The largest library in the world—the Library of Congress—holds 158 million items on 838 miles of bookshelves. The highest library resides on the 60th floor of the JW Marriott Hotel in Shanghai. The oldest opened its doors in Fez, Morocco in 859 AD. There’s even a Future Library, currently a grove of saplings in Norway that will be harvested to print books that won’t be published until 2114. Roughly 350,000 libraries grace our planet today. These centers of knowledge bring the universe to our fingertips. They expose us to history and culture, religion and art, literature and music and film. Here are six of the most comprehensive, historic, and beautiful libraries in the world.
Royal Portuguese Reading Room – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The inconspicuous limestone façade of the Royal Portuguese Reading Room does not betray the complex splendor inside its doors. Established in 1887, its cathedral-like interior boasts a stained-glass dome, chandelier, and extravagant wooden galleries. The focal point is the Altar of Pátria—a masterpiece of marble, ivory, and silver built to commemorate the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The room holds over 350,000 volumes, making it the largest and most valuable collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal.
Heading to Rio? Check out our Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu vacation package!
Bodleian Library – Oxford, England
Opened in 1602, this English Gothic pillar of knowledge is one of the oldest libraries in the world. Its impressive list of former scholars includes kings, Nobel laureates, and prime ministers. Over 12 million printed volumes fill its illustrious shelves, including first editions of Jane Austen’s “Emma” and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” You’ll need a ticket to visit, but the experience is well worth the admission price.
Suggested go-today tour: Oxford, Stratford, Warwick Castle & the Cotswolds
Alexandria Library – Alexandria, Egypt
Once the largest library in the ancient world, the Great Library of Alexandria burned down in 48 BC in a fire allegedly set by Julius Caesar. Its dramatic 2002 reincarnation is a marvel of ingenuity rising from the ashes of history. A visit to this emblematic building begins before you even set foot inside. Its granite façade features characters in over 100 languages, and a large reflecting pool surrounds the structure like a moat. Inside, eight million volumes fill 11 stories, above which a soaring 525-foot glass ceiling slopes down toward the Mediterranean Sea. The building also houses what seems like the contents of a small city: a planetarium, four museums, four art galleries, 13 research centers, a children’s exploratorium, a conference center, and a nine-screen interactive presentation of Egypt’s heritage.
Trinity College Old Library – Dublin, Ireland
A stroll through this library’s 200-foot Long Room is a journey through the history of scholarly pursuit. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, the building holds more than six million printed volumes. The most famous of these is the Book of Kells—a 1,200-year-old illustrated manuscript containing the four Gospels in Latin. In 1801 the library became a Legal Deposit, giving it the right to receive a free copy of every book published in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Suggested go-today package: Dublin Escape
Stuttgart City Library – Stuttgart, Germany
When the Stuttgart City Library opened in 2011, its grey, boxy exterior appeared so institutional that many residents called it “the book prison.” It didn’t take long, however, for the building’s charm to sway public opinion. Upon entering this futuristic book cube, you’ll think you’ve stepped inside a cavernous white shoe box. Except for a small water feature built into the middle of the floor, the room is entirely empty. In the ceiling of this four-story space is a skylight to the floor of the library’s centerpiece room. This five-story Escher-like atrium is brightly lit, and the books and visitors provide the only color in an otherwise antiseptic-white chamber. Muted during the day, its plain grey exterior takes on a blue glow when the sun sets.
Suggested go-today package: German Adventure
Clementinum National Library – Prague, Czech Republic
Known as the “Baroque pearl of Prague,” this 18th century structure in the Strahov Monastery houses over 20,000 volumes of theological literature. Its interior decor includes gold accents, spiraled pillars, and ceiling frescoes depicting motifs of knowledge and wisdom. Books with white spines and red markings are original to the library, first constructed as part of a Jesuit university. The Clementinum joined the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 2005.
Suggested go-today package: Budapest, Vienna & Prague