Travel is one of the best ways to gain knowledge, and if you're looking to learn even more about the culture of a place, there's no better spot to visit than the local library. Libraries have long been important institutions for passing on wisdom and cultural memory, and they have long been underrated as tourist destinations.
Many libraries around the world are as stunning in their architecture and organization as they are in the sheer amount of knowledge they contain. With shelves and shelves of books, various unique collections and coveted historical and cultural displays, you can get lost for days among undiscovered wonders. For a serious world education, check out these stunning libraries any bookworm would love to get lost in.
Admont Abbey Library (Admont, Austria)
Approximately 70,000 of Admont Abbey's 200,000 volumes reside in its library, which was built in 1776, with the oldest of its 1,400 manuscripts dating back to the eighth century A.D. The largest monastery library in the world, the Admont Abbey Library is decorated with gorgeous frescoes depicting the stages of human knowledge leading up to the Divine Revelation. The architecture and design represent the ideals of the Enlightenment, and the 48 windows allow in light that causes the gold and white interior to look even more grand.
George Peabody Library (Baltimore, Maryland)
Although it's a research library of Johns Hopkins University, the George Peabody Library is open for the general public to peruse its more than 300,000 volumes. Completed in 1878 and having undergone a $1 million renovation between 2002 and 2004, the library is a popular wedding venue on account of its gorgeous neo-Grec interior, with a 61-foot-high atrium covered by a frosted and latticed skylight. Books are shelved among gold-scalloped columns and surrounded by intricate black cast-iron balconies that give the spot a super romantic vibe.
Johannine Library (Coimbra, Portugal)
The Johannine Library, or Biblioteca Joanina in Portuguese, is a part of the University of Coimbra General Library that was built in the 18th century. About 200,000 volumes take up its three floors, stored on two-story gilded or painted wooden shelves, and the painted ceilings add to the Baroque library's grandeur. As the documents here are quite rare and old, patrons who wish to see any of the volumes must make a request that details their justification for doing so and, upon arrival, will need to see the document in a separate room.
Stuttgart City Library (Stuttgart, Germany)
From the outside, the Stuttgart Library (or Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, as it's locally known) in southern Germany looks like a concrete cube, but when you step inside, you'll find a stunning five-story labyrinth of books that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Pristine white surfaces and staircases form a grid effect that gives the library a light, airy feel, and the hundreds of thousands of books lining the walls add to its impressiveness.
Trinity College Library (Dublin, Ireland)
The Trinity College Library is one of the most magical spots in Ireland, as well as the nation's largest library. Established in 1592, the library is home to about 6 million volumes. About 200,000 of the oldest volumes are located in the iconic Long Room, the main chamber of the Old Library which stretches over 200 feet and is home to the Trinity College harp, possibly the world's oldest existing harp and the inspiration for the Guinness logo. The library is notably the permanent home of the Book of Kells, an illuminated Latin Gospel manuscript believed to have been created around 800 A.D.
Raza Library (Rampur, India)
Located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the Rampur Raza Library was built up by the nawabs (viceroys) of Rampur starting in 1774 and continues to be one of the largest libraries in Asia, as well as a treasure trove of Indo-Islamic heritage. The library's collection includes 5,000 miniature paintings, 205 handwritten palm leaves and 17,000 rare manuscripts. And that is just the start of this library's collection of many extremely rare and valuable items, which also include astronomical instruments, works of Islamic calligraphy and rare illustrated works in both Arabic and Persian. Printed works in Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Pashto, Turkish and Sanskrit also reside in the library, as well as about 30,000 printed books and periodicals in other languages.
Courtesy of Ariannarama/Wikimedia Commons
Austrian National Library (Vienna, Austria)
More than 12 million items are housed in the various collections of the Austrian National Library, or the √?sterreichische Nationalbibliothek as it's known in German. Located within the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the library was founded by in 1368 as the Imperial Court Library. Completed in 1723 and renamed in 1920, the library complex has a central structure referred to as the Prunksaal (State Hall), which is beautifully decorated with vast frescoes and sculptures.
Vasconcelos Library (Mexico City, Mexico)
Mexico City's Vasconcelos Library, or Biblioteca Vasconcelos, is spread out across 409,000 feet and holds more than 500,000 books, which make for a mesmerizing scene, displayed on glass shelves that seem to hang in midair from the five stories of the building. A beautiful botanical garden outside the building welcomes patrons inside, where a painted gray whale skeleton greets guests in the main hallway.
University of al-Qarawiyyin Library (Fez, Morocco)
The Morgan Library and Museum was founded as the private library of John Pierpont Morgan in 1906 before being opened to the public by his son in 1924. Originally built as the personal library for the multimillionaire financier's private collection of rare books, prints, manuscripts, artifacts and drawings, today it has three floors of bookshelves surrounded by golden decor, ceilings covered in frescoes and even a secret passageway.
