The 20 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Libraries are some of humanity's most beautiful architectural accomplishments.

View of Rose reading room at New York Public Library
Sascha Kilmer / Getty Images

Libraries are unique not only because they serve as community anchors and provide an excellent example of resource sharing but also because they're the brick-and-mortar repositories of our collective knowledge and have, as such, long been afforded some of the best architecture money can buy. Beyond their often-exquisite designs—enhanced by an abundance of aesthetically pleasing books—are the unique sanctuaries they offer.

While nobody requires a magnificent space to enjoy a good book, the 20 beautiful libraries below nonetheless provide a magical environment to revel in the wonders of the written word.

01 of 20

Library of St. Mang's Abbey

Wide-angle view of library at Saint Mang's Abbey

tzuky333 / Shutterstock

Lechhalde 3, 87629 Füssen, Germany
Phone +49 8362 903143

While little remains of St. Mang's Abbey's original library contents in Füssen, Germany, the interior architecture is grand enough to warrant a visit nonetheless. Books still line the ornately decorated oval room adorned with stunning frescos, and it boasts a view of the monks' dining room.

St. Mang's Abbey, dating back to the ninth century, was once a monastery. Still, it was converted into a Baroque-style church in the early 1700s, when the Counter-Reformation movement saw many Catholic churches convert to Protestantism throughout Europe. The library's original collection of books and manuscripts was removed in the early 1800s after the princes of Oettingen-Wallerstein took control of the abbey following the Napoleonic wars. (Those books and manuscripts are now housed at the University of Augsburg.)

02 of 20

Tianjin Binhai Library

Elevated view of Tianjin Binhai Library's modern interior

Xiaodong Qiu / Getty Images

China, Tian Jin Shi, Bin Hai Xin Qu, 旭升路347號 邮政编码: 300450
Phone +86 22 6554 5678

The Tianjin Binhai Library is one of the youngest—therefore, most modern—world-famous libraries. Opened in 2017, it's located in the cultural center of the Binhai district in Tianjin, China, a coastal metropolis outside Beijing. Its most eye-catching feature is the large spherical auditorium in the center, surrounded by rows of bookshelves that—on top of holding 1.2 million books—"act as everything from stairs to seating," said a 2017 press release from architecture firm MVRDV. The shelves' contours also flow along two glass facades that link the library to a park outside.

According to that press release, the unique angles and curves in this auditorium are designed to stimulate different uses of the space, including walking, reading, and "discussing."

03 of 20

Haeinsa Temple

Aisle of library at Haeinsa Temple

Arian Zwegers / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

122 Haeinsa-gil, Gaya-myeon, Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do 678-895, South Korea
Phone +82 55-934-3000

While you won't find any teen fiction on its shelves, the Temple of Haeinsa on Mount Gaya in Haeinsa, South Korea, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its housing of the Tripitaka Koreana, a complete collection of Buddhist texts in existence. Carved on more than 80,000 woodblocks during the 13th century, the text contains no known errors within its more than 52 million characters and 6,568 volumes. The Temple of Haeinsa was constructed in the 15th century specifically to store the Tripitaka. The buildings reveal "an astonishing mastery of the invention and implementation of the conservation techniques used to preserve these woodblocks," UNESCO says.

04 of 20

Malatesta Library

Ancient hall inside the Malatestiana Library

Luimacca / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Piazza Maurizio Bufalini, 47521 Cesena FC, Italy
Phone +39 0547 610892

With a geometric design typical of the early Italian Renaissance, the Malatesta Library's interior is unusual, featuring 58 pew-like desks to which the library's prized collection of 341 hand-printed codices are secured with their original iron chains. All told, there are more than 400,000 items, including 287 incunabula (pamphlets printed before 1501) and 3,200 16th-century editions, as well as the personal library of Pope Pius VII. The Malatesta Library, which is located in Cesena, Italy, predates the invention of printing. Built in the 15th century, it's one of the oldest intact public libraries in the world.

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05 of 20

Strahov Library

Ornate painted ceiling inside the Strahov Library

Jorge Royan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Strahovské nádvoří 132/1, 118 00 Praha 1-Hradčany, Czechia
Phone +420 233 107 710

The Theological Hall in Prague’s Strahov Monastery library was established in 1679 and serves as a shining example of the exuberance and grandeur typical of Baroque design. In addition to some 18,000 books on theology, the library has many exquisite architectural details, such as the carved wooden cartouches with images indicating book categories and the elaborate ceiling frescoes painted in the 18th century by Siard Nosecký.

