Travel the World: A few of the most beautiful libraries

Updated: June 2024.
Endless rows of bookshelves with kilos if not tons of books. Libraries are an ode to lifelong learning; they are temples of education. On a city trip, libraries are ideal places to spend some quiet time. The amazing atmosphere one experiences, when surrounded by books amplified by stunning architecture, is an exquisite experience. Follow me around the world. If you are a curious traveller, a bookworm, and a fan of architecture, you are going to want to visit all these magnificent libraries.

Travel the World. A few of the most beautiful libraries - The Touristin

Books are like friends. Why would one want to miss out on all these stories? Every single character in a book challenges readers to think about that life, and how we would act if we were that person. It makes us think about others and helps us understand others better. In most instances, every novel we read transports us to different countries and lets us be part of most often hugely different life situations.

Check out these beautiful libraries in Germany, Latvia, Estonia, the US, Finland, Denmark, Ireland and Australia.

Bavarian State Library in Munich in Germany

The opening hours of the main reading room are simply fantastic, you can read till you drop, in other words, you can read each day of the week till midnight. Founded in 1558, the Bavarian State Library is the central state library of the Free State of Bavaria. You find over 33 million media units at this library, amongst them precious manuscripts, rare books and special collections, and also more than 2,5 million digitized works from thousands of years of cultural heritage.

A grey stone staircase leading up to a white ornamented vaulted hall.l

Bavarian State Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), Ludwigstr. 16, 80539 Munich. Hours: Main reading room 8am to 12am, please check here for more detailed information. Tickets: Free.

Berlin State Library - in the western part of Berlin

The State Library designed by the architect Hans Scharoun opened its doors to the public in 1978. One can well imagine how futuristic this structure must have appeared at the time. It is still impressive while at the same time, it has the charm of a 1970s disco. The library has the Midas touch, the facade is golden. The building is wide and airy with terrace-like gallery floors to be reached over large open staircases.

The State Library is the largest academic library in Germany (together with the one in the eastern part of Berlin) and holds more than 25 million different media. The collection includes books, manuscripts, maps, prints, picture albums, newspapers, and electronic resources. The library holds Beethoven's 9th symphony which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Nine people sit randomly at desks in a light-filled airy large concrete hall with several rows of white bookshelves under huge round white ceiling lights.

A white spiral staircase in a light and airy large hall with several rows of white bookshelves under huge round white ceiling lights.

Berlin State Library, Potsdamer Straße 33, 10785 Berlin. Hours: Friday to Saturday 8am to 10pm. Tickets: Free. Register at reception on arrival.

Berlin State Library - in the eastern part of Berlin

The Berlin State Library – Prussian Cultural Heritage (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz), founded in 1661, is Germany's largest academic research library. The library, Unter den Linden 8, has been operational since 1914 until it was severely damaged in World War II when its central cupola reading room was hit by bombings. During the times of the GDR, the war damage was only somewhat repaired.

In 1998, it was decided to use both State Libraries, the one in the western part of town and the one in the eastern part of town, and consequently to renovate the building in the eastern part of Berlin. The Baroque-style building was renovated for a total of about fifteen years and reopened its doors to visitors in 2020 (with a few hiccups due to the covid pandemic). 

People sitting at rows of tables in a light and airy large hall with several rows of light brown wooden bookshelves on a bright orange carpet, under an expansive glass ceiling.

People sitting at rows of tables in a light and airy large hall with several rows of light brown wooden bookshelves on a bright orange carpet, under an expansive glass ceiling.

Berlin State Library, Unter den Linden 8, 10117 Berlin. Hours: Friday to Saturday 8am to 10pm. Sunday 10am to 6pm. Tickets: Free. Register at reception on arrival.

Library of the Monastery in Fuessen in Germany

The town in the Ostallgaeu region is the highest city in Bavaria and only 130 kilometres from Munich, which means it is easy to reach by train in two hours. This is the library in the former Benedictine monastery of St. Mang (today a museum).

The world of the Bavarian Baroque is one full of lavish decoration, one that zings with a passion for pastel colours. The baroque rooms of the monastery are richly decorated with the most beautiful frescoes and stucco elements. The baroque monastery, which still exists today, was built from 1701 to 1717. Today, the former monastery church of St. Mang serves as a Catholic Parish Church whereas the city administration and the Füssen Museum with its library are housed in the next-door monastery.

The library of the Benedictine monastery of St. Mang is a prime example of Baroque architecture. It has that kind of style that wouldn't seem out of place in a good old fairytale. The monastery's maisonette-style library sits above the monk's canteen. The hole in the ceiling (or floor, depending on where you stand) was closed in winter so that it wouldn't get too cold in there.

