Beautiful Libraries Around the World Every Booklover Should Visit

From Baroque, bat-filled halls to modern meeting places, these picturesque spaces are a bibliophile's dream.

Admont Abbey Library, Admont, Austria
Photo: Imagno/Getty Images

There are plenty of breathtaking places to visit in the world: natural wonders like the Grand Canyon or ancient ruins like the Colosseum, or fantastic buildings with sky-high observation decks. But there are a few places, pretty much in every city, that you might not expect to take your breath away: libraries.

From the rise of "dark academia" to the growing need for more free public spaces, libraries are having a moment. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than among the stacks, and details like soaring ceilings, historical architecture, and soft light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows can create a bibliophile’s dream.

Some libraries are even famous institutions of some of the best cities in the world. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, for instance, has been photographed and appeared in movies hundreds (or possibly thousands) of times. You've probably seen this library, even if you haven't been to New York.

Or, there are libraries that are celebrations of innovative design. The undulating, clean minimalism of the Vennesla Library in Norway, for instance, has won awards for its modern design.

And some libraries look as if you're stepping into a royal palace, like the aptly named Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading in Brazil, the Rampur Raza Library in India, or the Mafra National Palace Library in Portugal.

So many libraries, whether they're several centuries or just a few decades old, make a wonderful stop on your next trip. Here, we've gathered some of the most beautiful libraries from around the world.

George Peabody Library, Baltimore

George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland
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Part of Johns Hopkins University, this austere, five-story library holds 300,000 volumes. Though it's technically part of the college, any member of the public in Baltimore is free to use the library, since its namesake, George Peabody, was a famous philanthropist. The library is also located near the Baltimore Washington Monument (not to be confused with the Washington Monument on the National Mall) in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood.

Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch
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This famous library bears a resemblance to the Roman Colosseum. It has nine floors and takes up an entire city block of Vancouver, so it's not only a library with 2.3 million items (including books, e-books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers, and magazines), but also a complex with exhibition spaces, a theater, meeting and reading rooms, and even a rooftop garden.

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library, New York

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library
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Although there are many branches of the New York Public Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is also known as the Main Branch, nestled on Fifth Ave, near Bryant Park. The building is perhaps most famous for its intricate, marble facade and lion statues that stand guard at the base of the steps.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England
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Of course, Oxford is home to many impressive libraries, but Bodleian looks like an ancient cathedral. With a history that goes back to the 14th century, the library has more than 13 million items to explore, including Shakespeare's First folio, a Gutenberg Bible, and Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."

Library of Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
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This classic library is two stories with dark wood arches and an impressive collection of more than seven million volumes. The oldest library building, known as the Old Library, began construction in 1712, though the college is much older than that. In fact, it's home to many ancient texts such as "The Book of Kells," "The Book of Durrow," and "The Garland of Howth." The main chamber, known as the Long Room, contains 200,000 old books and 14 busts of great thinkers and writers like Jonathan Swift, Shakespeare, and Aristotle.

Stuttgart City Library, Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart City Library, Germany
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This cube-like library isn't as opulent as some of the older, grander halls, but it's certainly one of the most interesting. Its bright, white, five-story design makes it seem like a modern art gallery. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the main reading room which is shaped like an upside-down pyramid. 

Bibliotheque Interuniversitaire de la Sorbonne, Paris

Bibliotheque Interuniversitaire de la Sorbonne, Paris
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This centuries-old library is part of the famous Sorbonne at the University of Paris. Originally built in the 18th century, it's now one of the largest libraries in Paris, with two million volumes on various subjects, especially history, geography, philosophy, and French literature. The Saint-Jacques Reading Room is a particularly beautiful part of the library, with rich wood walls and mint green and cream colors.

Admont Abbey Library, Admont, Austria

Admont Abbey Library, Admont, Austria
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This gorgeous library opened in 1776. It's attached to the oldest remaining monastery in Styria (a state in Austria) and contains the largest monastic library in the world. The airy white and gold interiors are decorated with beautiful frescoes by Bartolomeo Altomonte and sculptures by Josef Stammel, two artists of the Baroque period.

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, Czech Republic
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Although the monastery dates back to the 12th century, this beautiful library (complete with an ornate, stucco ceiling of Biblical artwork) was built in 1679. On top of being home to several thousand volumes of books, it's also a splendid art gallery that is certainly a must-see for anyone visiting Prague.

