Europe’s most beautiful modern and historical libraries

Wirtschaftsuniversität Bibliothek in Vienna, Austria

With its stunning Baroque details and its stately rooms, many people know the beautiful national library in Vienna, Austria. But for travellers seeking a more modern aesthetic, the library at the University of Economics and Business is a must see. Parts of the site were originally built in 1898, but the library was renovated by Zaha Hadid Architects following a fire in 2005. The innovative interiors with their sinuous movements and bright lighting give the impression that they came from another planet. It also boasts the title of the biggest library in German-speaking countries.

An angular black modernist structure sheathed in black glass stands over a concrete square, with a row of bicycles in the foreground for scale
Copenhagen’s Royal Library is also known as “The Black Diamond” © Johner Images

Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark

Also known as “The Black Diamond”, the Royal Library in Copenhagen is a true neo-modern jewel, located in the historic centre, overlooking the Strait of Øresund. Built in 1999, it is an extension of the old library and is one of the most significant buildings in the city. The black cube is mesmerising on the outside with its otherworldly lines and glossy black granite and glass surface, while on the inside it has twisting shapes, wide spaces and escalators.

In addition to its seven floors, the terrace can accommodate large crowds for events such as concerts and plays.  Apart from the main functions of a library, the building houses The National Museum of Photography, a bookshop, a café, and a restaurant. The library also runs guided tours for the public.

Warsaw University Library in Poland

The University Library in Warsaw, Poland located in the city centre and was founded in 1816, although the new building was inaugurated in 1999. Definitely modern and colourful, the new library also includes a terrace with four different gardens. Its entrance contains blocks with writings in various languages, including a writing of Plato’s in Ancient Greek and also one in Ancient Polish. The beauty of this building has earned the library numerous awards. The entire external structure is in copper and the greenhouse-like building blends with the vegetation which climbs up the exterior towards the roof garden.

St Marks campanile and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana at night.jpg
St Mark’s campanile and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana at night © Gu

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, Italy

One of the largest and most prestigious libraries in Italy is located in Venice. Today, Marciana Library contains one of the most important collections of Greek, Latin and Asian manuscripts in the world. The building is located off San Marco Square and was completed in the late 1500s. The building, designed by Jacopo Sansovino, has an elegant and somewhat unusual style for the period in which it was built and many contributed to the beauty of its interior, including painters of the calibre of Titian and Tintoretto, among others. According to holiday rental site Holidu, it’s a must see, having recently made their list of top libraries across Europe. 

John Rylands Library in Manchester, United Kingdom

The University of Manchester Library is at the heart of the UK’s largest university, welcoming over three million students, researchers and visitors per year. It was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her late husband. In 1889, the architect Basil Champneys designed the neo-Gothic building, which took 10 years to build. The library is located on Deansgate in the heart of Manchester, and houses an extensive catalogue of books, including many special collections. The Reading Room, with its high columns and vaulted ceiling complete with intricate decorations, and provides the perfect photo backdrop when visiting this truly iconic building. 

A long hall is supported by rectangular pillars that double as bookcases, each edged with white and gilt baroque columns. A balcony rings the upper level of the columns, and overhead a white, blue and gilt ceiling is made up of vaults and architectural flare.
Stiftsbibliothek Admont in Austria is the largest monastery library in the world ©
Imagno via Getty Images

Stiftsbibliothek Admont in Austria

Right in the centre of Austria, in the town of Admont, lies the largest monastery library in the world. The building was completed in 1776, in Baroque style, and inside you can find various artistic features, including statues and golden decorations. The seven ceiling frescoes were inspired by the “spirit of the Enlightenment” and were painted by the then 80-year-old Bartolomeo Altomonte (1694 – 1783) in the summer months of the years 1775 and 1776. Particularly beautiful are the four bronze statues in the corners of the main hall, representing death, the resurrection, hell and paradise. Entrance to the building costs €11.50.

A wave-shaped structure made of wood on the base and clear glass on the top undulates over a large paved square beneath. Humans stand beneath the structure for scale, one stopping to snap a photo of the warm yellow glow coming from the library lobby. .jpg
The modern, stylish exterior of Oodi in Helsinki © Kuvio

Central Library Oodi in Helsinki, Finland

Inaugurated at the end of 2018, the brand new Central Library Oodi in Helsinki is one of 37 branches of Helsinki City Library and part of the Helmet library network. The futuristic architecture displays it as somewhat more than just a library, which from some angles makes the building look like a set of waves and, from others, a ship. The three-storey structure is made entirely of glass and wood and, as well as being a masterpiece of Finnish architecture, is also eco-sustainable. Here you can study, work, take a visit with friends, and organise events.

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