Libraries are magical, nostalgic places which blend a collective thirst for knowledge and intellectual fulfilment; they offer a sense of community for frequent local visitors, a safe and nourishing space for book lovers and curious souls, and access to priceless historical texts. Libraries are often a key cultural entity in cities worldwide, each exuding a unique sense of local and national identify. From sleek modern architectural marvels to ancient baroque reading rooms, we’ve rounded up seven of the most beautiful libraries around the world for your bookish bucket list.
The Lyiuan Public Library – Beijing
Buried between two mountains, the Liyuan public library outside Beijing, China, is an unassuming structure which blends seamlessly with its natural surroundings. The structure is coated in the same wooden sticks collected by local villages for kindling, creating a space infused with habitual village life, and also serving as a clever design feature which filters and diffuses the sunlight streaming through its glass exterior. The result is a quiet and contemplative space for reading, and enjoying the surrounding scenery while you’re at it.
Bodleian Library, Oxford
A nod to the amass of history and culture on our very doorsteps; the Bodleian Library is one of the oldest in Europe and the main research facility at Oxford. With its dark wood interiors, floor to ceiling bookshelves and old library ladders, these cosy nooks and cranny’s evoke Hogwarts at every turn – and a number of scenes were filmed within its walls.
Qatar National library
Qatar’s National Library sits in the heart of Doha’s Education City – an academic campus that has mushroomed from the desert sands and put Qatar on the map as an academic hub. The diamond shaped exterior is vast and its interior is no less impressive. Designed to allow a view of the library’s one million books in a panorama, the contrasting use of white marble and beige travertine strike a balance between modernity and excavation. A sunken space houses the heritage collection, containing a plethora of valuable texts and ancient manuscripts on Arab-Islamic civilisation.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina – Alexandra, Egypt
This illuminating piece of modern architecture was erected in 2002 as a tribute to Alexandria’s original ancient library and has fast become one of Egypt’s major cultural hotspots. Its huge granite exterior – shaped in an angled disc, is painted with the symbols and hieroglyphics of ancient scripts. The main reading room is no less mesmerising, accommodating 8 million books and 2,500 readers under a sloping roof which floods the space with sunlight.
Stuttgart City Library
Stuttgart’s City Library is a 9-story cube like structure offering an ultra-modern public space devoid of cultural interference; its futuristic design exudes a clinical white interior that almost transcends time and place, existing separately to the world around it. Its pristine floors are framed around a cylindrical chalice and criss-crossing staircases; the space is minimalistic – stripped of any social or political barriers that may interfere with the experience of reading and the accumulation of knowledge. Whether an intentional design concept or not, the library is aesthetically pleasing offers a place of no distraction – perfect for procrastinators like us!
Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland
There’s libraries, and then there’s libraries and every bibliophile should have this one on their bucket list. One of the oldest and richest libraries in the world, Abbey Library of Saint Gall is a wondrous cavern of art and literature which sparks a nostalgia for our forgotten past. Al frescoed ceilings, handwritten books filled with calligraphy and countless manuscripts dating back to the 8th century lace the reading room walls, offering an indulgent step through time. The sheer wealth and opulence of this place is absolute.
University of Coimbra General Library
The Johannine Library sits within the historic centre of the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Brimming with decorative wooden arches gilded with ornate gold carvings and with ceilings painted by renowned Lisbon artists, this Baroque masterpiece sprawls across three floors and houses 200,000 volumes – from humanistic studies to canon law and theology, many of which are of rare historical significance.