The 10 most beautiful libraries in Europe

Exploring and books have long been connected. Many of us like to journal while travelling or read a book while in transit. We read about great adventures from every corner of history, and stories have an ability to take us to far and distant lands. Books are fantastic tools to discover cultures, and it should come as no surprise that the houses where such works are kept have themselves become magnificent spaces of art, history and, of course, reading.
To celebrate these amazing places, we've compiled a list of the ten most beautiful libraries in Europe to explore while stopping over in one of the Continent’s many spectacular cities. So, if you're looking forward to finding that peaceful spot to cozy up with a book during your European river cruise or luxury yacht cruise and want to marvel at grand architecture while exploring a destination's culture, then this list is for you. Read on!
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you'll go!” - Dr. Seuss

1. Philological Library (Berlin, Germany)

Known as the ‘Berlin Brain' for its resemblance to a cranium, the Philological Library of the Free University Berlin is one of the more contemporary and striking buildings on this list. And living up to its nickname, this library is smart to say the least! Designed by renowned high-tech architect Norman Foster, the Philological Library is as energy efficient as it is beautiful. Not only is its external shell constructed to regulate the building's internal temperature, but its innovative three-layer design allows for it to be naturally ventilated, reducing overall energy use. And to top it all off, the library's middle layer is a translucent membrane which, during the day, filters in just the right amount of sunlight to provide you with the perfect reading-friendly setting. 

2. Ervin Szabó Library (Budapest, Hungary)

Located in the Wenckheim Palace, this gorgeous library has been wonderfully restored to its Hungarian neo-baroque style since moving into the 19th-century building in 1931. Featuring an array of unique collections and tranquil reading rooms which are open to the public, this is a must-see destination for any bookworm visiting Budapest. A few steps from the ever-blue Danube itself, admire the spiral staircases and intricate golden decor of this special library before stepping out into the heart of one of Eastern Europe's most beautiful cities. 

3. Mafra Palace Library (Lisbon, Portugal) 

Located just outside of Portugal's capital city, the Mafra Palace's stunning white interior and rose marble floors are worth the short trip from Lisbon. Occupying the most impressive room in the entire palace is the library itself. Its shelves are host to one of the most significant Enlightenment collections in all of Europe along with books dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries and scores of classical musical compositions. At night time, when all guests have left, tiny bats awake from behind the bookcases to hunt any pests that might damage the precious texts!

4. Biblioteca Escuelas Pías (Madrid, Spain)

Not far away from Spain's national museum of 20th century art (The MNCARS) sit the ruins of a church built in the 18th century. These ruins, however, have since been converted into what's regarded as the most beautiful library in all of Spain and one of the best places to read in Europe. Open to the public, Madrid's Escuelas Pías is the perfect destination for those interested in both history, architecture and the written word. With its warm lighting, comfy couches and brick walls, it is also the perfect spot to relax and take in a few chapters.  

5. Louis Nucéra Library & La Tête Carrée (Nice, France)

If you're an art lover and travelling to Nice, you're probably already heading to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Adjoined to the museum is the vast Louis Nucéra Library, a modern library rich in collections and accessible spaces for you to enjoy. On the same grounds however, and perhaps even more striking, sits La Tête Carrée (literally, 'The Square Head'). Standing at nearly 30 metres tall, this massive sculpture, which is aptly titled 'Thinking Inside the Box', doubles as both the administrative office for the Louis Nucéra Library as well as housing a collection of books itself. A traveller’s tip: visit this sculpture-building at night to view a lighting scheme which reveals the floors of the library inside!

6. Richelieu Library (Paris, France)

As part of the National Library of France (one of the largest library institutions in the world!) the Richelieu Library in Paris can trace its beginnings to over 500 years ago and boasts one of the most impressive historical and contemporary collections in Europe. This site in particular is located just off the Seine, and while its surrounds are made up of stunning architecture and Parisian beauty, the interior of this famous library is also sure to amaze. The vaulted ceilings of its several reading rooms, boasting natural light and a peaceful ambiance, combined with its unique collection and public atmosphere invite you to spend an afternoon gazing up at this architectural wonder in between pages.

7. Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (Paris, France)

It should be of no surprise that Paris, a city so renowned for its architectural beauty and cultural prominence, has two libraries featured on this list. Located in the city's Latin quarter, across the street from the famed Pantheon, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève is based on a monastic collection founded in the 6th century. Built in the mid-19th century, the building housing the collection as it is today was the first specifically constructed library in all of Paris. Designed in a modern Roman style, the focus of the building is certainly its reading room, which is large, bright and beautifully decorated. Read a book, marvel at the architecture, or wander the site taking in the collections and artifacts from the Age of the Enlightenment featured throughout the library.

8. Baroque Library Hall (Prague, Czech Republic)

Opened in 1722, and located in Prague's historical Klementinum neighbourhood, the Baroque Library is regarded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Truly spellbinding, the interior is decorated with ceiling frescoes depicting the Jesuit Order which watches down on the several monastic and theological collections from all over the world. It's also quite known for a mesmerising collection of globes which line the centre of the library. Open to the public, a visit to Prague is not complete without experiencing the wonders of this breathtaking library.

9. SALT Research (Istanbul, Turkey)

A city which has always merged innovation with tradition, it should come as no surprise that Istanbul is home to SALT Research, a contemporary art, archives and research institution. Located in the former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, SALT contains several gallery spaces and a delightful café along with its library and archive, SALT Research. Art, architecture and geography buffs will particularly admire the collections within the library itself, while the galleries and surrounding historical neighbourhood leave something to be admired by all who pass through.

10. Zentralbibliothek (Zurich, Switzerland) 

Since its founding as a monastery in 1259, Zurich's Central Library is now a public institution dedicated to preserving its collections, hosting exhibitions and educating the public. Located in the historical part of the city, the Rathaus Quarter, a trip to this library is a trip to the Zurich of old. Marvel at the surrounding churches and cobblestone alleyways before popping into the Zentralbibliothek to view an art exhibition, admire its extensive classical music collection or sit back, relax and take in your favourite story for some downtime in this picturesque Swiss destination.

Plan your European trip today

Take the time to experience the most beautiful libraries in Europe along with many of the Continent's other treasures during an extended stay with Emerald Cruises in any of the cities mentioned above. Perfect for those looking to really immerse themselves in the local culture and explore independently, a city stay is a wonderful way to start or end your cruise, be that a river cruise on one of our award-winning Star-Ships, or an ocean cruise on board one of our ground-breaking luxury yachts. We even take care of transfers to your hotel and airport, leaving you to enjoy the sights.