Magical Libraries Straight Out of Harry Potter
As Hermione Granger would tell you, any library that is filled with books is magical. Some libraries, however, can transport visitors to a different world before they crack open even a single volume.
Fans of the beloved Harry Potter series don’t have to seek out filming locations (though there are a few, like Christ Church at Oxford, that we particularly love) or even the dedicated theme parks to feel transported to the Wizarding World.
Libraries like the Biblioteca Palafoxiana in Mexico, with its gilt alter and antique, carved-cedar, pine, and coloyote wood bookshelves are nothing short of enchanting. Even if students from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry don’t study at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, its easy to imagine them preparing for their History of Magic exams amongst the medieval manuscripts, including bejeweled gospels from the ninth-century and Old Babylonian seals.
And in the Strahov Monastery Library, on a hill overlooking Prague, is a Cabinet of Curiosities (something you would think was imagined by J.K. Rowling). Its unusual contents include an electrostatic device from the 18th-century and, inexplicably, cases of wax fruit.
It should come as no surprise that some of the most charming libraries on this list are also the world’s most beautiful. Like the Long Room at Trinity College Old Library in Dublin, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling arches and marble busts, you don’t have to be a bookworm to be transfixed.
We’ve scoured the globe for truly spellbinding libraries—all of which promise to make visitors feel as though they’ve stepped foot into the Harry Potter books (or films). Spires, arches, and priceless collections of volumes and artifacts are just enough real-life sorcery to convince visitors of bubbling cauldrons and incantations. Just be sure not to gasp too loudly inside these hallowed halls, or Madam Pince might shush you.
Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland
The building that houses the so-called Old Library at Dublin’s Trinity College dates back to the 18th-century, but the library’s roots originated in 1592. Underneath the vaulted ceilings of the largest library in Ireland are multiple marble busts of famous authors and over six million volumes. As the nation’s copyright repository, its compendium continues to grow as books are published in Ireland or the United Kingdom. The library’s prize possession is the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800. Visitors can explore the collection or simply ogle the architecture in the 200-foot Long Room, which is lined with 200,000 books on oak bookshelves that look as though they were they were summoned straight from the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts.
Strahov Monastery Library in Prague, Czech Republic
Founded by bishops and a duke after an 1138 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, this Prague monastery (and its library) is now one of the oldest of its kind on Earth. A collection of Europe’s most important titles was slowly amassed here, and now some 200,000 texts are housed in a soaring room decorated with frescoes and other accouterments (such as globes that reveal what the world was like in the 17th-century). In addition to the library and its impressive collection of books, the Strahov also has a Cabinet of Curiosities including, among other oddities, a narwhal horn, a dodo’s remains, and a comprehensive dendrology library devoted to the study of trees—which would undoubtedly be perfect for potion making. That’s not all, though: The library houses a secret sure to appeal to Harry Potter fans—fake books line bookshelves that mask secret doorways.
The Royal Portuguese Reading Room in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Most people head to Rio de Janeiro for beach, sun, and caipirinhas, but at the top of any bookworm's vacation checklist should be the Royal Portuguese Reading Room (Real Gabinete Português de Leitura). Completed in 1887, this Gothic, dark wood-lined library with a stained-glass dome and massive wrought iron chandelier is pretty far from the beachy vibe for which Rio is known. Lined with three stories of books, the library now houses more Portuguese literary works than anywhere else outside of Portugal, including a number of rare tomes, maps, medallions, and statues. It currently holds over 350,000 titles, and its collection is constantly growing as it receives a copy of every new book published in Portugal.
Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada
Anyone who has ever held a Canadian ten-dollar bill has seen the iconic Library of Parliament. The 1876 Gothic revival building was originally built as part of the country’s Parliamentary headquarters, but a fire destroyed the surrounding buildings and, as if by magic, only the library and a handful of its books remained. The library’s circular main room was designed with the input of the first Parliamentary librarian, who suggested filling the room with reading nooks. The result is seen in the alcoves and galleries that help make the space so memorable. It's a stunning setting for reading, with bookshelves that soar from floor to ceiling, a window-filled cupola, an oculus that lets in light, and a marble statue of Queen Victoria towering over the study desks. To complete the bewitching vibe, the library’s paneling is intricately carved with flowers, masks, and mythical beasts.
Palafoxiana Library in Puebla, Mexico
The Palafoxiana, which dates back to 1646, is not only Mexico’s first public library, but it may also be the oldest library in all of the Americas. The library was started when a bishop, Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, donated his collection (and name) to the new endeavor. Due to its religious roots, the main reading room has an impressive golden altar overseeing the research—and quite likely, to ensure no one steals. Listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, the library is outfitted with two tiers of bookshelves that hold its collection of 41,000 books and manuscripts, including what may be the world’s oldest travel dictionary. While Mexican witches and wizards may not make it to Hogwarts very often, they are welcome to attend the American version, (the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, of course) and travel to the Palafoxiana via floo powder.
Codrington Library in Oxford, England
Oxford’s medieval reading room, the Bodleian Library, was used as the stand-in for the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter movies. But the university’s other wood-paneled library—the Codrington—is equally captivating. Situated at All Souls College, the library’s main room is a true shrine to bibliophilia. Built in 1751, the library's most distinctive features include spiral staircases, cloistered reading rooms, and a vaulted ceiling that lets in enough light to fight off the infamously gray British weather. The 185,000 volumes have educated and entertained generations of scholars interested in 11th-century manuscripts, 17th-century architecture, and (probably) ancient magic.
The Morgan Library in New York City, New York
New York financier Pierpont Morgan built this library to house his vast collection of rare books, including copies of the works of his cohorts, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain—who personally gave his work to Morgan. The collection also includes some exceedingly rare illuminated manuscripts, including a Mainz Psalter that dates back to 1459. Morgan also collected drawings, prints, and artifacts gathered from around the world. To house the collection, he commissioned an Italian-inspired library near his home on the corner of 36th Street and Madison Avenue in New York City. After Morgan’s death in 1924, his son, J.P. Morgan, Jr., opened the doors of the museum and library to the public. A marble rotunda, a reading room with towering shelves of books, stained glass, and balconies give the library a grand and almost palatial manner. The library was expanded by architect Renzo Piano in 2006, adding to the library’s statliness.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, France
France began building the collection housed in its national library back in the Middle Ages, long before even the invention of movable type. After the French Revolution, the Royal Library became part of the national collection, along with materials confiscated from the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocracy—including the private collections of Louis the 16th and Marie-Antoinette. The library’s Richelieu Branch was designed by renowned architect Henri Labrouste, who had previously designed the spectacular Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. His work on the site was completed in 1868 with a reading room capped by terra cotta domes and skylights. Like wizards, readers could conjure books from thin air, thanks to a groundbreaking series of pneumatic tubes.