For book lovers, there’s nothing quite as lovely as a library – the ultimate book sanctuary. For a lot of bibliophiles, the first library they fall in love with is their local one, with local libraries providing unlimited value to children, as well as people of all ages, as a free resource and a vital community asset. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, libraries are open to the masses and act as a sanctuary to individuals as well as the horde of books that reside there. A library, no matter what it may look like, is quite a beautiful thing.
Throughout the world, there are certain libraries that take beauty to a whole new level, though, and act as actual artistic marvels. Despite universal literacy being a more modern goal, the first known library is well over 2,000 years old and was a grand thing meant for a king’s studies. Though the libraries on this list aren’t quite as ancient, some of the older libraries still around are also some of the most visually stimulating and awe-inspiring. Travelers who see the beauty in books may want to add these stunning book sanctuaries to their bucket list, because they are among the very best in the world.
Stuttgart City Library
The public library of Stuttgart, Germany is a minimalist’s dream. Sleekly crafted with a crisp white design, the library’s seemingly only color is from the book spines that are housed on every floor. From the outside, Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart looks like it took some inspiration from "Hollywood Squares," with each vertical side hosting a nine-by-nine grid of cubes with windows open to the interior. The interior is much more complex, with the central reading room having five stories of open floors connected by a number of staircases in which patrons of all ages can navigate the impressive library in search of their favorite reads or something new to discover.
According to The Architectural Review, the architect and creative mind behind the Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart Eun Young Yi seem to have taken great inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s "2001 Space Odyssey" and it’s easy to see the similarities. Both the inside and outside of the library use the sterile color of white and symmetrical squares to great effect. The library has a futuristic feel, which makes even stepping into the building a unique experience.
The Mafra Palace Library
Another grand library that makes great use of white, the Mafra Palace Library is a sight to behold. Unlike the public library in Stuttgart, the library located within Mafra Palace in Portugal is overwhelmingly intricate, with tall dome ceilings and a massive amount of carvings that will take your breath away. Once the royal family’s summer home, Mafra Palace contains a number of historical artifacts, and, according to Visit Portugal, its library is similarly equipped with books and manuscripts that date all the way back to the 16th century.
Cultura Portugal boasts Biblioteca do Convento de Mafra as one of the most crucial libraries in the country because it is home to collections like the illuminated Books of Hours and the Nuremberg Chronicle. The library itself is arguably just as impressive as its collection, being located in the "most noble" room of the Mafra Palace and consisting of a towering cross-shaped hall with a domed intersection. While the library keeps to a light color palette on the high walls and vaulted ceiling, the floors contain earth-toned patterns with reds, yellows, and blues. Interestingly enough, these polished colors bring out the same in the hundreds of old books the library contains, making the Rococo-style library an even more elegant architectural wonder.
Klementinum National Library
You’ll find a number of Baroque style libraries on this list because their undeniable beauty is obvious from just a glance. Known as the "Baroque Pearl of Prague," the Baroque library within Klementinum is seemingly the perfect classic library. With beautiful polished wood features, intricate carvings, and a collection of antique globes that would make any cartophile drool, the National Library of the Czech Republic is a seemingly perfectly preserved 16th- and 17th-century wonder.
Those who have visited the Klementinum and stepped foot inside its library have sung its praises as a sight they aren’t likely to forget anytime soon. In fact, one Trip Advisor review for the library is so glowing that it would probably get him in quite a bit of trouble with his family. "Last week I held my firstborn son for the first time and if I am completely honest it was not even comparable to the experience of seeing the most beautiful library in the world," the Swedish reviewer wrote. He went on to say that if travelers find themselves in Prague, it would be "stupid" to leave a visit to the library off of the itinerary. While seeing the elaborate library is certainly one for the books, we wouldn’t recommend comparing it to holding your new baby for the first time – even if it does prove to be superior.
Admont Abbey Library
The Admont Abbey Library in Austria is said to be the largest monastic library in the world, which means that it is a part of a monastery. While Admont Abbey is fairly plain – albeit large – on the outside, Admont Abbey’s library is both extravagant and ornate with Baroque details on the walls and ceiling. The monastery uses the common Catholic phrase of "ora et labora" with the appropriate addition of "et lege" for their foundation of practices. "Pray and work and read" is a more than fitting mantra for a monastery that is home to such a beautiful and well-kept library.
