If you’re not already a regular library goer, it may be time to reconsider your book-gathering habits—libraries are some of the best places in the world. (This is coming from a purely unbiased stance, of course.) First, they provide free books. Let me repeat that: Free. Books. Secondly, libraries can be places of astounding architectural beauty, rich with historical significance.
Here are some of the biggest and most beautiful free-book-dispensers from around the world.
The Admont Library in Admont (Austria)
The fact that this library is built in the foothills of the Alps basically makes it a staple on any list of “places to visit in Austria.”
The library itself is the second-largest monastery library in the world. Designed 1776 in late Baroque style by architect Joseph Hueber, the building features artwork by some of the most premier artists of the time, including Bartolomeo Altomonte.
George Peabody Library in Baltimore (Maryland, U.S.)
Predictably, the structure was funded by philanthropist George Peabody. He proposed the creation of the library to be a thank you gift to the people of Baltimore for their kindness and hospitality for the duration of his time in the city.
The Peabody Stack Room is particularly famous for its five-tier atrium with wrought-iron balconies and sweeping, graceful columns. The building is so grand and so beautiful that it has become a popular setting for weddings and other special events.
Clementinum in Prague (Czech Republic)
The Clementinum is most famous for the “Library Hall” which is heavily (but not too heavily) decorated with Baroque art and architecture primarily in the form of murals and sculpture. According to legend, when the Jesuits began their formation of the library in 1622, they had only one book, but by the time they were done, their collection boasted 20,000 volumes.
The Royal Library in Copenhagen
Impressively known as “The Black Diamond,” this library manages to live up to both of its upperclass names. A more recently constructed library, built in just 1999, The Royal Library is composed of steel, glass, and black granite.
Within the library, in addition to its thousands and thousands of books, the building also contains a concert hall and a famous café, so make sure to enjoy a nice cup of coffee while you take in some sweeping views of the Copenhagen harbor.
Library of Congress in Washington D.C. (U.S.)
When the original library burned down in 1814, Thomas Jefferson made sure to pepper the new one with books from his own, far more numerous, collection.
A mosaic of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, stands above the main reading room and casts its glow. The library houses thousands of books, scrolls, torches—you name it—and is home also to one of only forty remaining Gutenberg Bibles. In addition to all that, there is also a concert hall and a series of exclusive and rotating exhibits (including the original Bill of Rights, for example).
Central Library in Vancouver (Canada)
Even a brief glance at the Central Library will remind you of other iconic buildings—for instance, the Colosseum—just a little bit more modern.
Patrons enter the building through a big, sky-lit concourse full of shops and cafés in addition to the more expected presence of books. Bridges throughout this central structure of the library branch into outer regions filled with spots to study and smaller rooms for meetings and whatnot.
New York Public Library in New York City (U.S.)
The New York Public Library is about as big and grand as you might expect a classic building in New York City to be, complete with massive windows, glittering chandeliers, and a reading room so large it spans two city blocks.
Even if you don’t feel like reading, the library’s halls are painted with elaborate and wonderful murals from various time periods.
Marciana Library in Venice (Italy)
Built in Venice circa 1537 (and not completed for fifty years after construction began), the Marciana Library is one of the oldest remaining libraries in all of Italy. Paintings, murals, and sculptures by Italian Renaissance artists (Alessandro Vittoria, Titian, and Tintoretto to name a few) cover walls, ceilings, and podiums throughout the library.
The library’s vast collection contains 750,000 books, 13,000 manuscripts, and 24,000 prints. A literary amassment of this proportion seems almost too great to imagine, but we can assume that it was made possible by the 1603 Italian law that required printers to donate one copy of every work published to their local library.
*Tours led in English are available upon request
Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart (Germany)
For those who are less enthused by old-timey architecture, never fear, there are some amazing modern libraries too! The Stuttgart, for example, is about as modern as it gets. From the outside, during the day, the building resembles something like a big, nine-story cube. At sunset, the library’s glass bricks take on a dusky hue, and after hours these unique building blocks are lit by blue lights.
Inside, the building is entirely white, and houses an impressive five-story reading room shaped like an upside-down pyramid. Outside this pyramid-esque structure, the library contains a number of meeting rooms, cafés, and a rooftop terrace. Also intriguing is the “Library for Insomniacs” feature; there is a small collection of books available 24 hours a day for late-night library patrons.
Seattle Public Library in Seattle (Washington State, U.S.)
Architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus took on a more out-of-the-box approach to designing this library. They decided to center their focus on the interior functionality of the building and letting the exterior sort of…fall into place.
As a result, patrons of the library are greeted by a large building cased primarily in glass façades, allowing for primarily natural light to filter into the library on almost all floors. Fans of non-fiction literature can follow the “book spiral”: a shelf of books that spirals up four floors on a gentle incline. Visitors will also be treated with thematic floors, like the library’s all-red (legitimately painted all-red) fourth floor.
Connemara Public Library in Chennai (India)
The Connemara Public Library is just one building in what is a much larger cultural complex in Southeastern India. (This complex is complete with a theater, a museum, and a larger art gallery in addition to the library.)
While it was established as long ago as 1896, the library continues to receive copies of all books, periodicals, and newspapers published in India—we can imagine that at this point, the sheer volume of this collection is staggering.
The building’s circular entrance opens into a stately reading room with elaborately decorated ceilings. Throughout the library, bibliophiles are treated to ornate artwork, teak balconies, and stained-glass windows.
Mortlock Wing State Library in Adelaide (Australia)
As far as libraries go, at least amongst the libraries on this rather short list, the Mortlock isn’t particularly big with its two floors. But what it may lack in size is made up for in style (quality over quantity and all that) and a collection of important books and periodicals.
The artistic highlight of this stately library is the massive Dent and Sons clock hung high at the end of the Reading Room, plated in wrought iron and set in a golden-ornamented balcony. The ceiling’s glass dome also serves to add to the library’s artistry and openness, allowing for Australia’s natural light to filter down on book-loving patrons.