Europe’s legendary libraries rank among some of the world’s most famous buildings.

Many are historical landmarks, grand monuments to the importance of learning and the power of knowledge to society. 

A list of our favorite libraries in Europe could run into the hundreds. We’ve narrowed down our list to lesser-known institutions that you’ll want to consider on your next itinerary.

Here are eight  of the most beautiful – and littlest known – libraries all over Europe.

1. Stadsbiblioteket, Stockholm, Sweden 

The main city library is just a 15 minute walk north of the city centre. Designed by architect Erik Gunnar Asplund and sporting a curvaceous, technicolor reading room, it’s the finest example of Stockholm’s 1920s neoclassicist style. Located in the relaxed Vasastan neighborhood, a great place to while away an afternoon as it offer some of the best places to eat in the city. 

Lush plantings on the rooftop terraces of Warsaw University Library, Warsaw, Poland
Above its reading rooms, Warsaw University Library has a fantasy of plantings on its roof gardens © Siegfried Layda / Getty Images

2. Warsaw University Library, Warsaw, Poland

In central Warsaw, Poland, the University Library dates to 1816, with its memorable new building inaugurated in 1999. Green trusses in the reading room and pink accents along a copper facade (now turned green by the elements) make the building both august and playful, while bushy ivy climbs its walls toward a terrace with four separate, equally lush gardens, adding a layer of nature. The library’s entrance contains blocks with writings in various languages, including a text by Plato in ancient Greek, and also one in ancient Polish. Inside, edification awaits.

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Guests stand before the opening an art exhibition in the reading room of the Renaissance Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, Veneto, Italy
The historic Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice features paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and other masters © Felix Hörhager / picture alliance via Getty Images

3. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, Italy

A treasure among libraries in ItalyVenice’s Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana contains one of the most important collections of Greek, Latin and Asian manuscripts in the world. Designed by Jacopo Sansovino and completed in the 1500s, the building is located off San Marco Square, with an elegant and somewhat unusual style for the period. Its reading rooms are adorned with murals by Titian and Tintoretto, among other famous Venetian artists. 

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Modern glass buildings along the waterfront in Copenhagen, Denmark
Known as “The Black Diamond,” Copenhagen’s Royal Library (left) is a striking addition to the city’s historic waterfront © Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

4. Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Known as “The Black Diamond,” the Royal Library in Copenhagen is a contemporary jewel indeed. Built in 1999 as an extension of a historic institution, the library is in the heart of the Danish capital and is one of its most significant architectural additions of recent decades. With its rigorous geometry and glossy granite-and-glass surfaces, the black cube is mesmerizing on the outside; the inside brings twisting shapes, wide spaces and escalators that connect multiple levels.

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

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A grey modernist cantilevered wing of the library at the Vienna University of Economics hangs from a brown structure and ends in with a rectangular glass wall of windows at the end, angled down towards the ground below, reflecting colors ranging from light blue to yellow
Zaha Hadid’s addition to the library at Vienna Wirtschaftsuniversität (University of Economics and Business) features a daring cantilever © Andrew Michael / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

5. Wirtschaftsuniversität Bibliothek, Vienna, Austria

With its stunning baroque opulence, the beautiful national library in Vienna, Austria is familiar to many. Yet for those travelers seeking a more modern mode of literary monument, the library at Vienna’s University of Economics and Business is a must-see. Parts of the site were first built in 1898, and the library was fully and boldly renovated by Zaha Hadid Architects following a fire in 2005. With their kinetic, fluid forms and bright lighting, the library’s innovative interiors seem to take you into another dimension. One side of the complex ends in a dramatic cantilever over the plaza below, beckoning you up to a higher level of learning.

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The John Rylands Library in Manchester, England
The reading room of the John Rylands Library in Manchester evokes ecclesiastical architecture © Garry Basnett / Shutterstock

6. John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK

Founded by the widow of a local philanthropist, the library of the University of Manchester (the UK’s largest) welcomes over three million students, researchers and visitors per year. Designed by architect Basil Champneys in the late 19th century, the neo-Gothic building is located on Deansgate in the heart of Manchester, and houses an extensive catalog of books, including many in special collections. With its high columns and vaulted ceiling complete with intricate decorations, the spectacular (and very photogenic) reading room signals that the act of reading achieves a spiritual significance.

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The modern, stylish exterior of Oodi in Helsinki
The exterior of Oodi in Helsinki is all warm wood and cool glass © Kuvio

7. Central Library Oodi, Helsinki, Finland

Inaugurated at the end of 2018, the striking Central Library Oodi in Helsinki looks from some angles like a set of waves; from others, like a futuristic ship. The centerpiece of the 37-branch Helsinki City Library, the three-story structure is made entirely of glass and wood – making it, in the tradition of superb Finish architecture, a triumph of sustainability. Here, you can study, work, take a visit with friends and attend organized events.

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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.
A baroque dazzler, Stiftsbibliothek Admont in Austria is the largest monastery library in the world © Imagno via Getty Images

8. Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Admont, Austria

In Admont, in the geographic heart of Austria, lies the largest monastery library in the world. The building was completed in 1776, in high baroque style – think swooping cornices, cherubs and gilded surfaces. Seven ceiling frescoes by Bartolomeo Altomonte continue the opulence, on a theme of “spirit of the Enlightenment.” Particularly beautiful are the four bronze statues in the corners of the main hall, representing death, the resurrection, hell and paradise. 

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This article was first published Oct 11, 2019 and updated May 7, 2024.

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