According to the abbey’s affiliated timber company’s website, the library, as a central part of the abbey as a whole, has withstood almost 1,000 years since its founding with historical turbulence scattered throughout its past. Having been under construction for several periods of time, the library in Admont Abbey reflects a number of significant periods of art styles, and the result is something truly glorious and admirable. For book lovers wanting to step into the library without traveling to Austria’s mountainous state of Styria, a 3D tour is available for a small price of five euros – this not only includes a step-by-step look at the elaborate library but access to not-so-secret passageways that are hidden within.
Wiblingen Monastery Library
Once a monastery, Wiblingen Abbey in Germany is home to one of the most undeniably beautiful libraries in the world, containing art in a number of art forms other than the written word. It is here that we find another Baroque library, though the Wiblingen Monastery Library certainly sets itself apart from other libraries of the Baroque style and art period. It houses gorgeous, full-scale statues incorporated in the design as well as vibrant, polished gold, pink, and blue accents throughout the grand library.
According to History of Library Architecture, the grand columns that are so beautifully colored are not marble like they seem, but wood that has been painted to appear as though they were made out of polished stone – the same can be said for most of the shiny, elaborate decorated library. The impressive columns are accompanied by detailed statues that apparently represent the Christian virtues and disciplines, and if the two stories of elaborate decor filled with books aren’t enough to secure Wiblingen Abbey’s library spot on this list, the painted fresco domed ceiling is.
Rampur Raza Library
While a lot of the libraries that made this list have interiors that are otherworldly, the Rampur Raza Library in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, India is an absolute marvel even from the outside. Located within an actual Indian palace, the outside of the Rampur Raza Library consists of a number of domed towers of varying sizes with symmetrical details throughout. The inside of the library is equally impressive with its high ceilings, massive columns, and intricate ceiling design. The library and its very first collections were established together in the 18th century by a war lord and later continued by his family, the Nawabs of Rampur.
Not only is the Rampur Raza Library beautiful beyond imagination, but it also holds some incredibly valuable and historic manuscripts, illustrated documents, and artifacts. The library also houses a collection of around 60,000 books and is a valuable resource to scholars both in the area and worldwide, as the library is in the process of digitizing its collection in order for it to be accessible to anyone who wishes to learn from it.
Trinity College Dublin Library
Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland is home to one pretty amazing library. The library’s main feature, dating back to the 1700s, is the Long Room, which holds over 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and manuscripts. To say the Long Room is impressive is a vast understatement, as it stands at almost 50 feet from floor to vaulted ceiling and houses a massive number of books in the vast majority of that space. The library is so impressively studious and, well, magical, that it is nicknamed the "’Harry Potter’ Library." While it certainly looks like the library from the films, though, no actual filming was done at the college.
The Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow are both famous illuminated manuscripts that are housed in Trinity College Dublin’s library. As the largest library in Ireland, it holds over 6 million books that have been collected over the course of over 400 years. The age, importance, and heavy use of the library have influenced the need for a 90 million euro restoration and upgrade, which has already started and will see the doors closed beginning in October of 2023 for a few years as the library gets the care it needs. Book-loving globetrotters should either move fast or plan far ahead to see the epic space in person.
The al-Qarawiyyin Library
For a marvel of world and book history, we now go to Fez, Morocco where the oldest standing and working library is still very much thriving. The near-ancient university, library, and mosque were founded in 859 by a Muslim woman by the name of Fatima al-Fihri, who spent her immense inheritance fulfilling a dream of creating a place of learning and worship. She was successful in this endeavor and her legacy still lives on in a very big and ever-changing way.
The library underwent some heavy rehabilitation about 10 years ago after water damage and long-standing rot had been found underneath the floors, but has since opened its doors to the public with a new look. According to CNN, the restoration was designed and completed by another woman named Aziza Chaouni, who fixed the water issue along with adding a lab for preserving and modernizing some of the texts. She also uncovered a number of secret rooms and passages as well as gave the entire library a revitalized look. The al-Qarawiyyin Library was named one of Time‘s Greatest Places in 2018 after its reopening, and between its history, contents, and beautiful elements and carvings it’s not hard to see why.
