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7 of the World’s Most Stunning Libraries

When I travel, I always love exploring unique places like churches and libraries.  Not only are they completely captivating in their beauty, but they tell a story rich in history, art, and culture.  One that teaches us to appreciate things we sometimes take for granted.  Like books for example!  When was the last time you just strolled through a library enjoying the sight of wall-to-wall books?

I put together this list of pretty amazing libraries around the world. I hope it inspires you to visit the libraries often, wherever you may be! Yep, I’m such a nerd!

Trinity College Old Library, Ireland

This spectacular library at Trinity College is definitely a must-see if you are vacationing in Ireland.  Located in the heart of Dublin, you’ll find the Old Library an easy and enjoyable journey back in time.  Built in the 18th century, it is most famous as the home of the Book of Kells, an illuminated gospel manuscript created in the 9th century.  If you love Dan Brown, you’ll definitely enjoy the rich symbolism and imagery. Be sure to visit the Long Room located on the second level.  The impressive and stunning display of oak bookcases holds 200,000 of the Library’s book collection.


Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

Who knew libraries could be so cool?  Well the Bodleian, or “The Bod” as it is sometimes called, has definitely achieved cool status.   Its official duty is to serve as the main research library at the world-famous Oxford University.  It is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and home to nearly 11 million items in its collection.  Even though it’s old and scholarly, the Bodleian is cool enough for Hollywood producers to use it in filmmaking.  Three Harry Potter movies and X-Men 4 were partially filmed at the Bodleian.  Yes, it was the Hogwarts library!


Abbey Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland

When you think of dying and going to library heaven, this is what it looks like, right?  There are so many reasons to visit Switzerland anyway, and now this luscious library just tipped you over the edge.  The Abbey of St. Gallen is such a wonder that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  While the books and manuscripts are part of one of the oldest collections in Switzerland, it’s really the calming, beauty of the place that makes it a wonderful experience.  You’ll want to grab a book, sit down and relax…and stay all afternoon.


George Peabody Library, Baltimore

If I had a giant mansion and 300 thousand books, I might build something that looks like this.  I think you’ll agree this is a pretty magnificent way to display your book collection.  Located at the Peabody Campus at Mount Vernon Place, you’ll find the research library of John Hopkins University.  The library’s collections can be enjoyed by anyone who visits, and its breath-taking architecture and design resembling a “cathedral of books” is definitely one of the most beautiful in the world.


Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen University, Scotland

I really admire the amazing architecture of the new Sir Duncan Rice Library. One of the newcomers on my list, it was officially opened in September 2012 by Queen Elizabeth.  Designed as a meeting place and cultural center for the community, its bold lines pull you into the literary landscape.  You can visit the cafe’ on the ground floor or head up to the 7th to soak-in panoramic views of the city.  The library provides over 1,200 study areas for its students and visitors, so feel free to bring any work you need to catch-up on.


Melk Abbey Library/Monastery, Austria

If you find yourself taking a cruise down the Danube River, be sure that it stops off at Melk Abbey.  Located between Salzburg and Vienna you’ll find this massive monastery featuring a school, church, and incredible two-story library.  The library’s setting is superb and you can actually see the secret passageways that open between the shelves where the monks would sit and read.  Yes, even after all this time, you can still see monks in their robes studying.  The monastery has become a school with more than 700 students.


Phillips Exeter Academy Library, New Hampshire

Another noteworthy addition from the twentieth century, the Phillips Exeter Academy Class of 1945 Library is the largest secondary school library in the world.  Designed by Louis Kahn, and considered one of his better works, be sure to stop by and enjoy this architectural gem. The experience includes wooden carrels and a Harkness table on the main floor which encourages discussion and sharing of ideas among the Academy’s students.  It will leave you wishing you could go to school there.  Ummm…maybe just for a week or two.


More from Samantha Brown:

Must-See Destinations in Ireland

Most Patriotic Places in America

5 Epic Kid Adventures

Don’t Be One of These 11 Annoying Travelers



This Post Has 19 Comments

    1. I used to work right across from the J. P. Morgan Library in NYC. Have spent many pleasant hours there, what a treasure.
      I would also include the New York Public Library, another treasure. Yes, I am partial to NYC and miss it very much.

  1. Check out the Camden, Maine library sometime – i fell in love with it when visiting this summer. Stunning main building and creative underground expansion to preserve the amazing view, with inviting new entrance.

    1. Carmen —
      Actually, most of the interiors for Harry Potter were filmed at the University of Oxford, including the at Bodleian library, one of Samantha’s favorites.
      Intl Doc

  2. I love writing, reading and travel, so I think I’m going to have to add some (okay, all) of these libraries to my list and have a proper nerd-cation! Gorgeous.

  3. Miss Brown: I saw an article in one of your many wonderful articles which had a link of where to rent VERY cold weather apparel if one was traveling (only one time) to a very cold place. This suggestion was an alternative to buying expensive, warm apparel which would then hang in the closet to never be warm again. I went to the website, scouted around, decided it was a great idea…and now I cannot find it again. Help!!! What is this company? Thanks so much!

  4. Good list. But I would recommend adding two more magnificent libraries to this list. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Egypt) and the Morgan Library in NYC.

  5. My goodness, the Abbey Library and Melk Abbey Library are stunning! They have such a gothic feel to them. I could stay there or get lost in there forever.

  6. Biblioteca Geral University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
    Is one most beautiful libraries in the Europe and where the Harry Poter movies scenes were filmed.

  7. Been to Melk on a rainy day. Entered the library from a wet, humid balcony. We were told no pictures could be taken to protect the books. What about the weather conditions that were coming into this “fabulous ” library every time the door opened? My guess is they don’t really have the fabulous collection they say they have. Just don’t want you to take pictures to prove it.

  8. The Biblioteca Salaborsa in Bolgona Italy is located in an historical palace on the Piazza Maggiore. Your eyes are first drawn upward to the soaring ceilings and decorations. But look down on the glass floor you are walking on and see below ancient Roman ruins. You can explore these further from the basement.

  9. I love all your picks. If you ever find yourself in Manchester, UK, The John Rylands library at the University of Manchester is also spectacular.

  10. Hi, SB:
    I have 2 libraries at my place, one for work stuff in my home-office and another in my own library (was a den, once upon a time) for everything else. I have about a zillion books, in other words; something newer Internet-centric faculty simply don’t understand. I’ve been to a few of the libraries mentioned, Trinity (whilst working in Dublin) and the Bodleian (whilst picking up a post doc at Oxford), and they are indeed quite beautiful. Most, if not all, of the colleges at Oxford have their own libraries, some of them even crammed into the hallways. I learned the expression “Oxford bookcase” to mean any bookcase that was enclosed by two glass doors – i.e., the cheapest way to enclose the shelves to keep dust off the volumes of cognitionis obscura. Pretty it isn’t, but functional it is. What a shame our newest generation isn’t as fond of caressing a fine book these days as are we.

    All my best, Intl Doc

  11. Library of Congress in Washington DC has a great tour and is stunning in it’s beauty and scope. “All the President’s Men” had a great overhead shot in the main reading room, depicting “Woodstein” diligently going through thousands of records to find a nugget to aid their research.diligent research

  12. Love these pics of these incredibly beautiful libraries. I may be a bit prejudiced because Boston is my hometown but I have to say the Boston Public Library in Copley Square is stunning!

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