There are plenty of beautiful places to visit on vacation, from jaw-dropping natural wonders to enchanting hideaways. But for your next excursion, why not travel somewhere a little more unexpected? We’re thinking… the library? Even if you aren’t the biggest literary lover, there are libraries all over the world that should be appreciated for their architecture alone. From historic landmarks to modern masterpieces, we’ve rounded up the most beautiful libraries across the globe that every traveler needs to visit.
1El Escorial Royal Library; San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain
Located just miles from Spain’s capital city of Madrid, El Escorial Royal Library was completed in 1584 during the Spanish Renaissance in San Lorenzo de El Escorial for the royal family. Thanks to its colored history, the entire structure—including the library—was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1984. With luxurious frescos by artists like Pellegrino Tibaldi, the library currently has an inventory of more than 45,000 books.
2George Peabody Library; Baltimore, Maryland
Also known as the “Cathedral of Books,” the George Peabody Library, designed by Baltimore architect Edmund George Lind, opened its doors in 1878. As you can see in the picture above, Lind’s vision comes to life includes a massive skylight soaring over white cast-iron balconies. Nowadays, the library is part of the Johns Hopkins University library network.
3Admont Abbey Library; Admont, Austria
Designed by Austrian architect Josef Hueber and painted by Bartolomeo Altomonte, the beautiful gold-and-white library at Admont Abbey monastery was completed in 1776. The library holds around 70,000 books of the monastery’s full 200,000-plus collection—most notably, more than 1,400 manuscripts dating back to 8th century A.D. Currently, the Admont Abbey Library is the world’s largest monastery library.
4Beitou Library; Taipei, Taiwan
The Beitou Library in Taipei, Taiwan, isn’t just beautiful. It’s eco-friendly, too! The library, which opened in 2006 as part of the city’s public library system, was designed by Taiwanese firm Bio-Architecture Formosana to curb water and electricity consumption. Surrounded by the greenery of Beitou Park, the treehouse-like library has more than 20,000 books for visitors to enjoy.
5Library of Alexandria; Alexandria, Egypt
While the original Library of Alexandria (which was founded by Alexander the Great) burned down ages ago, its modern replacement is also something to marvel at. Completed in 2002, the library was designed by a Norwegian consultancy agency as part of an architectural design competition organized by UNESCO. The new library is not meant to compete with the old, destroyed monument; instead, it’s intended to “revive, under a modern aspect, a unique world heritage in the cultural history of humankind,” according to former UNESCO director general Federico Mayor.
6Royal Portuguese Reading Room; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This massive library opened its doors in 1887, giving the citizens of Brazil access to the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal. The unique combination of limestone, dark wood, and stained glass used to create the building makes it one of the most stunning libraries out there. And with nearly 350,000 works of literature, you could visit again and again and still find something new and exciting to read.
7Strahov Library; Prague, Czech Republic
Founded in the 12th century, the Strahov Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the Czech Republic that still serves as a home to monks. Its library, which is comprised of the Theological Hall (built in the late 1600s) and the Philosophical Hall (built toward the end of the 1700s), has a collection of around 200,000 volumes.
8Central Library; Mexico City, Mexico
This library in Mexico is admired for its striking, unique exterior. Located on the Ciudad Universitaria Campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the library’s facade is covered in murals painted by artist Juan O’Gorman. The entire university, including its unique library, was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 2007.
9Public Library Stuttgart; Stuttgart, Germany
With its sleek white design, the Public Library Stuttgart really allows the literature lining its shelves to be the star of the show. The nine-story building, which was designed by Korean architect Eun Young Yi and opened to the public in 2011, was named the national Library of the Year by the German Library Association just two years after it opened.
10Seattle Central Library; Seattle, Washington
Opened in 2004, this architecturally abstract library is a collaboration between Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Thanks to its unique design, the building was included on the American Institute of Architects’ list of America’s 150 favorite structures in the United States. Standing 11 stories tall, the library is currently the flagship building for the Seattle Public Library system.
11Handelingenkamer Library; The Hague, Netherlands
When the Handelingenkamer Library was originally built at the end of the 19th century, it had no electricity whatsoever. So, the architects who designed the building made its roof a glass dome so that natural light would filter in during the day.
Today, though there is obviously electricity, the library’s glass dome still serves to illuminate the picturesque interior of the space so long as the sun is in the sky. Oh, and the building is also the official library of the Dutch Parliament, so when you go to admire its beauty, you can also brush up on your Dutch law.
12Vasconcelos Library; Mexico City, Mexico
Designed by Mexican architects Alberto Kalach and Juan Palomar, this fascinating library gets its name from José Vasconcelos, a prominent writer, philosopher, and politician during the Mexican Revolution. Its unique steel shelves create a floating, multidimensional feel that competes with any 21st century design.
13State Law Library; Des Moines, Iowa
The State Law Library in Des Moines, Iowa, is actually located on the second floor of the State Capitol Building. With a Victorian-style grand hall, a spiral staircase, and lace-like balconies, it’s one of the most beautiful libraries in the United States. The State Law Library is home to nearly 105,000 volumes, most of which deal with state and federal legislature.
14Geisel Library; San Diego, California
Geisel Library is the main library of the University of California at San Diego. Passersby might assume the building is some sort of alien spacecraft, but the futuristic work is actually that of architect William Pereria. Opening in 1970 as Central Library, it was renamed Geisel Library in 1995 in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as children’s author Dr. Seuss.
15The Old Library; Dublin, Ireland
Located at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university, The Old Library was constructed in the 18th century. It’s most famous for hosting the Book of Kells, a 9th-century gospel manuscript. With its long hallways and dark wood paneling, this library transports visitors back centuries.
16Mafra Palace Library; Mafra, Portugal
It’s no surprise that this royal-looking library is located in a palace—Mafra Palace Library’s white marble and wood make it clear that it’s a place fit for a king. Not only that, but the library, which dates back to the 18th century, also hosts rare works, like the 15th century Nuremberg Chronicle and the 16th century Theatrum Orbis Terrarvm. It’s certainly something to see.
17 Zurich Law Library; Zurich, Switzerland
Completed in 2004, this modern library is part of the University of Zurich. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it is best known for its central, circular architecture. The building’s white stone floors and light wood balconies are beautifully lit by an elongated oval glass dome, making it a hot spot for photographers and bibliophiles alike. And for more unique buildings, check out these 20 Stunning Homes Made From Other Things.