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The 9 most beautiful libraries around the world

Recently updated on July 6th, 2023 at 02:23 pm

A library can be found in pretty much every city across the world, many of them guaranteed to take your breath away. But these structural masterpieces don’t just look impressive, they also house many of history’s most important texts too. Prepare to fall back in love with literature, with our pick of the most beautiful libraries around the world…

1. WU Wien Library, Vienna, Austria

WU Wien Library, Vienna, Austria
Photo: Böhringer Friedrich

While a university library for economics and business, this six-storey modernist masterpiece is extraordinary, with the glass and curves providing a real sensory experience. The building is huge and looming on the outside thanks to its spectacular glass overhang. Inside, futuristic curved walkways play with both natural and artificial light.

2. Oodi, Helsinki, Finland

Oodi, Helsinki, Finland
Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo

The extravagant and eccentric Oodi library is one of the world’s newest and most beautiful libraries. Opened in 2018, it was designed functionally and aesthetically as the perfect public space, which is why it was organised into three distinct and stylised floors. The ground floor is an active space, while the top floor acts as a peaceful space. The enclosed middle floor however, targets specific functions and services. The most impressive feature of the entire building however, is the wooden front facade which arches over the ground floor in a dramatic bridge-like structure.

3. John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK

John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK
Photo: Mdbeckwith / CC BY

Described by many of its visitors as resembling something from Harry Potter, the extraordinary John Rylands Library is a classic example of Neo-Gothic architecture. Founded in 1889 by Enriqueta Ryland in memory of her late husband, it took ten years to build before opening in 1900. 

The high vaulted ceiling in the reading room is a haven of calm, embellished with extraordinary detail. This detailing is also evident on the huge stained glass windows, and also within a series of portraits and sculptures detailing the intellectual and artistic history of mankind. Our favourite feature however, are the beautiful reading alcoves gently lit by oriel windows.

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4. Wiblingen Abbey library, Ulm, Germany

Wiblingen Abbey was once a Benedictine monastery dating back to 1093. Today, amongst other things, it is home to one of the most beautiful libraries around the world; a Rococo masterpiece. The 236 foot long library is richly decorated in frescoes, statues and exquisitely detailed and colourful marble columns. Marvel at the swinging spatial shape, the rich figure decoration and to top it all off, the great ceiling fresco.

5. Vancouver Central Public Library, Canada

Vancouver Central Public Library, Canada

Image: by Jon Kolbert  

This unique building takes inspiration from Rome’s iconic Colosseum. The impressive nine-floor library complex takes up an entire city block, with floor to ceiling windows that offer natural light and an almost 360 degree view of the surrounding city. And, to top it all of, it even comes complete with a beautiful rooftop garden.

6. Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, Italy

Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, Italy
ChiccoDodiFC @ iStock

No trip to the canal city would be complete without a visit to the Biblioteca Marciana, one of the largest and most prestigious libraries in the world. Built in 1558, it is a significant example of Venetian Renaissance architecture and occupies a vast site in St Mark’s Square. Once you’ve explored its treasures, make sure to grab a coffee in the square outside, to admire it in all its glory.

7. El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain
By Xauxa Håkan Svensson CC BY-SA 3.0

Not only is this Spanish library a true work of art, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is located within the monastery and palace complex in Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid. Originally commissioned by King Philip II, the library’s most dazzling feature is a series of seven ornate frescoes that adorn the ceiling. These frescoes depict scenes from classical history. Also, among the most fascinating objects on display are the numerous baroque globes and armillary spheres.

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8. George Peabody Library, Baltimore, U.S.A

George Peabody Library, Baltimore, U.S.A
Matthew Petroff / CC BY-SA

The George Peabody Library (part of Johns Hopkins University) contains over 300,000 volumes stacked in five decorative tiers. But the main draw here, is the cathedral like-atrium, marble floors, and wrought-iron details. The library incorporates Baroque, Rococo, and Greco-Roman architectural elements. These include classical columns embellished with gold leaf. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular wedding venues in Baltimore.

9. Warsaw University Library, Warsaw, Poland

© Marek and Ewa Wojciechowscy / Trips over Poland

Beautiful and unique, this library boasts a rooftop botanical garden (one of the largest in Europe) and far reaching views. This updated version of the university library was opened in December 1999, as the previous one suffered damage during WW2. In the lower garden there’s a fishpond and a small stream, while the upper garden has lots of colourful plants. Evidently, the garden is designed to be in perfect harmony with the ultra-modern library building.

Which of the most beautiful libraries in the world are you most inspired to visit? Let us know in the comments below, or if we’ve missed one of your favourites, share them with our community.

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