The feel of a worn binding in your hands, the intoxicating smell of a room of old books, the excitement of engaging with your favorite literary characters – there are few things quite as powerful. Here are 8 libraries that go far beyond the bookshelf and transcend into something as beautiful as the books they house.
These are by no means your typical neighborhood libraries. These are grand works of architectural genius; each shelf, curvature and even chair has been intently chosen to enhance the reading experience. Now what are you waiting for? Go get lost in their shelves!
The Long Room at Trinity College Library • Dublin, Ireland
The Trinity College Library is perhaps one of the most recognizable libraries in the world. Its Long Room has served as inspiration for set design in various films (we're looking at you, George Lucas). This literary gem also houses one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic as well as the illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells. The Long Room is lined with 18 marble busts, many of which are of great philosophers, writers, and men who supported the college. The 4 busts of female scholars were added in 2020.
The city of Melk is about an hour drive from Vienna, making it an easy day trip from Austria’s capital city. Housed in a palace turned abbey, the library at Melk Abbey (Stift Melk) was founded in 1089 by Benedictine monks. The current Baroque style was built in the 1700's, and restored due to a fire in the late 1900's. The library is currently home to 85,000 leather-bound book and 1,200 manuscripts ranging from the 9th to 15th centuries, as well as many beautiful frescos.
This shrine to literature is a must-visit for bibliophiles. It was originally established by three Portuguese immigrants who yearned for the works of their homeland and thus starting collecting books. Today it houses the largest number of Portuguese works outside Portugal...over 350,000 works to date with new books being added yearly.
This breathtaking library can be found within the monastery and royal site of San Lorenze de El Escorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the many royal sites of Spain. Founded by Philip II, the library houses a rare collection of more than 4,700 manuscripts, many of them illuminated, and 40,000 printed books. Stunning frescoes also decorate the library’s ceiling.
The Library at Saint Francis Monastery (el Convento de San Francisco) dates from the early 17th century, and is one of the oldest still preserved libraries in the Americas. The library’s cryptic feel is appropriate as it is housed above the Monastery’s famous Burial Crypts. This library is home to about 25,000 books with a focus on unique or rare editions.
George Peabody Library • Baltimore, Maryland
George Peabody, for who this library was named, had a vision to create a library “for the free use of all persons who desire to consult it.” Completed in 1878, it was designed by Baltimore architect Edmund G.Lind, and houses 300,000 volumes of literature. Those with a taste for architecture, as well as literature, are sure to be moved by the its imposing Neo-Greco interior.
The Strahov Monastery, located near Prague Castle, is particularly famous for its splendidly furnished Baroque library. Founded in 1143, it is considered to be one of the most valuable and best preserved historical libraries in the world. The collection found in this baroque library focuses on prints from the 15th and 18th century, including the Strahov Evangeliary from 9th-10th century. Grab on of the estimated 260,000 works and dive into its contents with a quick break in the reading room.
Austria’s National Library is a fantastic reflection of the country’s appreciation for architecture. Located within the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, you'll find a collection of over 11 million artifacts, including books, manuscripts, papyri, maps, photographs, globes, and more. All copies of all printed works published or produced in Austria, including all dissertations approved by Austrian universities, can be found here. And exact founding date is unknown, but it is estimated to be 1368 based on known possession of a gospel book that was in possession that year.
If you made it this far, chances are you love libraries, so I don't have to convince you to visit one (or more) on vacation. Libraries are more like time capsules, with centuries old art, important artifacts, and yes, books! So the next time you are traveling, check out the local library. You might even be able to hire a local guide who can take you through the library, offering historical tidbits and insider knowledge. You may be surprised at what you find!