By Andrea Romano
July 01, 2019

There are plenty of breathtaking places to visit in the world.

There are 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.

No, you don’t have to be Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" to appreciate a good library. So many libraries, whether they’re several centuries or just a few decades old, can be a wonderful stop to make on your next trip.

Some libraries are even famous institutions of some of the best cities in the world. Libraries like 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 interesting, clean, and minimal architecture of the Stuttgart Library in Germany, for instance, would make any modern design-lover leap for joy.

And some libraries look as if you’re stepping into a royal palace, like the aptly-named Royal Portuguese Reading Room in Brazil, or the Rampur Raza Library in India.

Take a look at some of these truly stunning libraries from around the world. They aren’t the only beautiful libraries you can see across the globe, but they certainly should be on any bibliophile’s bucket list.

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 it’s 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.

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.

Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

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This famous library is actually modeled after the Roman Colosseum. It has nine floors and takes up an entire city block, so it’s not only a library with nine and a half million items (including books, e-books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers and magazines), but is also a complex with shops, cafés and offices. There’s even a rooftop garden that’s open to the public.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

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Of course, Oxford is home to many impressive libraries, but Bodleian looks like an ancient cathedral. It has been in use since the 14th century and has 12 million volumes to explore, including Shakespeare's First folio, a Gutenberg Bible, and Charles Darwin’s "On The Origin of Species."

Trinity College Old Library, Dublin, Ireland

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This classic library is two stories with dark wood arches and an impressive collection of over 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 Book of Howth."

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. It’s bright, white, five-story design make it seem like a modern art gallery. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the reading room, which is shaped like an upside down pyramid. It’s not your average library.

Bibliotheque Interuniversitaire de la Sorbonne, Paris

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This centuries-old library is part of the famous Sorbonne, which became part of the University of Paris. Originally built in the 13th century, it is now one of the largest libraries in Paris, with three 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 colored, elaborate ceilings.

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 Joseph Stammel, two artists of the Baroque period.

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.

The Library of El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

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This library is an 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, Brazil

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It’s fitting 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

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Julius Caesar 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 — covered in carvings from local artists and surrounded by a clear, blue reflecting pool.

Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, 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 1950’s. The palace-like library houses an incredible collection of Indian and Asian works, including manuscripts, historical documents, Islamic calligraphy, and even the original manuscript of the first translation of the Qur'an.

Liyuan Library, Beijing, China

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This little library is located in a truly serene location that’s just right for spending a day with your nose in a book. Just outside of Beijing, the rectangular building seems to blend into the scenery with its natural wooden stick exterior. Inside, books are arranged on modular-looking shelves in a reading room, where visitors can spread out and enjoy the library’s collection.

The State Library of New South Wales (Mitchell Library), Sydney, Australia

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While the outside of the State Library is quite contemporary, the inside is ornate, classic, and quite beautiful. The library is of particular interest to anyone who wants to learn more about Australian heritage and history. It’s home to many books by indigenous authors, since the library has collections focusing on pre-European settlement.

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