06 of 20

Mafra National Palace Library

Hallway with high, arched ceilings in Mafra National Palace library

Amfeli / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

Terreiro D. João V, 2640 Mafra, Portugal
Phone +351 261 817 550

This incredible Rococo library is nestled in Portugal's Mafra National Palace—a Baroque masterpiece built in the 18th century by King João V. The spectacular space holds a collection of more than 35,000 leather-bound volumes ranging from the 14th to 19th centuries. Yet beyond its good looks and great books, the library stands out for another reason: A colony of bats resides (allowably) in the library for natural pest control against book-damaging insects.

07 of 20

Joanina Library

Baroque interior of Coimbra University Library, Portugal

PhR61 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Entrada pela lateral na Prisão Academica Pátio das Escolas da Universidade de, 3000-233 Coimbra, Portugal

Another Portuguese beauty patrolled by bats, the stunning 18th-century Baroque Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Coimbra, Portugal, features decorated arches that separate three sumptuous rooms with painted ceilings and bookshelves made from gilded or painted exotic woods. The library contains about 250,000 volumes, primarily medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy, and theology. Its bug-eating bats have been a part of the preservation plan for at least 200 years, and the caretakers cover the furniture nightly to protect it from guano.

08 of 20

Trinity College Library

Old hall in the Trinity College Library
meshaphoto / Getty Images
Old Library, College Green, South-East Inner City, Dublin 2, D02 VR66, Ireland
Phone +353 1 896 1000

When completed in 1732, the library at Trinity College in Dublin had a flat plaster ceiling, but expansions were required as its prodigious collection grew. In 1860, the roof was raised to allow construction of the present barrel-vaulted ceiling and upper bookcases. Thousands of rare and very early books and artifacts are housed in its lofty shelves, each punctuated by a marble bust. Among them are the "Book of Kells" and the Brian Boru harp, a medieval Gaelic harp from which the national symbol of Ireland was derived.

Continue to 9 of 20 below.
09 of 20

Abbey Library of Saint Gall

Baroque library hall with painted ceiling

 Stuart Dee / Getty Images

Klosterhof 6D, 9000 St. Gallen, Switzerland
Phone +41 71 227 34 16

Considered one of the most important monastic libraries globally, this Baroque rococo bonanza and UNESCO World Heritage site in St. Gallen, Switzerland, is also an architectural masterpiece. Its ceiling paintings are framed by ornamental, curved moldings. Wooden balconies float from the second floor of the spacious hall, creating an aura of ancient grandeur.

The Abbey Library of Saint Gall is home to manuscripts dating back to the eighth century. While it is open to the public, any of its 160,000 books printed before 1900 can only be read in the reading room.

10 of 20

Library at All Souls College

Statue and wall of books at All Souls College

Simon Q / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

All Souls College, High Street, Oxford OX1 4AL, UK
Phone +44 1865 279318

Oxford's College of All Souls of the Faithful Departed was founded by Henry VI and the archbishop of Canterbury in 1438. Still, it wasn't until 1710 that the school's library received its most prominent donation, Christopher Codrington's legacy of 10,000 pounds (more than a million in today's money) to rebuild the structure, plus his personal collection of 12,000 volumes. The new library buildings, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, were completed in 1752. Today, colorful book covers pop against the dusty teal shelves, topped with a stunning plaster barrel-vaulted ceiling. The collection houses around 185,000 volumes, about a third of which were printed before 1800.

11 of 20

Sainte-Geneviève Library

Large reading room at Sainte Genevieve Library

Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0 fr

10 Pl. du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
Phone +33 1 44 41 97 97

At the Place du Panthéon in Paris, the Sainte-Geneviève Library is striking for its novel use of an exposed structural iron frame (the first public building ever to do so), which forms a lacy ferrous exoskeleton that defines the spectacular room. The library, designed by Henri Labrouste in 1843, inherited a collection of more than two million documents from the former Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève. It serves as the primary research and reference library for students attending the University of Paris.

12 of 20

George Peabody Library

Skylight and marble floor of the George Peabody Library atrium

Matthew Petroff / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

17 E Mt Vernon Pl, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA
Phone +1 667-208-6715

The George Peabody Library is remarkable for its five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically like a wedding cake to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. The library dates back to the founding of the Peabody Institute, philanthropist George Peabody's dedication to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation of their "kindness and hospitality." Opened in 1878, it was designed by Edmund G. Lind in collaboration with the first provost, Dr. Nathaniel H. Morison. The library contains more than 300,000 titles, which date from the 18th to the early 20th centuries.

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13 of 20

Leipzig University Library

Neorenaissance-style atrium in Leipzig University Library

Fred Romero / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Bibliotheca Albertina, Beethovenstraße 6, 04107 Leipzig, Germany
Phone +49 341 9730577

In 1891, the University Library in Leipzig, Germany, moved to its current location in a magnificent Neo-Renaissance building known for its spectacular white atrium, featuring tall columns, a bifurcated staircase, and globe lanterns. The building was nearly destroyed in World War II but was finally returned to its former splendor when it reopened in 2002, after eight years of expansion and renovation.

