Europe's 18 Most Beautiful Libraries

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Chris Beer

Looking for a place for contemplation and learning? We list the finest libraries and reading rooms in Europe, from baroque spaces to cutting-edge extensions from contemporary architects.

1. Mafra Palace Library: Mafra, Portugal

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Palace of Mafra dome, Portugal
Miguel Carraça / Unsplash

Located in the stunnning Mafra Palace, this exclusive library is only accessible via appointment. The magnificent tiled floor, made out of grey, rose and white marble, attracts Instagrammers far and wide.

2. The Codrington Library: Oxford

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Deep inside All Souls College, Oxford you’ll come across beautiful dark green shelves and towering marble statues. This wonderful modern collection encompasses more than 185,000 books, a third of which were published before the 1800s!

3. Stuttgart City Library


The Library of Stuttgart, Germany.
Max Langelott / Unsplash
The great crystalline building stands a whopping nine-storeys high overlooking the German city of Stuttgart. It’s very on trend cube white interior attracts tourists from all over the globe and has won several architectural awards.

4. Admont Abbey Library

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Admont Abbey library, Austria
Carrie Borden / Unsplash

One of the largest monastic libraries in the world, the library at Admont Abbey is a masterpiece of the baroque. Its cavernous ceiling is decorated with frescoes showing the progression of human knowledge up to divine revelation, embodying the ideals of the Enlightenment and how they were structurally expressed. Expansive windows allow the sun to flood the room and make the visitor feel blessed with the light of wisdom.

5. Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra University Library

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Named for Joao V, Portugal’s ‘Sun King’, the Old Library at Coimbra University exhibits the hallmarks of architecture made for an absolutist ruler. Joao dedicated much of his time to patronising the arts, and the library was built with the wealth that accompanied Portugal’s imperial endeavours. The library only houses books printed in the 19th century and earlier, making it a truly historical collection.

6. Old Library, Trinity College Dublin

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
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The highlight of this library is the ‘Long Room’, resembling the nave of a large church. The Long Room is punctuated by busts of great philosophers and figures associated with the university, including Aristotle and Edmund Burke. In October 2014, the library bought a significant collection of Samuel Beckett’s letters.

7. Francois-Mitterand Library, French National Library, Paris

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

The French National Library is made up of a handful of individual complexes which add up to an embarrassment of riches. A particular highlight is the François-Mitterand library, which was built by Dominique Perrault in 1989 following an international competition. Attempting to embody the very force of modernization, the Francois-Mitterand library asserts the dynamism of learning.

8. Austrian National Library, Hofburg Palace, Vienna


The Austrian National Library is housed in the Hofburg Palace, which was the historic seat of power for the Habsburg family. Decorated in an explosion of Baroque colour, the library is abundant in its decoration, with meters-tall bookshelves and luxurious ornaments. The walls are curvaceous, and the imposing statue of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI looms large underneath the large ceiling fresco.

9. Biblioteca Marciana, Venice

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Andrea Palladio decreed that Jacopo Sansovino’s Biblioteca Marciana was the ‘richest and most ornate’ building assembled since antiquity. The obligatory ceiling frescoes and niche paintings are present, some of them painted by classical Venetian artists Titian and Tinteretto. You enter the library by walking up a dramatic marble staircase illuminated by golden decorations above – an appropriate entrance to one of Venice’s finest buildings.

10. Radcliffe Camera, University of Oxford


The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford University
Ben Seymour / Unsplash
The Radcliffe Camera is set in Radcliffe Square, just off Oxford’s High Street. Most of the internal decoration is built with locally sourced stone, which provides the library with a deep echo and sense of space. The library is not permanently open to the public, but special tours run every Sunday and also include some of the other highlights of the Bodleian library complex.

11. Philological Library, Free University, Berlin

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

The interior of the Philological Library is impressive, as the design uses curves and clean white lines to give the entire building a kinetic feel, with the bookshelves and reader stations acting like interconnected neurons and axons. The brain metaphor is continued as the room is split into two hemispheres gradually narrowing in size until they reach the closing of the cupola. The building truly feels alive, as it possesses a double ‘skin’ shell on its walls that can close and open in response to Berlin’s varying climate.

12. Baroque Library Hall, Clementinum, Prague

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

In the Clementinum complex of Prague is the Baroque Library Hall, one of the greatest examples of the titular architectural movement. Baroque takes its name from the Spanish word ‘barroco’, which means a rough or misshapen pearl. Unlike many other libraries, the Klementinum library is truly vivacious and celebrates the vitality of theological learning in the best Counter-Reformation spirit.

13. Black Diamond, Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen


Black Diamond, Søren Kierkegaards Plads, Copenhagen Municipality, Denmark
Olga Iacovlenco / Unsplash

The Black Diamond is a classy yet understated addition to an older building. Jutting onto the waterfront like a ported ship, its huge slanted glass wall provides an immaculate view of the marina to the readers inside. The building is constituted by two halves, united by bridges across a central atrium which double as a symbol of the building’s effective unity between Denmark’s past and present.

14. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome, Italy

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Founded in 1450 and rebuilt in the 16th century, Rome’s Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana houses 1.8 million manuscripts and printed works – including one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Greek Bible and a 15th-century copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Recommended by Amber C. Snider.

15. Biblioteca Statale Oratoriana dei Girolamini in Naples, Italy

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Originally founded as a monastic library in 1586 and eventually converted to a research library, Naples’s Biblioteca Statale Oratoriana dei Girolamini is home to 160,000 volumes, including Giovanni Boccaccio’s 15th-century Teseida. It is the oldest library in Naples. Recommended by Amber C. Snider.

16. Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen in St Gallen, Switzerland

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Originally founded in 612 as a Benedictine monastery, today the Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen is a public reference library with 170,000 volumes. Described as a “sanctuary of the soul,” the present-day structure was built in the mid-18th century in the Baroque style by Peter Thumb. In the 1980s, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Recommended by Amber C. Snider.

17. Strahovská Knihovna in Prague, Czech Republic

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Klementinum, Prague
Cedric Letsch / Unsplash

The Philosophical Hall at Strahovská Knihovna in the Czech Republic (shown above) was built in a Neoclassical style in 1783 by Ignác Palliardi. The monastic library contains 200,000 volumes and interior highlights include walnut book cabinets (one of which contains a rare collection of French encyclopedias, gifted by Marie-Louise of Austria in the 19th century) and an illusionistic ceiling fresco by Franz Anton Maulbertsch in 1794. Recommended by Amber C. Snider.

18. Stiftsbibliothek Kremsmünster in Kremsmünster, Austria

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Founded in 777 as a monastery, Austria’s Stiftsbibliothek Kremsmünster contains 170,000 volumes, including a complete copy of the Codex Millenarius Maior (which dates back to the eighth century and contains all four gospels in Latin), as well as a 15th-century cookbook by Bartholomaeus Platina. The library was redesigned by Carlo Antonio Carlone in 1670 in the Baroque style, and includes sectional rooms devoted to specific areas of knowledge, thematic ceiling paintings and an observatory tower. Recommended by Amber C. Snider.

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