Vennesla Library and Culture House (Vennesla, Norway)
Completed in 2011, the Vennesla Library and Culture House is mainly built out of wood, and its most notable feature is the series of 27 glue-laminated rib-like timber arcs that both support the roof and continue downward to form shelves and seating. This integration of lighting and fixtures makes for a stunning futuristic look, and the coffee shop, classrooms, meeting spaces and cinema make the building so much more than a library.
Courtesy of Anne Kjersti Bentsen/ CC BY-SA 3.0
Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)
The Tianjin Binhai Library opened in 2017 and holds more than a million books in a space that's more than 360,000 square feet. The all-white, five-level library has a large sphere in its center that serves as a 110-seat auditorium, earning it the nickname of "The Eye," as from outside of the building, the sphere looks like an iris through an eye-shaped opening of the building. Floor-to-ceiling terraced bookshelves give the main hall even more grandeur and the look of an optical illusion. The illusion continues with the bookshelves themselves, as many of the books on them are only prints of spines; the actual books they represent can be found in other rooms.
The library at Wiblingen Abbey, a former Benedictine abbey, has two stories and a domed ceiling, with every inch covered in decoration. Golds, blues and pinks give the library a notable brightness, and due to the raised ceiling, the galleries were built wider to balance out the room, with columns supporting them. Completed in 1744, the library houses more than 15,000 books, and statues representing the Christian virtues of devotion, obedience, solitude and piety, as well as the disciplines of history, law, philosophy and theology are placed near books relating to those subjects.
Courtesy of Staatliche Schl√∂sser and G√§rten Baden-W√ľrttemberg, G√ľnther Bayerl
Bodleian Library (Oxford, England)
Oxford University's main research library, and one of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian Library may be recognizable to fans of the Harry Potter movies. Its reading room, Duke Humfrey's Library, is not only one of the oldest in the country but it also served as the filming location for the Hogwarts library, and it's just as magical in person. More than 12 million items belong to its collections, which include one of only 21 surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bibles, four copies of the Magna Carta and an early edition of Shakespeare's First Folio.
National Library of Kosovo (Pristina, Kosovo)
Established in 1944, the National Library of Kosovo takes up nearly 180,000 square feet of space and holds 2 million volumes. Mixing Byzantine and Islamic architectural influences, its exterior features zenith windows, and its 99 striking domes, which are covered in metal fishing net, have varying sizes. In addition to reading rooms, the library has a 75-seat meeting hall and a 150-seat amphitheater.
Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.)
Since 1800, the Library of Congress has served as the official research library for the United States Congress and the de facto national library of the United States, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the country and a top historic destination for Americans. The library is in possession of more than 167 million items in total, including 38 million books and other printed materials, 70 million manuscripts, 14 million photographs and 3.6 million recordings. Definitely the largest library in the world in terms of shelf space, it also claims to be the largest library in terms of number of books (a claim that may be disputed by the British Library). Out of its three main buildings in Washington, D.C., the Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest and most striking, built in the Beaux-Arts style and featuring frescoes, murals, sculptures and mosaics by more than 50 American artists.
Russian State Library (Moscow, Russia)
Over 170 miles of shelves with more than 43 million items, including more than 17 million books and serial volumes, make up the Russian State Library, one of the largest in the world. The main building's exterior is Neoclassical in design, while the interior is a perfect example of the Constructivist architecture that was popular in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. Open for membership to citizens of any country ages 14 and up, the library clearly has a romantic side to it, as it's historically been known as a place where many locals have met their spouses.
Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Virgilio Barco Public Library (Bogot√°, Colombia)
Located within a park, the Virgilio Barco Public Library, or Biblioteca P√ļblica Virgilio Barco, was completed in 2001 after being designed by renowned Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona, known for his use of red brick and natural shapes such as curves, spirals and radial geometry. As such, the library's gorgeous red color contrasts beautifully against its blue water pools and green lawns outside and inside, its structure creates a circular labyrinth holding a collection of 150,000 volumes, as well as reference and specialty rooms and a 350-person auditorium.
Courtesy of Virgilio Barco Public Library
Abbey Library of Saint Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)
Switzerland's oldest library holds more than 160,000 volumes, some of which date as far back as the eighth century. Built in the Rococo style, the Abbey Library of Saint Gall is characterized by elaborate art on its ceilings, wooden ornamental balconies and beautifully carved moldings.
Courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Woollahra Library (Double Bay, Australia)
The Woollahra Library at Double Bay looks like a beautiful jungle that happens to have plenty of bookshelves, with vines and leaves decorating the walls and hanging over staircases. A playful atmosphere reigns here, as there are slide tunnels that can take you down to the next floor, hanging gardens that serve as chutes for you to return your books, and reading nooks hidden away in cozy corners.
