You should never judge a book by its cover. But judge beautiful libraries by their buildings? Surely that’s acceptable.
Ancient frescoes and crystal chandeliers are amongst the reasons many libraries made our list. But modern structures, simple clever design and solid architectural principles deserve praise too.
Libraries house a special kind of magic. The most beautiful libraries in the world make reading a joy.
Tianjin Binhai Library, Tianjin, China
This contemporary library attracted more than 10,000 people when it opened in 2017.
The press nicknamed Tianjin Binhai Library ‘The Eye’ because of the clever way an oval window frames a large white sphere in the library’s centre. From the exterior, they appear to be a large pupil and iris.
The owner’s decision to speed up construction meant the builders cut a few corners on the interior of this library. Some of the library’s shelves can’t bear weight. Instead, the builders replaced them with book patterned wallpaper. Despite the illusions, the library is still home to 1.2 million books.
If you plan on a visit to this beautiful library don’t wear your sandals. They might be your favourite shoes, but this library has a strict dress code and it will be a sad, book-less journey home if you don’t comply.
New York Public Library, Manhattan, United States
The Beaux-Arts style New York Public Library is the first of America’s beautiful libraries to make our list.
The 1895 library dominates New York City’s Bryant Park and houses more than 6 million books. It is the fourth biggest library in the world.
Two marble lion statues guard the entrance to the library. Inside is an architectural wonder filled with dark brass, green glass lights and neoclassic ceiling artworks.
Movie buffs may recognise this library. It appeared in the original Ghost Busters film, The Day After Tomorrow, and the Sex & The City television series.
Visitors must comply with the strict dress code to enter.
Baroque Library of Metten Abbey, Germany
Metten Abbey’s Baroque Library in southwest Germany has a colourful history.
The abbey was founded in 766 and the monks added the library in the 1260s. After a short period in the 1700s as a grain store, the library was made public in the 18th century and prominent artists were commissioned to revive the space.
Much of the library’s original medieval style remains today. Detailed statues wrap around triumphant columns. Portraits of religious icons poise over the 18th-century books they wrote.
Germany expanded the library in 2009. It now fits around 300,000 books under new stained glass windows.
Baroque Library Hall, Clementinum, Prague, Czech Republic
The Clementinum is one of the largest building complexes in Europe. Inside is one of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
Opened in 1722, the library holds a collection of 20,000 books in multiple languages.
Frescoes splay across the ceiling and ornate carvings decorate the mahogany bookshelves. Antique globes and desks sit dotted around the centre hallway. You can just imaging scholars pouring over the new round world in this incredible library.
George Peabody Library, Baltimore, United States
This library was George Peabody’s gift to Baltimore in 1878. The classic interior is thought to have inspired the library in Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Natural light floods through the latticed atrium, highlighting the polished black and white marble floor. Corinthian-style columns embellished with gold-leaf details dominate the space.
Cast-iron railings wrap around the interior to protect five levels of preserved books. Amongst these is Charles Darwin’s 1st edition of On the Design Of The Species, still intact with its original cover.
Public Library, Stuttgart, Germany
South Korean architect Eun Young Yi designed Stuttgart’s Public Library with simplicity in mind. This is a rare new addition to the list of the world’s most beautiful libraries.
Yi’s intention was to create a pocket of calm in the midst of a bustling city. The sunlight soaked main hall and the clean, white interior does just that.
The nine flights of stairs which wrap around the atrium lead to incredible rooftop views of Stuttgart city. The rooftop cafe is run by a charity that helps people living with a disability integrate into the workforce.
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, Dublin’s Trinity College Library oozes history and magic.
From humble beginnings to a bustling book mecca, the library underwent a roof-raise in 1860 to accommodate its growing collection. Carved timber railings line the 65 metre ‘Long Room’.
At least 250,000 ancient books and manuscripts can be found in the library’s main chamber. Although the library is more than 400 years old its antique books are still used by college students today.
The library has been home to the Book of Kells exhibition since the 19th century. The Book of Kells is said to be one of the oldest books in the world.
Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City, Mexico
The Biblioteca Vasconcelos’ geometric design blends the line between modern art and architecture. Known as the ‘Megalibrary’, it spans 38,000-square metres of downtown Mexico City.
Bookshelves appear suspended in the air and a colossal whale skeleton sculpture, designed specifically for the library, hangs above.
Opened in 2006 the library is dedicated to Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos.
Admont Abbey Library, Admont, Austria
The Admont Abbey Library, tucked into the Austrian alps is the largest monastery library in the world.
Admont was built in 1074 and now houses 70,000 titles, some of which date back to the 8th century.
Lime-wood carvings border the gold and white bookshelves. Pastel frescoes on the ceiling create a 3D effect to give visitors a taste of the Baroque era.
This library is home to secret staircases for the monks. If you push on the right book, you may even find where these secret doorways are.
The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Time magazine voted this Gothic-style library fourth on their list of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Craftsmen built the library’s facade in Lisbon and shipped it over to Rio, where the library was founded, in 1837. Inside, seemingly endless rows of books soar up towards an intricate iron skylight.
The ancient mahogany shelves hold the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside Portugal.
Library of Congress, Washington DC, United States
Washington DC’s Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. Its shelves span 532 miles and every week the city adds 10,000 more books to the collection.
In 2019, the library recorded more than one million items, welcomed 1.9 million visitors and employed more than 3,000 permanent employees.
Underground passageways connect the beautiful library’s three buildings on Washington’s Capitol Hill.
Joanina Library, Portugal
The University of Coimbra is home to Biblioteca Joanina. The 18th century, Baroque book-lovers paradise consists of three floors and an impressive collection.
Take in the generous lashings of gold and the bounty of ancient art while you inhale the library’s rich and fascinating history.
Mafra National Palace Library, Portugal
The Mafra National Palace Library is arguably the highlight of the 18th-century royal gem.
The expansive space features a stunning Baroque-Rococo design – the rose, grey and white marble floor is a stand-out It also has a huge collection, including incunabula, a small assortment of books printed pre-1500.
Strahov Monastery Library, Czech Republic
One of the oldest monasteries in the world is host to an incredible library.
Take a guided tour to discover the delicate-yet-vibrant artwork splashed across the ceiling and sit amongst the elegant and polished shelves that are home to hundreds of leather-bound books.
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