The University Library dates back to 1542 when Rector Caspar Borner commenced a collection of several thousand items. The current collection has some 5 million volumes, 5.2 million media units, and 7,200 current periodicals, in addition to a significant holding of special collections.

14 of 20

State Library of New South Wales

Overhead view of skylit reading room

Wpcpey / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

1 Shakespeare Pl, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Phone +61 2 9273 1414

Perhaps the most famous part of the State Library of New South Wales (NSW) in Sydney is the Mitchell Wing, which contains an ornate vestibule, grand skylight, and a marble mosaic reproduction of the historic Tasman Map on its floor. The building—named for David Scott Mitchell, who bequeathed his books to the library—was completed in 1910. The original journals of James Cook are housed among the collection's some 5 million items (two million books and more than a million photographs).

As a whole, the State Library of NSW is the oldest in Australia. In 1869, the government purchased the 1926 Australian Subscription Library to form the Sydney Free Public Library, the first truly public library for the area; it then became the State Library.

15 of 20

New York Public Library

Main reading room of New York Public Library.
Bruce Bi / Getty Images
476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018, USA
Phone +1 917-275-6975

New York City’s 1911 beaux-arts main branch library on Fifth Avenue may be one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Among the many incredible rooms for individual collections and smaller libraries within the majestic interior, the Rose Main Reading Room stands out. The cavernous space is the length of two city blocks and is lit by chandeliers and lamps that grace the long oak tables. The ceiling, 52 feet high, is decorated with vibrant sky murals, a perfect place for getting lost in the clouds.

The New York Public Library boasts a collection of 15 million items, including medieval manuscripts, ancient Japanese scrolls, and contemporary works.

16 of 20

Stockholm Public Library

Large rotunda at the entrance of Stockholm Public Library

Arild Vågen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Sveavägen 73, 113 80 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone +46 8 508 309 00

Designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund in 1922 and completed six years later, the Stockholm Public Library is one of the city's most notable structures, replete with a majestic dome that provides a unique cylindrical hall. This monument to modern functional design is home to more than two million printed volumes and 2.4 million audiotapes, CDs, and audiobooks.

Continue to 17 of 20 below.
17 of 20

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Glass-enclosed tower of book stacks

Gunnar Klack / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

121 Wall St, New Haven, CT 06511-8917, USA
Phone +1 203-432-2977

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the world's largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts. Designed by Gordon Bunshaft and the prolific modernist firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the striking building composed of Vermont marble, granite, bronze, and glass was completed in 1963.

Among the many treasures tucked away safely in its colossal glass-enclosed book towers are the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon's "Birds of America," both on permanent exhibition.

18 of 20

Liyuan Library

Minimalist book stacks in China's Liyuan Library

 Gu Xiaoguang / Getty Images

A departure from the ornate, over-the-top edifices typically regarded as beautiful, this minimalist library located in the small village of Huairou, China, two hours north of Beijing, is equally stunning, even without the bells and whistles. Designed by Li Xiaodong, its glass exterior shell is clad with locally sourced sticks to better blend with the nature surrounding it; inside, stepped cases, seats, and platforms house books and provide areas for quiet contemplation.

19 of 20

Sir Duncan Rice Library

Unique spiraling atrium inside Sir Duncan Rice Library

Gordon Robertson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Aberdeen AB24 3YW, UK

Although the University of Aberdeen was established in 1495, its library is firmly rooted in the 21st century. The Sir Duncan Rice Library—formerly called the Aberdeen University New Library—features a minimalist exterior that reveals a spiraling atrium. This dynamic vortex connects the building’s eight stories. The stunning modern design is the work of Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and was commissioned to replace the former library in 1965.

The Space Age facility accommodates 14,000 students with 1,200 reading spaces, archives, historical collections, and a room for rare books. The building was also designed to meet the highest sustainable standards and has been certified BREEAM Excellent.

20 of 20

Tama Art University Library

Arches and art installations inside the Tama Art University Library

Wiiii / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

2-chōme-1723 Yarimizu, Hachioji, Tokyo 192-0375, Japan
Phone +81 42-676-8611

Designed by award-winning Japanese architect Toyo Ito, the Hachioji Library at the Tama Art University in Hachioji, Japan, is an exquisite design work. Completed in 2007, it is made of reinforced concrete arches and glass, allowing the contours of the rolling outdoors to meld with the seductive space inside.

The second floor of the library offers open-access stacks holding more than 100,000 books. In all, the collection contains more than 77,000 Japanese books, 47,000 foreign books, and 1,500 periodicals with (no surprise) an emphasis on art, design, and architecture.

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The 20 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World