5 most beautiful libraries in Europe for book lovers • Art de Vivre
5 most beautiful libraries in Europe for book lovers

5 most beautiful libraries in Europe for book lovers

Albert Einstein once said: "The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library."

While you might never have considered adding public libraries to your travel itineraries before, if you're a curious book lover you'll definitely appreciate walking through the halls of sublime libraries and exploring their rich collections. From Paris to Vienna, here are five must-see European libraries to add to your next travel bucket list.

1. French National Library, Paris, France

© Adobe Stock - Aulia ANNE
© Adobe Stock

After 12 years of renovations, the historical building Le site Richelieu of the National Library of France (BnF) finally reopened in September 2022. Located in the very heart of Paris, close to the Louvre and the Jardin du Palais Royal, the library became a crucial place for Parisians to spend time reading. Students, researchers, professionals, as well as the general public, now have free access to 20,000 volumes of books in the Oval room. There is also a small garden, a café, and the Musée de la BnF which features almost 900 unique works, including manuscripts of great literary works such as Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (1862). 


Article slider: "40: Library Paris"


Photo 1 - Salle Labrouste, Photo 2 - Salle Ovale © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

The library has existed since 1368, initially as the private Charles V Royal Library. As the monarchies changed, in 1721 the library settled in the former palace of Cardinal Mazarin, on Richelieu street in Paris. Eventually, in 1793, it became the first free public library and one of the largest libraries in the world. From Jean-Jacques Lequeu and Henry Labrouste to Dominique Perrault and Bruno Gaudin: significant architects' work and the long history of the construction are shown in the structure of the building.

As well as the Oval room, visitors can also explore the famous Labrouste reading room, an area reserved for art history students and professionals. Inspired by Parisian markets and railway stations, the Labrouste room has nine pillars propping up a series of high domes with skylights that fill the interiors with natural light.

2. Royal Danish Library (Black Diamond), Copenhagen, Denmark

Hall of the Black Diamond © Adobe Stock - Aulia ANNE
Hall of the Black Diamond © Adobe Stock

The Danish refer to this library the Black Diamond, to describe its magnificent façade. It stands on the side of the Københavns Havn or Port of Copenhagen. Made of black marble and glass, it glistens by the bay's reflection and sky. The natural light flows into a huge atrium through the giant glass façade, and visitors can admire the scenic views of the harbour.The Black Diamond library was built in 1999 by Danish architect Schmidt Hammer Lassen as an extension of the old Royal Library. A bridge connecting the old and new buildings was designed above the Christians Brygge road with a massive painting by Danish painter Per Kirkeby on its ceiling.

Four hundred fifty rooms are distributed on the eight floors, which consist of exhibition rooms, a bookstore, a cafe, art and photography museums, open study areas and a vast reading room open to the public. Among several books, journals, manuscripts and maps displayed in The Black Diamond, there are also photographs and documentation of folkways and traditions, and the first Danish books printed by Johann Snell in 1482. 

3. Stockholm Public Library (Stadsbiblioteket), Sweden

Stockholm Public Library © Pixabay - Aulia ANNE
Stockholm Public Library © Pixabay

If you are travelling to Sweden, be sure to visit the Stockholm Public Library. Designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, the library was officially opened in 1928 and is a great example of Nordic Classicism. After walking up a long staircase, you'll find yourself standing in front of a glass portal, and the main entrance features a 24-metre-high rotunda surrounded by four lower rectangular buildings forming a cube.

Stockhom City Library © Gunnar Ridderstrom on Unsplash - Aulia ANNE
Stockhom City Library © Gunnar Ridderstrom on Unsplash

The rotunda is the central book hall of the Stockholm Public Library. Here, visitors are surrounded by about 40,000 books, distributed throughout three levels on curvy bookshelves. The giant dome ceiling with cloud-like walls inspired by the Pantheon in Rome also makes this library incredibly alluring.

The Stockholm Public library offers free access to 2 million book volumes in Nordic languages, Sweden’s national minority languages, and more than 100 other foreign languages, as well as 2.4 million audio tapes, CDs and audiobooks. After exploring the library, go for a stroll past its surrounding restaurants and shops or head to the nearby park which was also designed by Gunnar Asplund.

4. Stuttgart City Library, Germany

Stuttgart Library © Pixabay - Aulia ANNE
Stuttgart Library © Pixabay

"Meditative" is a word that perfectly describes the Stuttgart City Library in the southwest of Germany. Designed by architecture office firm Yi Architect in the 1980s, the building was established officially as the new place for the Stuttgart City Library in 2011. The vast sublime grey block-type building stands on Mailänder Platz, which was seen as a future city centre where the library is the main attraction. Rhythmic rows of windows on each floor frame the entire building. At night, the cube-shaped library is lit up with blue lights.

After walking through the entrance of the building, inspired by the design of the ancient pantheon, you'll find yourself in a minimalistic area, where the rich collections of books, CDs and foreign language literature are distributed across seven levels. After visiting the Stuttgart City Library, have a cup of coffee in the café on the seventh floor. 

5. Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), Vienna

Visiting the Austrian National Library in Vienna is a perfect way to contemplate Baroque architecture of the 18th century. Originally founded in the Middle Ages as the Imperial Court Library, it was Emperor Charles VI who initiated in the 1700s the construction of the library as part of Hofburg Palace, or Vienna’s Imperial Palace. Today, this is the most extensive baroque library in Europe.

© Unsplash - Aulia ANNE
© Unsplash

The main hall in the Austrian National Library is called Prunksaal, or State Hall, and is an impressive room that is more than 70 m long with towering bookshelves. The high oval dome ceilings and beautiful baroque frescoes makes this library all the more dazzling. Marble statues are dotted around the State Hall, and in the middle, there is an Emperor Charles VI sculpture.

© Pexels Jorge Urosa - Aulia ANNE
© Pexels Jorge Urosa

The collection of the Austrian National Library comprises around 12 million books from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Here, you can even find the oldest book from 1368, the medieval clerical scripture 'Evangeliar of Johannes of Troppau'.

© Adobe Stock - Aulia ANNE
© Adobe Stock

During its opening hours, don’t hesitate to also visit four intriguing museums located in the library: the Globe museum, the Literature museum where the history of Austrian literature is presented, the Esperanto museum which has the world's largest collection of constructed languages​, and the Papyrus museum with displays of Egyptian culture. 

Credits for the Main photo: © Adobe Stock


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