Soneva Kiri’s children’s library
Stepping one foot into this place could instill a love of reading into anyone, as Soneva Kiri’s children’s library is expertly crafted in the likeness of a tree house. Located on an island in the Gulf of Thailand and within one of Thailand’s luxury eco-resorts Soneva Kiri, The Den‘s modern – yet oddly natural – appearance is both a fun and educational attraction for the kids and the kids at heart. In addition to being a library, The Den also has spaces for workshops, an art room, and plenty of ongoing activities for all youth ages. It is basically the ultimate learning environment, and the winding treehouse-like structure encourages creative play and thinking.
According to ArchDaily, the structure and roof were built with locally sourced bamboo and the tree house, which was inspired by the body of a manta ray, was designed to be elevated for both the best views and maximum shelter from the heavy rains. The interior was designed for maximum energy savings.
With prices to stay in Soneva Kiri starting at just under $1,000 a night and ranging to over $8,000, this children’s library is one of the most inaccessible book sanctuaries on our list. Still, book lovers dream of a book nook nestled in the trees, and The Den is a fantasy that has come to life.
Royal Portuguese Office of Reading
Real Gabinete Português de Leitura is stunning at first glance, but its front entrance is blown out of the water once patrons make it to the actual Reading Room. It has anything you’d really want or expect in a library, from tall library ladders to a gorgeous stained glass skylight in the dome’s middle. The Reading Room features a beautiful deep teal color that takes over the walls once above all of the bookcases containing a vast number of around 400,000 written items.
According to Culture Trip, the library is fairly successful when it comes to locales, but it gets overlooked when visitors come to town. Nonetheless, the library is available to the public and open for viewing. Book lovers and architecture admirers don’t need to travel all the way to Rio de Janeiro to see the Reading Room, as there is a virtual tour available on their site. While seeing the huge space through the lens of a screen doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, it may be enough to satiate the mind for a time.
The Joanina Library
Portugal takes its history and literature very seriously, as the country is home to a number of jaw-dropping Baroque libraries, another of which has made our list of the most beautiful in the world. Biblioteca Joanina in the old city of Coimbra may be another 18th-century, Baroque-style library, but it certainly is able to set itself apart with its maximalist wooden features and carvings, which are often seen to be gilded throughout the library. Tributes to its founder King John V of Portugal are found throughout the three rooms of the library as well, and arguably the most eye-catching feature of Joanina Library is the ceiling, which has been painted with a very skilled and believable optical illusion in order to appear with more depth.
Interestingly enough, there are a few curiosities about Joanina Library. It is one of the two libraries in Portugal that employs the use of bats to help preserve its books. By allowing a colony of bats to live in the library, the bug population is kept in check and there is less risk of rare and old manuscripts being eaten away by pests. The library was also built over a medieval prison, which is still accessible today. The Joanina Library is as interesting as it is beautiful, and a solid addition to any book lover’s travel bucket list.
Iwaki Museum of Picture Books for Children
For a lot of bibliophiles, their love of books started at a young age with vibrantly illustrated board and picture books. One library in Japan displays these beautifully crafted covers with pride. The Picture Book Library is located in the coastal city of Iwaki, Fukushima, and, according to Florian Cafe, holds a collection of around 10,000 children’s books with a rotation of around 1,500 books being displayed at any given time.
The airy, privately owned space was originally designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando to service three local kindergartens with early daycare options for single mothers, but since its opening in 2005 the library has also acted as a museum for anyone wanting to visit and view its many children’s book titles. The building itself is designed to be simplistic, with the forward facing books as the main source of color and decoration – though the architectural integrity is impressive in and of itself.
Google Reviews of the museum reflect how thoughtful the architecture is as well as admire the placement of the museum right next to the sea and the display of the books itself, with multiple stories of books able to be seen from the ground floor. In addition to still being used as a resource for local kindergartens and preschools, people throughout Japan visit the Picture Book Museum and it is certainly one modern library travelers will want to visit if in the country.