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In Pictures: Europe's Most Beautiful Libraries


Enchantment, wonder and escapism await in the beautiful libraries of Europe.

Wherever you are and whatever your interests, there’s nothing like the peace and stillness of a library to help you relax and switch off from the outside world. Of course, it helps if the library you find yourself in is one of immense beauty and historic intrigue – much like the institutions featured in our shortlist below.

Many of Europe’s foremost cities play host to a historic, beautiful library. These great centres of learning are steeped in the history of people and place, providing a fascinating snapshot of cultures, traditions and treasures throughout the continent.

The question is, where can you find these spectacular institutions? And which are worth visiting as part of your Scenic river cruise? To help, here we’re exploring Europe’s most beautiful libraries – from Salamanca to Prague.

Russian State Library - Moscow

moscow library

Founded in 1862, the Russian State Library (RSL) is among the largest libraries in the world, with an eye-watering collection of some 47 million books, documents and artefacts. Originally part of the Moscow Public and Rumyantsev Museum, the library was renamed the Lenin State Library of the USSR in 1924, only becoming the Russian State Library again after the fall of the Iron Curtain, in 1992. The scale of the library itself is quite extraordinary, its reading rooms, halls and research spaces accommodating thousands of visitors at any one time. Aside from its spectacular and austere Classicist architecture, the library is renowned for the volume of its valuable editions and priceless documents, with around 3 million rare books of incomparable value and significance.

Take in Moscow’s fabled cityscape as part of our Jewels of Russia itinerary.

Klementinum - Prague

prague library

From Charles Bridge to the Astronomical Clock, Prague’s exquisite Old Town is teeming with fascinating things to see and discover – so much so that a whole day could be spent within the ancient walls of its iconic castle alone. One of the highlights often overlooked by visitors is the Klementinum, which serves as the National Library of Czechia. Covering nearly five acres, this is one of the largest and oldest libraries and centres of learning in Europe, with an interconnected network of chambers, halls and research spaces dating back to the early medieval period. The library itself is revered for its Baroque design, and perhaps most famous for Meridian Hall, a space, completed in 1842, which is used as an epic camera obscura.

Marvel at Prague’s celebrated architecture on our Gems of the Danube with Prague river cruise.

Austrian National Library - Vienna

vienna library

Many European capitals host a spectacular library, and Vienna is no different. The Austrian National Library, the largest in the country, is a stately and regal centre of knowledge and learning, its shelves open to the public since the 18th century. Like so many of Europe’s great libraries, Vienna’s state library is built in the high Baroque style, typical of architecture and design from the 1700s. By far the most impressive aspect of the library is the State Hall, a vast reading room some 80 metres in length and 20 metres in height, which features a spectacular central dome and a series of highly-decorative frescoes, adding to the imperial flair. The State Hall alone houses more than 200,000 special editions, as well as four beautiful Venetian globes which date back to the city’s golden age.

Explore beautiful Vienna on the Gems of the Danube.

Bibiloteca Joanina - Coimbra

coimbra library

The city of Coimbra, Portugal is home to one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful universities, and it’s here where you’ll find the Biblioteca Joanina. From 1537 to 1717, the Coimbra University was housed in the Royal Palace of Coimbra – a municipal complex now considered among the most beautiful heritage buildings in Portugal. In the 18th century, King João V commissioned the building of a new library for the university, in a bid to promote cultural, artistic and scientific endeavours within the city. This task was given to architect Gasper Ferreira, who designed an exquisite library in the Baroque style. Today, the library remains in a beautifully preserved state, with the majority of its ornate interior still intact.

See the sights in Coimbra during our wonderful Unforgettable Douro with Lisbon tour.

National Library of France - Paris

paris library

Since the Middle Ages, the National Library of Paris has documented the comings and goings, ups and downs of France, as well as amassing a vast array of works from authors and researchers from across the globe. The library is, in many respects, the principal custodian of French culture and heritage, with an invaluable collection of books, artefacts and documents from every era of the country’s history. The present-day library is housed on the site of François-Mitterrand, a vast complex overlooking the 13th Arrondissement of the city, which is open to the public for viewing on select days of the week. The library’s collection includes art, antiquities, manuscripts and documents, which you can browse at your leisure in the beautiful reading room.

Paris is yours to discover as part of our Normandy & Gems of the Seine river cruise.

Szabó Ervin Library - Budapest

budapest library

Opening its doors in 1904, Budapest’s Szabó Ervin Library became the principal library of Hungary, with books and artefacts from other institutions finding a home on its illustrious shelves. Designed in the Baroque style, the library features a colourful façade and highly-ornacte interior chambers, providing a truly inspiring place to bury your head in a good book. The library is named after Ervin Szabó, a social scientist and one of the founding members of staff at the newly-opened library, who contributed much to the development of Hungarian sociology. Ervin’s vision was to create a ‘library palace’, and a palace it is, with spectacular architecture marrying with row after row of bookshelves and rare folios.

Visit Budapest, the ‘Queen of the Danube’ on our Danube Delta Discover itinerary.

Salamanca University Library - Salamanca

salamanca library

The Spanish university city of Salamanca is celebrated for its beautifully preserved architecture, which ranges in style from the medieval to the high Baroque. The city is centred around its prestigious university, which is among the oldest educational institutions on the continent, having been chartered in 1254. It’s from around this time that the university’s beautiful library, the Biblioteca General Historica, also originates – making it among the most precious collections in the world. Many of the library’s prized volumes date back to the 15th century, when Benedict XIII injected funds into the university to help it procure books and other learning and research materials. A visit to the university is an absolute must during your time in the spectacular heritage city of Salamanca.

Discover Salamanca’s fascinating heritage with a Douro river cruise.

Parks and palaces, libraries and mansions – Europe’s illustrious cities are home to no end of beautiful buildings and inspiring heritage sites. For a chance to immerse in the wonders of the continent, take a look at our collection of luxury river cruise itineraries, or call us today on 0808 302 3817 to find out more.