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Discovering the great libraries of Europe

Havens for book lovers, repositories of precious pieces of history, awe-inspiring architectural spaces: the great libraries of Europe serve as time capsules, portals to bygone times.

Grand historic landmarks like the Austrian National Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library served not as centres of knowledge but also as important hubs of scholarship and intellectual exchange. They were visited in centuries past by scholars, philosophers, and scientists from all over the world who came to study and share their knowledge, contributing to the advancement of human understanding and cultural diversity.

1. Admont Benedictine Abbey, Admont, Austria

The Admont Benedictine Abbey Library is a beautiful and historic library located in the town of Admont, Austria. Often considered to be one of the most stunning libraries in the world, it’s a popular destination for literature-loving visitors from around the globe. While the original structure was founded in 1074 by Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg, the current library building was designed between 1776 and 1778 in the Baroque style. Its stunning interior features ornate sculptures, frescoes, intricate carvings, and shelf upon shelf of theological volumes. 

Where to stay:

A 30-minute drive from the Admont Benedictine Abbey is Villa Bergzauber in Upper Austria. A family-owned listed hotel overlooking the quaint town of Windischgarsten, Villa Bergzauber is a romantic and well-designed country guesthouse with every conceivable comfort catered for. 

2. Baroque Library Hall, Clementinum, Prague

The Baroque Library Hall, located in the Clementinum complex in Prague is a stunning example of Baroque architecture. The Clementinum is a historic complex of buildings that houses the National Library of the Czech Republic. Built in the 18th century, the hall itself was designed by the architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, who created a masterpiece of Baroque architecture with soaring ceilings, ornate decorations, and beautiful frescoes. The library hall is known for its impressive collection of over 20,000 books housed in dark wooden bookcases, many of which date back to the 16th century.

Where to stay:

One hour from Prague is the beautiful Chateau Liblice, a four-star castle hotel that takes pride in its fine food, world-class accommodation and welcoming hospitality.

3. Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

Amid the hustle and bustle of Dublin City, a hush descends as you enter the hallowed confines of the Trinity College Library. Established in 1592, it’s the largest library in Ireland and houses over six million printed items, including the Book of Kells, one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts in the world. At 65 metres long, the famous Long Room is one of the most photographed spaces in the capital and is reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. Book lovers can soak up the rarefied atmosphere of this centuries-old public destination, in easy reach of the rest of the city’s cultural gems. 

Where to stay:

Barberstown Castle is just a 30-minute drive from Dublin, making it the perfect base for exploring the culture and history of Ireland’s capital city. A 13th-century castle, it now offers four-star luxury as an elegant country house hotel with spectacularly landscaped surroundings.

4. Mafra Palace Library, Mafra, Portugal

The Rococo-style wooden bookshelves of the grand Mafra Palace Library contain around 36,000 valuable leather-bound volumes, dating from the 14th to the 19th centuries. This literary destination has one very unique point of difference: a colony of bats that rests peacefully behind the bookcases by day. As night falls and the library doors are locked, the bats emerge to swoop between the stacks, pursuing the paper-munching pests that would otherwise pose a danger to the valuable pages collected in the Mafra Palace Library. 

Where to stay:

Less than one hour from Mafra by car, Lisbon’s Hotel Britania offers an authentic glimpse into 1940s glamour. Designed by the Portuguese Modernist architect Cassiano Branco, it offers 32 spacious rooms and one suite — an excellent base from which to explore the delights of Lisbon.

5. Abbey Library of St Gall, Switzerland 

Photo credit: Stiftsbibliotek St. Gallen, Wikipedia

The Abbey Library of St. Gall is a historic attraction located in the town of St. Gallen in northeastern Switzerland. Founded in the 8th century by St. Gallus, an Irish monk, it’s one of the oldest and most important libraries in the world and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Over the centuries, the library has grown in both size and importance; today it houses over 170,000 volumes, including many manuscripts, incunabula ((books printed before 1501) and early printed books.

Where to stay:

The charming Schloss Wartegg is a spectacular castle hotel on the shores of Eastern Switzerland’s Lake Constance. From lakeside adventures to cycling, on-site concerts to hiking routes, both the castle and its beautiful surroundings are tailor made for exploration.

6. The Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Milan, Italy

The Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense is a historic library located in the Brera district of Milan. Founded in 1770, it’s part of the Brera Academy cultural and educational complex, which also includes an art gallery and botanical garden. The library is housed in a beautiful 18th century building originally designed by architect Giuseppe Piermarini and features a grand staircase, ornate frescoes and a reading room with enormous windows. A tranquil atmosphere makes the Biblioteca di Brera, as it’s often called, a popular destination for scholars and researchers.

Where to stay:

A one hour drive from Biblioteca di Brera is Locanda dei Mai Intees, a charming four-star hotel in the village of Azzate. Beautifully renovated in recent years, Locanda dei Mai Intees features contemporary notes and classic features, among them carefully-restored 15th-century frescoes and a 16th-century fireplace.

7. Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria

The Austrian National Library is the national library of Austria, located in the heart of Vienna at the historic Hofburg Palace complex. Its collection dates back to the 14th century and includes over 12 million items, including books, manuscripts, maps, and music scores. The library’s main building is the spectacular Palais Mollard-Clary, built in the 18th century by famous Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. Visitors who enter the building will be awe-struck by the grand staircase, many ornate ceilings and frescoes and a series of marble columns and statues.

Where to stay:

A 20-minute walk from the Austrian National Library, Hotel Stefanie is one of the oldest hotels in Vienna. For over four hundred years, it’s been providing first-class hospitality, food, and accommodation, just a stone’s throw away from the capital’s first district.

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