9 of Europe’s greatest libraries
Libraries are a place of refuge for many of us, offering a break from the hustle and bustle of day to day life and providing room for our brains to delve into some work or explore a great book. They have been integral to society for centuries, and so Europe is blessed with hundreds of breathtakingly beautiful libraries that date back hundreds of years. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't overlook the modern takes on the classic institution!
When visiting new cities, the local library is not necessarily the first place you would think to explore, but these places can tell you a lot about the culture and history of any unfamiliar place. As an avid reader and bookworm, why not plan a European tour, visiting the continent’s hidden gems and most iconic book repositories? But where to start? With our list, of course!
Nine stunning libraries across Europe
Of course, there are too many great libraries across Europe for us to delve into them all, but here are nine great ones to inspire you for a trip!
The Escorial Library
Around 45 kilometres away from Madrid in the small town of San Lorenzo de El Esco, the Royal Library at El Escorial was founded by King Phillip II in the 16th century and houses a rare collection of 4.700 manuscripts and 40.000 printed books. It was the first library in the world to display books on shelves, but what really stands out about El Escorial are the frescoes on the walls and ceilings.
Austrian National Library
First established in Vienna in 1368 as the Imperial Court Library and housing more than 10,9 million books and artefacts, the Austrian National Library is the largest library in Austria. The site was expanded and developed in the early and mid 18th century as the State Hall - the largest Baroque library in Europe - was built. Here, you’ll find two Venetian baroque globes, as well as a number of marble statues, and all of the library's (domed) ceilings and walls are beautifully decorated with frescoes by the painter Daniel Gran.
The National Library of France
As one of the largest libraries in the world, the National Library of France is spread across five sites around Paris. While each of the sites is beautiful in its own right, the Frances Mitterrand Library and the Richelieu Library are real highlights. Frances Mitterrand offers visitors a more modern vibe, located on a square with four towers shaped like open books on each corner, while Richelieu has a more historical feel, with the main attraction being the Labrouste Reading Room. Planning on doing a library tour of Paris? Why not check out the Saint Genevive Library in the fifth arrondissement - it’s breathtaking!
The Codrington Library
Now known as the Library at All Souls College, the Codrington academic library in Oxford was established over 250 years ago and is a Grade I listed building. Home to around 185.000 items - about a third of which are pre-1800 - the collection comprises mostly law, European history, ecclesiastical history, military history and classic texts.
Mafra Palace Library
The Mafra Palace Library in Mafra, Portugal is a real treat for bookworms! The shelves are home to around 36.000 leather-bound tomes all dating from the 14th to the 19th century, but at night the space really comes alive as small bats patrol the shelves, protecting the volumes from book-eating pests such as moths and bookworms. This Rococo-style library with its muted colour scheme looks and sounds like something straight out of a fairytale.
Admont Abbey Library
Admont Abbey Library in Austria is undeniably gorgeous and boasts as the largest monastic library in the world. This picture-perfect library - sometimes referred to as the eighth Wonder of the World - was constructed in the early 18th century and modelled after the aforementioned Austrian National Library in Vienna. While the buildings may date from the same era, they each have an extremely different atmosphere and character. With 48 windows and a white and gold finish, this extraordinary space is much brighter, and features a handful of secret doors hidden behind fake bookshelves.
Trinity College Library
While the library as a whole has a far-reaching and fascinating history, the real standout at Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland is the Old Library, which was built in the early 18th century and is home to the Brian Boru harp - a national symbol of Ireland - as well as a number of ancient and significant Irish texts. The Long Room at the Old Library is lined with marble busts, the most notable of which being the bust of writer Jonathan Swift by French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac.
Stuttgart City Library
This one is for the Instagrammers! As an incredible example of modern architecture, the sleek, white lines and bright lights of the City Library in Stuttgart make it one of the world’s most photogenic libraries. What may look like a fairly simple cube from the outside hides a wealth of knowledge and beauty within.
The Oodi Library in Finland is the newest and most modern library on this list. One of Helsinki City Library’s 37 sites, Oodi is so much more than just a space to look at books - each floor has a different character and style, providing space for people to sit and work in silence or gather together to discuss ideas. The building also houses work and event spaces, exhibition spaces, areas for children and families, and a gorgeous sunny terrace on the roof.
Check out these libraries in Switzerland
While these libraries are great for those of us that can travel, there are also some beautiful libraries right here in Switzerland, without the need for a long trip! Consider visiting the Abbey Library of Saint Gall or the UB Rechtswissenschaften at the University of Zurich, or even just your local library nearby! Happy reading!