Courtesy of Sardaka/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0
Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, or Real Gabinete Portugu√™s de Leitura, is home to more than 350,000 Portuguese works - more than any other place outside of Portugal. Established in 1837, its Neo-Manueline design has earned it quite a bit of renown as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world; a wrought-iron chandelier and stained-glass skylight take center stage, but the Brazilian library is also made grander by its limestone exterior and the detailed carvings of its interior, as well as huge pillars, elegant arches and a marble, silver and ivory altar.
New York Public Library Main Branch (New York, New York)
The main branch of the New York Public Library, also known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is a New York City icon. Visitors are greeted at the steps by two stone lions before finding frescoed ceilings, grand chandeliers and charming wooden shelves within. Approximately 2.5 million volumes reside at just this branch of the New York Public Library system, which has nine divisions, eight of which are special collections.
Connemara Public Library (Chennai, India)
The Connemara Public Library was established in 1896 and built in the Indo-Saracenic (also known as Mughal Gothic) style of architecture, blending elements of Indo-Islamic architecture with that of Hindu temples, as well as Gothic and Neo-Classical architecture. Adorned with stained glass windows, the library's original marble floors are still intact, and teak arches with intricate patterns and teakwood bookshelves give the library a sober look that contrasts with the brighter, red sandstone exterior. More than 600,000 books are housed in the library, which is located in the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, making it one of the biggest libraries in Asia.
Klementinum Library (Prague, Czech Republic)
Part of the National Library of the Czech Republic, a visit to the Baroque library at Klementinum is like stepping back into the 19th century. Domed ceilings are painted with beautiful frescoes that complement the expertly carved wooden columns that stand between bookshelves, and the marble floors only add to the grandeur of a library that has a scalloped and gilded balcony, as well as old globes and many, many books.
The Library of Parliament was once part of Ottawa's original Parliamentary headquarters constructed in 1876. The building had been under construction for 10 years before it was revealed that the builders didn't know how to create a domed roof as seen in the plans. To get around this issue, the Tomas Fairbairn Engineering Company of England was commissioned to create a pre-fabricated dome. As a result, the building had the distinction of being the first building in North America to have a wrought-iron roof. The unique Gothic building is so iconic that today it is even featured on the Canadian $10 bill.
Palace of Mafra Library (Mafra, Portugal)
The Rococo library of the palace-monastery in Mafra is located at the back of its second floor, and is perhaps the most stunning part of the palace. Rose, white and gray marble tiles make up the floor upon which sit intricately carved wooden bookshelves that contain more than 36,000 leather-bound volumes.
Royal Library of El Escorial (San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain)
The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the king of Spain, has three libraries, but it's the Royal Library added by Philip II that stands out. A World Heritage Site that's home to more than 40,000 volumes, its most breathtaking features are the seven frescoes painted on its vaulted ceilings to represent the seven liberal arts: arithmetic, astronomy, dialectic, geometry, grammar, music and rhetoric.
Metten Abbey Library (Metten, Germany)
More than 150,000 volumes on history, philosophy and theology are contained in the library of Metten Abbey, a house of the Benedictine Order in Bavaria. An 18th-century library in an eighth-century monastery, its ornate interior is characterized by a vaulted ceiling, as well as Baroque sculptures, frescoes and intricate bookcases. The likenesses of religious and academic leaders, as well as philosophers, are carved into statues, as portraits of saints are painted over copies of the books they wrote.
Suzzallo Library (Seattle, Washington)
First completed in 1926 before having its final wing finished in 1963, Suzzallo Library is the main library of the University of Washington. Built in the Collegiate Gothic style, the building's buttresses are decorated with 18 terra-cotta figures featuring prominent academics and writers such as Plato, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Galileo, Beethoven, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The library's leaded windows have 35-foot-tall stained glass panels, and oak bookcases with hand-carved friezes and a painted timber-vaulted ceiling characterize its Graduate Reading Room. The stunning building houses about 1.6 million of the university's 6 million volumes.
Richard Riordan Central Library (Los Angeles, California)
The main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, the Rich Riordan Central Library is an icon of downtown Los Angeles, bringing old and new architecture together in an impressive fashion. Art Deco on the outside, it has a bronze chandelier adorning its grand rotunda to greet you once you walk inside. First built with ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival influences such as mosaics and pyramids, today it also has Beaux-Arts and Modernist aspects such as its eight-story atrium. A gorgeous, sweeping staircase leads you up to the library's impressive collection of books, which makes it one of the 50 places you absolutely must see in your lifetime.
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