Royal Library of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

Library of El Escorial San Lorenzo de el Escorial, Spain
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This gorgeous space is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it's easy to see why. This building is quite possibly one of the most important sites of the Spanish Renaissance. Like many old European libraries, it began as a monastery, and is known for its beautiful frescoes, painted on the ceiling for library goers to admire.

Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro

Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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It's appropriate that "royal" is in the name of this library, because it's truly fit for a king or queen. The striking, limestone exterior is only rivaled by the intricate, dark wood arches, stained glass windows, and vibrant blue ceilings that make this library a haven for book lovers. And with 350,000 volumes to choose from, you could spend all day here.

Library of Alexandria, Egypt

Library of Alexandria, Eygpt
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Julius Caesar might have burned down the famous, ancient library of Alexandria, but these days, Egypt is paying homage to that great monument of antiquity. The circular, granite building may not look like the original library (based on historical descriptions), but it is certainly beautiful — it's covered in carvings from local artists and surrounded by a clear, blue reflecting pool.

Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, India

Rampur Raza Library, India
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The grand building that houses the collection was originally built in 1904 as a mansion for Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, but it was converted into a library in the 1950s. The palace-like library houses an incredible collection of Indian and Asian works, including manuscripts, historical documents, Islamic calligraphy, and even an original parchment manuscript of the Quran.

Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch, Taiwan 

Beitou Public Library

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Taiwan's first green library, this building’s sloping turf roof preserves rainwater which is recycled back into the library's operations, as well as features photovoltaic cells which capture solar energy. But when you’re there you’ll be forgiven for forgetting its eco-friendly bona fides in favor of its light-filled, airy levels containing an impressive selection of newspapers and periodicals, Chinese-language books, and special collections. The glass-and-wood respite with idyllic surrounding greenery looks like a book-lover utopia as much as it feels like one.

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
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While the outside of the State Library is quite contemporary, the inside is ornate, classic, and very beautiful. The library is of particular interest to anyone who wants to learn more about Australian heritage and history. It's home to a large selection of books by indigenous authors, since the library has collections focusing on pre-European settlement.

Abbey Library of Saint Gall, St. Gallen, Switzerland

Considered one of the oldest surviving in Europe, this library was originally attached to a Benedictine abbey. The current site features intricate moldings, Baroque touches, and Rococo art, which are just as worthy of hours of contemplation as the library’s collection, acquired over the span of 12 centuries.  

Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City


Der. Reservados

This steel and glass mammoth looks like it might be found in a Kubrick film instead of sitting in downtown Mexico City. You can ascend its six levels, open and mezzanine-like, and peruse the 600,000 tomes found within. The main level is overseen by "Matrix Móvil,” the giant plastic skeleton of a gray whale by artist Gabriel Orozco.  

Starfield Library, Seoul, South Korea

You might mistake this modern space for a bookstore — to be fair it is located within a mall — but the architectural marvel is very much a public library. The airy, two-story space is filled with giant, wraparound bookcases and impressive rotating artworks, such as holiday displays or stacks of books painted to create charming illustrations. There’s ample seating, iPads, and more than 50,000 books to keep you busy in this mind-blowing library.  

Mafra National Palace Library, Mafra, Portugal

Hallway with high, arched ceilings in Mafra National Palace library

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With intricately carved wooden shelves and a sweeping, arched ceiling, the Mafra Palace Library is probably what you'd picture when thinking of classic, storybook libraries. The fairytale rooms are filled with around 36,000 leather-bound volumes you can appreciate on a tour of the palace grounds. Adding to the library’s gothic charm is a most unusual group of workers: A colony of bats. The bats are instrumental in controlling the bookworms, moths, and other insects that could damage the old, fragile tomes. You probably won’t see any during your visit, as they are nocturnal animals, but many of the bats sleep behind the bookshelves, so be satisfied knowing they’re always there.  

Vennesla Library, Vennesla, Norway

Helen & Hard Vennesla library

Not all beautiful libraries are Baroque windows into the past. Completed in 2011, this Norwegian library is an elegant, modern space that’s won architectural prizes for its undulating design. The sustainable, low-energy building integrates wooden ribs and inset lighting to create a bright, welcoming public space that allows us to glimpse the future of what libraries could be instead of only what they've been. 

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