Baroque maisonette-style library in yellow and pink pastel colours with white bookshelves and a light wooden floor.

Museum der Stadt Füssen, Lechhalde 3, Füssen, Germany. April to October: Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. November to March: Friday to Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm. From April 1st to November 3rd inclusive from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Tickets: Adults EUR 6, free admission for the ones under 18.

Municipal Library Stuttgart in Germany

Stuttgart is a town in the German state of Baden Wuerttemberg, and this is its library. Critics describe this cube design by South Korean architect Eun Young Yi as dismissive, and a big part of the public refers to it as a books jail. I’ve never been to jail, apart from Robben Island in South Africa and Alcatraz in San Francisco; so I'm obviously not in a position to comment on that.

This building has this calming effect. You walk inside and enter this happy space, it is cocoon-like and transcendent, and you feel far removed from the outside world. I perceived the off-white colour and open spaces as protective and felt literally embraced as I entered. If there is one thing to do in Germany, it is to visit this library.

 Eight people in different spots on five maisonette-style floors that are lined with white bookshelves connected by open white staircases.

Municipal Library Stuttgart, Mailänder Platz 1, 70173 Stuttgart, Germany. It is open every day from 9am-9pm, closed on Sundays (this is Germany for you). Tickets: Free.

National Library of Latvia – The Castle of Light in Riga

This is book heaven. The National Library of Latvia collection holds four million pieces. Visitors find everything from social science to rare books, manuscripts, the Latvian- and Baltic Central Library collections, maps, sheet music, sound recordings, graphic publications, ephemera and periodicals.

The National Library of Latvia was founded in 1919 and eventually found its new home in the purpose-built structure on the banks of the River Daugava in 2014. The building that looks from afar like a glass mountain was designed by Latvian-born architect Gunnar Birkerts. That the reading rooms in the structure use natural light gives the library its nickname: Castle of Light.

Two floors with bookshelves in a maisonette-style property connected by silver-coloured light wooden staircases.

A wall of bookshelves on the second floor of a four-storey maisonette-style property connected by silver-coloured light wooden staircases.

Information: National Library of Riga. Mūkusalas iela 3, Zemgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga, LV-1423, Latvia. All the library's levels are accessible for persons with disabilities. Hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm. Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm. Tickets: Free. Register at reception.

National Library of Estonia in Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. You find the National Library only moments from the medieval old. Approaching the building, you might feel like entering a fortress of books. The eight-story building holds twenty reading rooms. A must-see for fans of brutalist architecture and monumental structures.

A huge grey concrete staircase under a black ceiling ornamented with circles in a grey concrete property in a minimalist brutalist architectural style.

National Library of Estonia, Tõnismägi 2, 10122 Tallinn, Estonia. Hours Monday to Friday 10am to 8pm, Saturday 12 to 7pm, Sunday Closed. Tickets: Free.

New York City Library in USA

The New York Public library was founded in 1895 and is the second-largest library in the world (there is an even larger one in Washington DC). There are over 90 branches that hold (apparently) 53 million books. At the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, make your way to the third floor to find room 315, also known as the Rose Reading Room. Imagine, it stretches over two city blocks.

People sitting in about eight rows of wooden desks in a large reading room under an ornamented dark wooden coffered ceiling that has a pastel-coloured painting in its centre.

New York Public Library. Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. 476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave), New York, NY, 10018. Hours Sunday 1pm to 4.45pm, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 10am to 5.45pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 10am to 7.45pm. Tickets: Free.

Rovaniemi City Library in Finland

Rovaniemi is a town on the Arctic Circle. The library was constructed in 1965 and it looks as if nothing ever changed since. Architect Alvar Aalto designed this library as a clear, no-frills place. From a mezzanine level, one can look down into a lower level with large reading bays. The furniture, the lamps the atmosphere, it is a design- and a book lover's heaven.

A woman writing at a laptop next to a golden reading light at one of eight light wooden tables in a sunken area in a large airy space filled with bookshelves.

A black armchair next to a white coffee table in a large airy space filled with white bookshelves.

Info. Rovaniemi city library, Jorma Eton tie 6, 96100 Rovaniemi. Main door at Hallituskatu 9. Hours: Rovaniemi City Library (and reading rooms). Monday to Thursday 9am to 8pm. Friday 9am to 6pm. Saturday 11am to 4pm. Tickets: Free.

