Visiting a library of all places might not be on the top of every traveler’s bucket list, but maybe it should be. The libraries of old were often some of the most important and well-protected places in antiquity.
Collections like the famed Library of Alexandria were not meant to be places you could go to check out the latest bestseller, but rather they were intended to be repositories of information, places the world could send their hard-earned knowledge and stories.
Some of the most beautiful buildings in many cities are – or were – libraries, so if you’re looking for some unmissable destinations in cities like Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ephesus, Turkey, or even New York City, consider heading to the library.
Here we’ve compiled some of the most beautiful libraries from around the world you need to add to your bucket list. Let us know which other libraries are well worth a visit!
Rijksmuseum Research Library
Founded in 1885, the Rijksmuseum Research Library is one of the largest art history research libraries in the world and is located in Amsterdam. There are currently an estimated 450,000 volumes in the library’s collection, which grows by around 10,000 items each year.
National Library of China
For more than 110 years, the National Library of China has been building its collection, which contains everything from inscribed tortoise shells and bones to ancient manuscripts and modern-day printed volumes.
With over 33 million items—printed in 115 languages—this library in Beijing is one of the biggest in the world.
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
The flagship branch of the New York Public Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, a beautiful Beaux-Arts edifice, opened its doors in 1911.
Nothing from this collection of 56 million items can be checked out, meaning researchers must utilize on-site reading rooms—like the one pictured above—if they wish to peruse the volumes.
Tianjin Binhai Library
Designed by the Dutch architectural firm MVRDV, the Tianjin Binhai Library looks like it comes from the future and is located in Tianjin, China. Nicknamed “The Eye,” the building has the capacity to hold 1.35 million books and is just as much a community center as it is a public library, boasting dozens of meeting rooms and several rooftop patios, among other gathering spaces.
It’s a great addition to any China travel experience.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
Located inside an old theater, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina was converted into its current bookish glory back in 2000.
Many of the original features, which date back to the building’s opening in 1919, have been retained, including the old boxes which have been turned into visitor seating, and the stage which now houses a cafe.
And sure, this is more of a bookstore than a library, but any peruser could easily lose themselves in the aisles of this biblio beauty.
Stuttgart City Library
Modernist and minimalist, the Stuttgart City Library is one of the most photographed places in Stuttgart, Germany. Since it first opened in 2011, the inverted pyramid gallery has often been jokingly compared to a prison, thanks to its stark facade.
Admont Abbey Library
The largest monastery library in the world, the Admont Abbey Library was started in 1074 in Admont, Austria. The seven frescoes that cover the library’s ceiling depict the various stages of human understanding, and the Baroque-style shelves house 200,000 sacred texts as well as a host of secular volumes.
Austrian National Library
A part of Vienna’s Imperial Palace, the Austrian National Library was founded in 1723. Among its massive collection are 200,000 precious leather-bound books as well as a handwritten and illustrated medieval volume called “Evangeliar of Johannes of Troppau,” which dates back to 1368.
Though the collection in the Strahov Library dates back to the 12th century, the two halls in which the collection is currently housed weren’t built until the 17th and 18th centuries.
Alongside the library’s 200,000 volumes is a “cabinet of curiosities,” an early precursor to museums that contains oddities of nature and unique collections of objects. The library is located in Strahov, Prague, Czech Republic.
Library of Trinity College Dublin
The largest library in Ireland, the Library of Trinity College Dublin opened in conjunction with the college itself back in 1592.
Aside from its stunning architecture, the library is best known for being the home of the Book of Kells, an illuminated Latin manuscript of the four Biblical gospels, believed to have been created by monks in the area around 800 AD.
Library of Parliament
Described as “the most important example of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada,” Ottawa, Ontario’s Library of Parliament began construction in 1859 and was officially finished in 1876, an important landmark in this beautiful Canadian city.
Now home to 650,000 titles, the library appears on the backside of the country’s $10 bill.
Located in the middle of a Seoul shopping mall, the Starfield Library has some 500,000 books and 600 magazines available for patrons. While materials cannot be checked out, an array of seating areas span the 28,000-meter space, making it easy to get some reading done on-site.
George Peabody Library
Founded by a Massachusetts-born philanthropist as a way to thank the people of Baltimore for their “kindness and hospitality,” the George Peabody Library opened its doors in 1878.
The research library’s collection of 300,000 titles focuses on the 19th century, and while it is an official part of Johns Hopkins University, the library is also open to the general public.
Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading
Three Portuguese immigrants began the Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading in Rio de Janeiro in 1822. The library now has one of the largest collections of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal, with almost 400,000 volumes lining the shelves.
The architecture of the Handelingenkamer Library in the Netherlands may be stunning—the domed skylight and red cast iron staircases are especially a sight to behold—but the books housed inside are decidedly less exciting.
Each of the volumes contains government reports, verbatim transcripts of parliamentary debates, and the results of government votes—not exactly the stuff of light reading.
This story originally appeared on HeyTutor and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.