In times where physical travel can sometimes be difficult, there is no better alternative than a good book to discover the world. A fine piece of literature can make your mind wander the globe and thanks to something called imagination, from time to time, it can even be better than the real thing. Better yet, even time travel is not excluded, something we can only dream about in our day-to-day lives. After inventing the script, humanity developed a place to keep all those beautiful stories safe: the library. And of course, these buildings are sometimes almost as stunning as the books they protect. We scanned the world for the most beautiful libraries on offer and selected five that belong on your bucket list.
1. Biblioteca dei Girolamini (Naples, Italy)
One of the oldest libraries featured amongst our selection and therefore maybe also the most special building of them all. The Biblioteca dei Girolamini opened its doors to the public in 1586 and is located inside an ancient convent in the Italian city of Naples. This library specializes in philosophy, theology, history and sacral music. Visitors will find approximately 157.700 titles inside its walls, more than enough for an afternoon visit, if you ask us. Due to some complications in the recent past, the library sadly is not open to the public on a very regular base. Now and then, you can visit the building nonetheless, so keep an eye on the website if you want to be kept up-to-date.
2. Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
It is no coincidence that the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura is featured in this list, as it was voted the fourth most beautiful library in the world by Time Magazine. And not without reason. The majestic façade of the building alone is worth a bit of your time and when you enter, you will most probably be left speechless. It is okay, take your time. The building was designed by the Portuguese architect Rafael da Silva e Castro and was erected between 1880 and 1887 in Neo-Manueline style. In 1900, the public was offered access to the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura and this has remained the case until today. The library houses 350.000 works, which is the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal. But even if you do not speak Portuguese, we would strongly recommend visiting the place as the details will keep you busy for quite some time.
3. George Peabody Library (Baltimore, United States)
When he had the idea of building a library, George Peabody’s goal was to create one “for the free use of all persons who desire to consult it”. And thus it was. Even though Peabody himself died in 1869, the library was only completed in 1878 after a design by Baltimore architect Edmund G. Lind. Thanks to the big atrium at the center of the space, the library remains light-flooded, even though there are no less than six stories on each side, filled with all the knowledge a nineteenth-century man could wish for. Of course you can just visit the library or consult some books but, even better, if you have some cash to spare you could even rent it as an event venue. Not going to lie: it got us dreaming…
4. Tianjin Binhai Library (Tianjin, China)
After three historical buildings, it is time to talk about modern architecture. And that is exactly what the Tianjin Binhai Library is. Designed by the Rotterdam-based architectural firm MVRDV, the building is nowadays very Instafamous and not without reason. The organic shaped of the library in combination with its very minimalistic white color and the 1,2 million books make for a sight you will not easily forget. Even though the more classical libraries are very romantic, it definitely is refreshing to see a more modern approach to a house of literature. Little-known funny fact: the main atrium can actually not be used for book storage. The rooms that provide access to the upper shelves were never built and book spines were printed onto the backs of the shelf space for the opening-day photographs. Something to keep in mind and pay attention to if you get the chance to visit the building one day!
5. Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria, Egypt)
The original library of Alexandria is a building that sparks the imagination of every history-lover out there. It was one of the biggest libraries in the ancient world and even though no one knows how many papyrus rolls it actually contained, historians estimate there should have been between 40.000 and 400.000. Yet sadly, the ancient library was destroyed and we will never know what exactly was inside its walls. In an attempt to commemorate that great past and to regain some of its glory, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was built in 2002 close to the location of the original library. The shelves offer room to no less than 1 million books and visitors can not only consult books but also visit multiple museums, art galleries and even a planetarium inside its walls.