the Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey
Krit Jantana / Moment / Getty Images CC

20 Beautiful Libraries Around the World

View Slideshow
the Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey
Krit Jantana / Moment / Getty Images CC

Beauty and the Books

Many of us largely think of libraries as functional buildings — places where we borrow free books and where access to those books levels the playing field, providing knowledge and escape to anyone able to get a library card. But libraries can be more than that, enchanting spaces where the hushed tones, history, and other details can even make them seem temple-like. Here are 20 spots around the globe — from ancient to ultra-modern — that prove that libraries can indeed be magical.

Related: 20 of the Coolest Bookstores in America

New York Public Library Rose Room
Sascha Kilmer / Moment / Getty Images CC

New York Public Library Rose Room

New York City
The Rose Main Reading Room is about the length of two city blocks. The murals atop its 52-foot-tall ceilings depict clouds unfurling in the sky. The reading room reopened in October 2016 after a $12 million renovation — prompted after one of the room's gilded-plaster rosettes crashed from the ceiling to the floor.

Related: 55 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

Austrian National Library
Stefan Cristian Cioata / Moment / Getty Images CC

Austrian National Library

Vienna
This breathtaking library has nearly 11 million items in its collection and, though construction on it didn't start until 1723, some of those items date back to the 1300s.

For more great travel guides and vacation tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Library of Celsus
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images CC

Library of Celsus

Selçuk, Turkey
Sure, there are no longer any books lining shelves at this library (okay, or shelves for that matter) but there's no denying the beauty of this former ancient building constructed around 117 A.D. It was once the third-largest library in the Roman world, holding around 12,000 scrolls.

Related: Beyond the Museum: Spectacular Outdoor Art You Can See for Free

Abbey Library of Saint Gall
Darryl Leniuk / Photodisc / Getty Images CC

Abbey Library of Saint Gall

Saint Gallen, Switzerland
The Abbey Library of Saint Gall is one of the oldest in Europe, and undoubtedly also one of the most beautiful. Its ceiling murals are framed by ornately carved moldings and stately and stacked bookshelves holding some 12 centuries of titles.

University of Washington Suzzallo Library
urbanglimpses / E+ / Getty Images CC

University of Washington Suzzallo Library

Seattle
This Collegiate Gothic-style library's reading room is 65 feet high, 52 feet wide, and 250 feet long. Its oak bookcases are adorned with hand-carved friezes of Washington State's native plants, including Douglas fir, dogwood, mountain ash, rhododendron, pear, trillium, and more.

Related: America's Most Iconic Buildings and Monuments

Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico
Eric PHAN-KIM / Moment / Getty Images CC

Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

Mexico City
While the interior of this 1956 library is also stunning, its iconic exterior is what it's most noted for. The murals on its walls, constructed of thousands of colored tiles, represent the country's past, present, and future and were created by Mexican artist Juan O'Gorman.

Warsaw University Library
Siegfried Layda / The Image Bank / Getty Images CC
Stockholm Public Library
alxpin/istockphoto

Stockholm Public Library

This Swedish library opened in 1928 and shows up on many roundups of the world's most beautiful libraries. Its architectural style is known as Swedish Grace, which is reflected in its sweeping rotunda ceiling.

Matho Gampo Monastery Library
Pablo Jeffs Munizaga - Fototrekking / Moment / Getty Images CC

Matho Gompa Monastery Library

Ladakh, India
Not all awe-inspiring libraries contain books. This one, for example, is a Buddhist monastic library containing historical, sacred texts in colorful cloth-lined wooden boxes.

Trinity College Library
Lukas Bischoff / istockphoto / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images CC

Trinity College Library

Dublin
Pictured here is the library's Long Room, housing around 200,000 of the institution's oldest books. Initially built between 1712 and 1732, in 1860 it underwent a renovation to add another gallery and raise the roof — which went from flat to barrel-vaulted — to accommodate the fact that it had run out of shelf space.

Related: 30 Free Things to Do in Ireland

Seattle Public Library Central Branch
ablokhin/istockphoto

Seattle Public Library Central Branch

This library, which opened in 2004, is an architectural marvel, but the interior is also filled with interesting design details like a spiral bookcase that rises four stories. Its "living room," pictured here, includes a garden that mirrors the "plant carpets" that also adorn the space.

Related: 20 Bucket List Buildings in America You Need to Visit

Karnataka State Central Library
Amith Nag Photography / Moment / Getty Images CC

Karnataka State Central Library

Bangalore, India
This striking 1915 bright-red structure is contrasted against a large expanse of green space known as Cubbon Park. The park covers an area of 100 acres and includes statues, rock outcroppings, flowerbeds, and exotic tree species.

Calgary Central Library
jewhyte/istockphoto

Calgary Central Library

Calgary, Canada
Calgary's new public library, which opened in 2018, received at least five awards and other notable mentions for its design, including an Architecture Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

Public Library Stuttgart
Mlenny/istockphoto

Public Library Stuttgart

Stuttgart, Germany
Opened in 2011, this futuristic-looking library has five top floors that are in the shape of a funnel, each connected by multiple staircases. The building's translucent roof lets tons of natural light into the space.

Related: Gorgeous Painted Stairs Around the World

National Library of China
Wenjie Dong/istockphoto

National Library of China

Beijing
This massive library contains over 35 million items and is one of the largest libraries in Asia. It also holds the most extensive collections of Chinese literature and historical documents in the world, including more than 270,000 rare and ancient Chinese books, 35,000+ Shang dynasty-era inscriptions on oracle bones and tortoise shells, and replicas of Buddhist scriptures dating to the 6th century.

Helsinki Central Library Oodi
Subodh Agnihotri/istockphoto

Helsinki Central Library Oodi

The third floor of this library, which opened in 2018, includes floor-to-ceiling glass windows, an undulating ceiling, multiple communal areas, and planted trees.

Tianjin Binhai Library
Xiaodong Qiu / Moment / Getty Images CC

Tianjin Binhai Library

Tianjin, China
Terraced, curving bookshelves and a central orb that can also be used as an auditorium are both iconic features of this Chinese library. The highest-reaching shelves are actually printed with images of books rather than housing actual books, but the effect is still stunning.

Royal Portuguese Reading Room
dabldy/istockphoto

Royal Portuguese Reading Room

Rio de Janeiro
The shelves of this jaw-dropping 1887 library have the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside Portugal. Today, it's estimated to have nearly 400,000 titles.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina
kharps / istockphoto / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images CC

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Alexandria, Egypt
This library on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea has around 120 different examples of characters from the history of writing displayed on its exterior granite walls. Inside, the library has space for 8 million books.

Related: 50 Incredible Castles Around the World

National Taitung University Library
Jui-Chi Chan/istockphoto

National Taitung University Library

Taitung City, Taiwan
This pyramid-like Taiwanese library opened in 2014. Its roof is filled with grass, and visitors can climb staircases to appreciate its surrounding views of the area's East Rift Valley and nearby mountains. The library is also located just a short distance from the Pacific Ocean coast.

Related: Most Iconic Staircases Around the World