library (New Haven, Connecticut)

Beinecke Rare Book Library (New Haven, Connecticut)

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Yale University has one of the most beautiful college campuses in America, and one of its most interesting features is the Beinecke Rare Book Library. Inside the library is a glass tower of book stacks that rises up six stories, and the building itself is made of translucent Vermont marble panels set in trusses of steel within granite.

Vennesla Library and Culture House (Vennesla, Norway)

Vennesla Library and Culture House (Vennesla, Norway)

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Norway’s Vennesla Library and Culture House is mainly built out of wood, and its most notable feature is the series of 27 timber arcs that both support the roof and continue downward to form shelves and seating for a stunning futuristic look.

Virgilio Barco Public Library (Bogotá, Colombia)

Virgilio Barco Public Library (Bogotá, Colombia)

Courtesy of Virgilio Barco Public Library

The gorgeous red color of the Virgilio Barco Public Library contrasts beautifully with the blue water of the pools surrounding it. Its structure creates a circular labyrinth that holds a collection of 150,000 volumes.

Abbey Library of Saint Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)

Abbey Library of Saint Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)

Courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Built in the Rococo style, the Abbey Library of Saint Gall — located in the charming small town of St. Gallen, Switzerland — is characterized by elaborate art on its ceilings, wooden ornamental balconies and beautifully carved moldings.

National Library of Kosovo (Pristina, Kosovo)

National Library of Kosovo (Pristina, Kosovo)

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Mixing Byzantine and Islamic architectural influences, the exterior of the National Library of Kosovo features 99 striking domes of varying sizes covered in metal fishing net.

Library of Muyinga (Muyinga, Burundi)

Library of Muyinga (Muyinga, Burundi)

Courtesy of BC Architects & Studies

A school for deaf children, the Library of Muyinga in Burundi was built with local techniques and traditions, using eucalyptus beams, earthen blocks and clay tiles. A sisal rope hammock that hangs between the first and second floors of the library as part of the children’s reading room, a great place for indoor activities.

Woollahra Library (Double Bay, Australia)

Woollahra Library (Double Bay, Australia)

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The Woollahra Library at Double Bay looks like a beautiful jungle or enchanting forest that happens to have plenty of bookshelves, with vines and leaves decorating the walls and hanging over staircases.

Connemara Public Library (Chennai, India)

Connemara Public Library (Chennai, India)

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Adorned with stained glass windows, the Connemara Public Library in southern India has arches with intricate patterns and dark wooden bookshelves that give the library a regal, sober look.

Qatar National Library (Doha, Qatar)

Qatar National Library (Doha, Qatar)

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Located in the underrated city of Doha, the Qatar National Library is futuristic-looking both inside and out, with the edges of the building lifted so that it looks like a spaceship ready for takeoff. The interior gleams with white marble floors and shelves, and beige travertine shelves 20 feet below the main level house the library’s heritage volumes.

Raza Library (Rampur, India)

Raza Library (Rampur, India)

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The Raza Library of northern India was built up by the rulers of Rampur starting in 1774 and continues to be a treasure trove of Indo-Islamic heritage, much like the country’s many awe-inspiring places of worship.

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