If you love books, a visit to one of these beautiful libraries and bookstores is a must
As all book lovers will attest, a really good library or bookstore is hard to beat.
Despite the increasingly digital age in which we live in, they still have an important role to play; from bringing fellow bibliophiles together to facilitating the discovery of what writer Mark Forsyth described as ‘the unknown unknown’ in his essay Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Wanted.
In celebration of libraries and bookstores everywhere, take a look at (and plan your visit to) some of the world’s most beautiful – from historic buildings to modern architectural wonders…
Richelieu Library, Paris, France
Installed in its current site in the 18th century, the Richelieu Library is the birthplace of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Its stunning oval reading room with vast glass ceiling provides a grand setting for browsing its various collections.
They include magnificent collections of historic manuscripts, prints, photographs and letters. There’s also a museum of coins, antiques and medals.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aries, Argentina
Originally built as a theatre, this stunning bookshop in the Argentinian capital celebrates its glorious heritage with original frescoes, theatre boxes and luxurious red curtains. It’s no wonder National Geographic named it the world’s most beautiful bookstore in 2019.
Alongside a wide selection of popular books, visitors can also enjoy coffee and live piano music in keeping with El Ateneo’s history as a venue for the stars of Argentine tango.
Cărturești Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
It took workers five years to renovate Cărturești Carusel (which translates as “carousel of light”) after the original building fell into disrepair following the collapse of communism.
Now this bookshop’s three floors cover more than 10,000 square feet and hold just as many books. There’s also a teahouse on the top floor offering a wonderful view of the shop.
Rijksmuseum Research Library & Study Room, Amsterdam
Boasting the most extensive art history library in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum also houses collection-related books, periodicals and catalogues in its museum-like building.
Its reading and study rooms are well worth a visit, allowing visitors to consult the library collections and view the Print Room collections.
New York Public Library, USA
Founded in 1895, the New York Public Library holds more than 55 million items. They’re housed in the world-famous 42nd Street library, as well as three other research centres across the city.
The library’s precious historical collections include George Washington’s original Farewell Address and the letter sent in 1493 by Columbus to announce his discovery of the New World.
Stuttgart City Library, Germany
This monolithic cube of a library was designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi. Opened in 2011, it was named Library of the Year in 2013.
The striking building is entirely white, both inside and out – except at night, when the library’s exterior glows iridescent blue.
Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
This magnificent bookshop in northern Portugal is visited by thousands of people everyday. After much refurbishment, it now has a beautifully restored façade and colourful stained glass ceilings.
In addition to stocking first editions, rare books and signed copies, it also has a special place in literary history. JK Rowling – who lived in Porto for many years – is said that have taken inspiration from Livraria Lello when creating Flourish and Blotts, the bookstore in Harry Potter.
The Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
Dating back to 1592, this historic library’s main attraction is the impressive Long Room. At nearly 65 metres, it contains 200,000 of the oldest books. Marble busts of eminent philosophers and men long connected with the college also line the room.
Other treasures include one of the few remaining copies of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
Tianjin Binhai Library, China
Nicknames The Eye due to its intriguing shape, this library has five floors and subterranean rooms containing its extensive archive.
With lounging areas, a spherical auditorium and continuous floor to ceiling bookshelves holding thousands of books, its one of the star attractions of Binhai’s cultural centre.
George Peabody Library, Baltimore, USA
This 19th century research library – part of the world-renowned Johns Hopkins University – is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world.
With five tiers of ornamental balconies rising up to the glass-panelled ceiling, it’s a truly awe-inspiring visitor experience.
The library contains 300,000 volumes and specialises in subjects such as religion, British art, American history and Romance languages.
Starfield Library, Seoul, South Korea
Starfield Library occupies an impressive 2,800 square metres across two floors in the middle of Seoul’s Coex shopping mall.
Its collection of 70,000 books and international magazines is unique in that none are available to loan. Instead, visitors are encouraged to settle in to one of the library’s plush sofas, desks or seating areas and enjoy their chosen read.
Starfield also hosts author and book talks, poetry readings and other events ideal for literature lovers.
Real Gabinete Portuguese Library, Rio de Janeiro
This historic library – with it’s ornate façade and imposing interior – has great cultural significance for both Portugal and Brazil.
It houses the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal, including a variety of rare works. One such novel is a first edition of Os Lusiadas, Portugal’s answer to The Aeneid, which dates back to 1572.