State Library of Victoria in Melbourne in Australia

You can visit several exhibition rooms at the State Library. The octagonal six-storey high La Trobe Reading Room is what you want to see most. The domed reading room in Edwardian style has got it all, 32,000 books, green glass lights and oak chairs. It is a true Melbourne icon beloved by all. 

A tall white cupola over a three-storeyed property with a large circular room at its centre with walls lined with bookshelves and people sitting randomly at 22 long wooden desks with several green reading lights.

People sit randomly at 22 long wooden desks with several green reading lights in a large circular room with walls lined with bookshelves.

Info. State Library of Victoria in Australia. 328 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia. Hours: Monday to Thursday 10am to 9pm, Friday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Tickets: Free.

Cuypers Library in Amsterdam in The Netherlands

The Rijksmuseum Research Library, also known as Cuypers Library named after the museum's Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers, is the largest public art library in the Netherlands and one of the main art libraries in the world. The collection started in 1885, holds catalogues of auctions and exhibitions, trade and collection catalogues, as well as books, periodicals and reports relating to the museum collections. Make your way to the main building of the Rijksmuseum to find the magnificent reading room. Sit down and read and experience the remarkable atmosphere of the library. Plan a full day to visit the Rijksmuseum. 

Maisonette-style property with four floors that are set up with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, connected by a spiral staircase in the right corner of the space under a large ornamented glass ceiling.

Maisonette-style property with four floors that are set up with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, connected by a spiral staircase in the right corner of the space.

Info. Cuypers Library. Rijksmuseum Research Library. Museumstraat 1, 1071 CN Amsterdam, Netherlands. Hours: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Sunday closed. Visitors need to enter through the Rijksmuseum. Tickets Rijksmuseum: Adults EUR 19, free entry to the museum up to 18 years of age. Please book tickets online before you visit.

Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen in Denmark

If people talk about the Black Diamond on Slotsholmen, they mean the extension of the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen. The Library on Søren Kierkegaards Plads (the square is named after the Danish philosopher) was designed by Danish architect group Schmidt Hammer Lassen in 1999.

The building with 450 rooms and 800 doors on eight floors is shaped like a sculptural monolith. Its facade is made from Absolute Black granite, mined in Zimbabwe, and cut and polished in northern Italy. Make your way to the Atrium from where you have a stunning view over the harbour and into the reading rooms and towards the old part of the library. There is a lovely café on the ground floor with a view over the water. 

Maisonette-style property on three high ceilinged airy floors with a light wooden floor, a wooden walkway in its centre and a glass front over all different levels, all connected by two escalators.

Info Black Diamond. Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1. 1016 Copenhagen. Opening Hours: Access to The Black Diamond. Monday to Friday 8am to 9pm. Saturday 9 to 7pm. Sunday closed. Café at Black Diamond: Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm. Saturday 9 to 6pm. Sunday closed. The library is always closed on bank holidays, Christmas and New Year's Eve, Easter Saturday, and Constitution Day. Please visit the website for all information. Tickets: Free.

Marsh's Library in Dublin in Ireland

This library is a gem of a place, it holds so many stories. People working here are welcoming and chatty, it is a proper dream of a library. Marsh’s Library in Dublin, built by Narcissus Marsh was the first public library in Ireland. Ever since it was designed three hundred years ago by Sir William Robinson it has been used for its original purpose. The collection of books you see here are still kept on the shelves chosen by Elias Bouhéreau, the first librarian when the Library was opened. There are rows and rows of pretty dark wooden bookcases each with carved and ornamented white- and golden-lettered gables.

In 1707, the Parliament called An Act for settling and preserving a public library for ever. Over the centuries the property and all its books have been looked after and cared for by religious and state dignitaries and officials dutifully. Bram Stoker the author of Dracula visited Marsh's Library on a few occasions in 1866 and 1867. James Joyce who read in Marsh's Library in 1902 mentions the library in Stephen Hero, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

Some People take books for good from libraries, yes, it is also known as stealing books. More than 1,100 books went missing from the library ever since 1707. Some of those were returned or replaced. Kudos to clever ideas. If visitors wanted to read a rare book they were only allowed to do this in one of three cages. Readers were locked in with their books to prevent them from taking them. The reading cages are still unchanged.

A creme-coloured skull on a dark brown wooden shelf of a three-storey bookshelf stacked with antique books connected by a dark wooden ladder, behind a black-coloured iron gate.

A light carpeted aisle lined on both sides with rows and rows of dark wooden bookcases each with carved and ornamented white- and golden-lettered gables.

