The Best 6 Libraries in Edinburgh

Library | © Stewart Butterfield/Flickr
Emer Ní Chíobháin

Edinburgh’s historical and cultural attractions have made it the second most popular tourist destination in the United Kingdom after London. Famous for its international festival and Fringe, the city has also long been known as a centre of education, so we set out to see what libraries the capital has to offer.

1. National Library of Scotland

Bridge, Library

National Library of Scotland

A treasure trove of Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture

The headquarters of Scotland’s largest library, the National Library of Scotland, is located on George IV Bridge, between the Old Town and the University Quarter. This beautiful and impressive library holds 27 million items in multiple formats including books, manuscripts, archives, websites, newspapers, maps music, moving images and sound. The library boasts an array of interesting exhibitions and collections: included is the letter which Charles Darwin submitted with the manuscript of Origin of Species, the first folio of Shakespeare as well as the last letter by Mary Queen of Scots. Conveniently there’s a great café that serves hot drinks and snacks but the highlight is a visit the rooftop terrace on a sunny day, for great views of the Edinburgh skyline.

Opening hours: Mon – Fri 9.30am – 8.30am; Sat 9.30am – 1pm; Sun closed

George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, UK, +44 131 623 3700

Café at National Library of Scotland

Café at National Library of Scotland / Courtesy of The National Library

2. The Scottish Poetry Library


National Library of Scotland
© Kim Traynor/Geograph
Bringing people and poems together for over 30 years

The Scottish Poetry Library is a unique national resource and advocate for the art of poetry, and Scottish poetry in particular. It’s one of three poetry libraries in the UK, but the only one to be independently constituted and housed and is the only poetry house in the world to have an extensive lending library at its core. There’s poetry here for everyone, and the friendly and helpful staff can help you find the poem you’ll want to keep. Patrons regularly comment on it’s amazing atmosphere: ‘a haven’ or ‘something magical’. One particularly impressed New Zealand visitor went to far as to call it their most ‘favourite library in the world’. Currently undergoing refurbishment, the Scottish Poetry Library is due to re-open in November 2015.

Opening hours: Tues – Sat 10am – 5pm

3. Fountainbridge Library


Stairwell in Fountainbridge Library
© John Lord/Flickr
More than your average local library

The Fountainbridge library may not be the biggest, but it maintains a decent selection all the same. Of course, any books it may lack can be requested from any Edinburgh library and delivered through their library link service. Fountainbridge library has all the usual expected services on offer such as pre-bookable computers, daily papers as well as friendly and helpful staff. The library also offers excellent services for kids including the “chatterbooks” book club and storytelling every Saturday. For grown-ups they offer writers groups, book groups and even free computer classes. But what makes this library out of the ordinary is the exciting projects it runs. More recently they worked with the Scottish Waterways Trust to find out what secrets were lurking in the depths of the Union Canal as well as teaming up with the Scottish Brewing Archives, for a night of tales, photographs and history of brewing in Edinburgh.

Opening hours: Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sat 10am – 5pm; Mon, Wed 1pm – 5pm; Sun closed

4. The Royal Botanical Gardens Library

Botanical Garden, Park

Hidden gem with a wealth of botanical knowledge

The Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh‘s Library is Scotland’s national reference collection for specialist botanical and horticultural resources, and is one of this country’s largest research libraries. This library itself is located in the Herbarium within the manicured 70-acre gardens with palm house and temporary exhibitions, with kids’ events, tours and cafés. This little-known library holds many rare, historically and scientifically important botanical books dating from 1486. This little gem of a library has a wealth of information, reportedly getting 100s of enquiries annually, including a recent enquiry about the sexual behaviour of a strawberry as well as someone wanting information about the Ulay plant that provides the oil for the well-known skin care products!

Opening hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 4pm

5. University of Edinburgh: Main Library

Library, University

University of Edinburgh: Main Library
© Graeme Yuill/Geograph
An amazing resource, not just for students

This library, the largest of all the Edinburgh University’s libraries, is located on George Square, to the south of the city centre. Although staff and students have full access and borrowing rights, the University of Edinburgh Library is actually open to all members of the public. It holds the University’s general collections of books and periodicals, older books in all subjects, most of the special collections of rare books and manuscripts, the University archives and the Lothian Health Service Archive. It also holds the primary collections in arts, humanities, social sciences, medicine and informatics. The impressive building, spread across seven floors, has group and individual study facilities, bookable rooms, over 500 open access PCs, wireless internet available throughout and there’s also a café for when you need a break from all the books. A great view across the meadows always helps with the study and revision.

Opening hours: 7.30am – 2.30am

6. Central Library


Central Library
© Phillip Capper/Wikimedia
The oldest yet most contemporary

Situated in Edinburgh’s old-town is the award-winning Central Library; the city’s oldest public library, first opened in 1890. However its newly refurbished sections make it feel contemporary and full of energy. Browsing their Art & Design Library is an excellent way to spend an afternoon: with information on everything from cave paintings to the Turner Prize. The newly opened refurbished children’s library, full of innovative shapes and spaces, is bursting with choice for the little ones. The music section in the Mezzanine Area includes a newly designed glazed balustrade increasing the natural light in the area, an acoustic pod that can be booked out as well as all the new lighting in the area creates a modern and contemporary feel.

Opening hours: Mon – Wed 10am – 8pm; Thurs – Sat 10am – 5pm

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