Consider the world’s grandest, most majestic buildings. There’s palaces, cathedrals, skyscrapers… libraries? Yes, they’re more commonly associated with dust than spectacle – students libraries are synonymous with boredom, after all – but there are some that are just begging to be Instagrammed. These picks blend classic with contemporary to find Europe’s best and brightest libraries, from campus eco-builds to plant-centric spaces and even a medieval monastery in the foothills of the Alps.
A modern masterpiece by Korean architect Eun Young Yi, the angular Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart is neat and tidy in a way your bedroom could never be. Oh, and we want tips from whoever is responsible for keeping its geometric courtyard of pristine white walkways so clean.
A traditional library with reading lamps on every table, just across the square from the Panthéon, Sainte-Geneviève Library is bathed in history. Once used by Jules Michelet and Victor Hugo, it features prominently in the works of Simone de Beauvoir and James Joyce, and once employed a young Marcel Duchamp.
An outrageously opulent library with almost as much marble as paper, Wiblingen Abbey hails from Ulm in Southern Germany. This Benedictine monastery is built in the Rococo style, so every surface is coated with frescoes, sculptures, and elaborate ornamentation.
A vast, Venetian library renowned among scholars for its collection of classical manuscripts, this prestigious institution dates all the way back to the late renaissance. Biblioteca Marciana is gilded with works by Tiziano Vecelli and Paolo Veronese, among others, and lies sandwiched between the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco.
University of Warsaw Library
With greenery snaking around its sides and a botanical garden on the roof, University of Warsaw Library is all about beauty through nature. The plant-heavy design has earned the building several awards, and it’s freely accessible to the public.
With barely a straight edge in site, this effortlessly serene, open-plan library epitomizes the fluidity of modern design. An eco-friendly, three-storey, glass-and-wood monolith, the Oodi was designed by architecture firm ALA Architects and is just as contemporary as it looks.
The largest monastery library in the world, the fabulously decadent Admont Abbey was the brainchild of 18th century architect Josef Hueber. Four bronze statues adorn the main hall, representing death, paradise, hell, and the resurrection.
A building of two halves, the angular jet-black exterior gives way to a soft, undulating interior that looks out over the city center and the Strait of Øresund. Nicknamed the ‘Black Diamond’, it’s one of a handful of world libraries to contain escalators.
John Rylands Library
A late-Victorian, neo-Gothic monster in the heart of Manchester, the John Rylands Library looks like a fortress on the outside, and a cathedral on the inside. Best of all is the collection of 1.4 million items, among them a world-class roster of first editions – that should keep you going for five minutes.
Rebuilt by the studio of Zaha Hadid after a fire, this sinuous, whitewashed structure is part library, part optical illusion. Try not to get lost, as roaming its ultra-modern passageways for too long might result in going slightly mad.