Info Marsh's Library. Marsh’s Library, St Patrick's Close, Dublin 8, D08 FK79, Ireland. Hours: Tuesday to Friday 9.30am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm. Tickets: EUR 5. Eur 3 (students/seniors/concessions). Free entrance for those under 18.

Centre for the Book in Cape Town in South Africa

The Centre for the Book, a notable institution located in the heart of Cape Town, near the Planetarium, is a skip and a jump from Company’s Garden. In Edwardian style architecture, it opened in 1913 as the headquarters for the University of the Cape of Good Hope (later the University of South Africa).

South Africa’s constitution recognizes eleven official languages. As an outlet of the National Library of South Africa, the Centre for the Book promotes a culture of reading, writing, and publishing in local languages.

Check the events calendar. The centre is also a hub for connecting authors, readers, publishers, and other literary enthusiasts, and often hosts events such as book launches, author talks, workshops, and exhibitions related to literature, writing, and publishing.

The Centre for the Book with its domed atrium is a national monument. This is the ideal place for all who love architecture, books, reading, and literature.

Rows of dark brown chairs with several rows of dark brown bookshelves in a high-ceilinged large cupola hall.

Information Centre for the Book. 62 Queen Victoria St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa. Hours: Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. No need to book in advance. The Centre for the Book in Cape Town is open to all. Tickets: Free.

State Hall of the Austrian National Library

It was a bookworm with a rather impressive name who created the State Hall of the Austrian National Library.

Carolus Franciscus Josephus Wenceslaus Balthasar Johannes Antonius Ignatius, the Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy from 1711 to 1740 is known as Emperor Charles VI.

The State Hall opened around 1735, so long ago. With more than 200,000 volumes about surveying, geometry, geography, shipbuilding, siege art and military music, numismatics, astrology, astronomy, divination, medicine, mechanics, and mineralogy it was one of the most valuable book collections in the world. A library about 79 meters long, and 14 meters wide, with an almost 20-meter-high dome was of course also an excellent tool to demonstrate power. Don't forget to look up, the dome is elaborately decorated with frescoes.

Fast forward to now. Soon after the Covid pandemic hit, the lockdown, the time gained due to the catastrophe, was used to renew lighting, electrical, and security systems. After another year the 128 bookcases, 17 statues, 12 busts made of marble and stucco marble, and 20 pilasters were cleaned. All is squeaky clean. And, yes, all 200,000 books have been dusted.  Being one of the most valuable libraries in the world, the library preserves books, manuscripts, maps, and posters for future generations. The State Hall of the Austrian National Library shines its brightest light. In this place, with books from the years 1501 to 1850, time seems to stand still. 

A golden door knob in the form of an angel on a large wooden door leads to a library full of tall wooden bookcases, white marble pillars, and an elaborately painted ceiling.

A towering white marble statue of a man with long curly hair in a knee-length skirt, strappy sandals, and a long robe over his shoulders in a library full of tall wooden bookcases, with dark wooden and golden ornamented pillars, under an elaborately painted dome.

A library full of tall wooden bookcases, with dark wooden and golden ornamented pillars, under an elaborately painted dome with eight oval windows.

Information: State Hall of the Austrian National Library, Josefplatz 1, 1010 Vienna, Austria. Hours: Monday to Wednesday 10am to 6pm. Thursday 10am to 9pm. Friday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. October to May: Closed on Mondays. State Hall of the Austrian National Library is accessible. Tickets: EUR 10. Family with two adults and one child EUR 16. Before you visit, please visit the website of the Austrian National Library where you can buy tickets in advance and check opening hours. 

Public Library in Vancouver in Canada

The Vancouver Public Library is on the unceded homelands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

The nine-story high public library occupies an entire block. Its Colosseum-inspired structure is made of red brick. Walking towards the entrance makes you feel like you are being sucked into the opening of a spiral. Once you enter the covered Library Square, flooded with light, there are cafés and shops.

Vancouver is the home of a truly international population, and the library has books for all ages in 16 different languages. The public library is also a great place to learn about the history and culture of indigenous peoples in Canada. Numerous resources are available, and books are suggested on several topics, for example, colonization and residential schools. All titles are recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

A further highlight is the public roof garden. The garden in the sky is an inviting community gathering space that offers a magnificent view of downtown Vancouver.

A nine-story colosseum-style structure in red brick under a blue sky.

Information Central Library Vancouver. 350 West Georgia Street, Vancouver BC V6B 6B1, Canada. Hours: Sunday 11 am to 6pm. Monday to Thursday 9.30am to 8.30pm. Friday 9.30am to 6pm. Saturday 10am to 6pm.

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