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This post is the fourth in a four-part series on why bibliophiles find France and England compelling destinations that feed their love of books and literature.

Visiting libraries might not be the first thing that springs to mind when planning your literary focused European getaway, given that actually checking books out requires a membership. That said, the libraries of Europe not only contain amazing pieces of the continent’s literary and cultural history but  also stand as architectural wonders.

The Old and New England

Source: Wikimedia Commons

English libraries offer an immense amount of visual sights for any traveler. From ancient libraries that have stood for centuries to masterpieces of modern architecture, visitors can view works of art at every angle. The libraries in England are dedicated to the preservation of ideas, both old and new.

Our pick

Bodleian Library, University of OxfordThe Bodleian is one of Europe’s oldest libraries. It’s the main research library at Oxford and contains over 12 million items, including Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things,” a Shakespeare First Folio, and a Gutenberg Bible. The library’s amazing architecture has been featured in numerous movies including the first two Harry Potter films. Visitors are welcome at “the Bod,” so long as they agree to take an oral oath before entering. Not to worry though: one no longer has to take the oath in Latin.

Notable mentions

The Library of Birmingham
Peckham Library

Beauty in Ireland

Source: Flickr user Tony Webster

Like the country itself, the libraries of Ireland have both history and beauty on display for visitors.

Our pick

Trinity College Old Library, Dublin — Because it is a legal deposit or “Copyright Library,” the Trinity College Library is entitled by law to receive a copy of every work published in both the Republic of Ireland and all works published in the United Kingdom. Irish history buffs will also be excited to see the Book of Kells, two of which are on display. Visitors may notice that the library’s stunning 200-foot Long Room bears a close resemblance to the Jedi archives in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Note that while the Old Library and the gift shop are open to visitors, advance arrangements must be made to get in to other parts of the library.

German Modernism

Source: Flickr user o palsson

German libraries continue to emphasize the modern aesthetic, likely in part of their revitalization efforts post war for the last several decades. Using smart city planning, libraries find themselves literally at the center of cities, bringing ideas to the fore.

Our pick

Stuttgart City Library, Germany — An architectural departure from the first two libraries on this list, this public library lacks in wood paneling and darkened nooks. From the outside, the nine-story building looks like a crystal cube. Designed by Yi Architects in 2011, this library was purposefully built in what was predicted to be the city’s future center (the idea being that the city would grow outward from the library). The very modern-looking building actually took inspiration from the design of the Pantheon in Rome and offers a light-filled, meditative respite for the literary traveler.

Notable mention

Cottbus Technical University Library

French Preservation

Source: Photo by John Towner

France has long been famous for its literary history and the libraries stand as great monuments to the preservation of that history.

Our pick

National Library of France, Paris — Another library of architectural as well as literary appeal, the National Library of France (sometimes referred to as the BnF – Bibliothèque nationale de France) was built in the 19th century in the Ottoman style of architecture. Like the Trinity College Library, it is a national repository of everything published in France. During the second World War, the librarians of the National Library continued to funnel books through trusted channels to French prisoners of war, despite Nazi opposition that often led to imprisonment, and sometimes death. Their Manuscript Collection houses the manuscripts of numerous literary greats, including Sartre, Proust, and Collette. Its giant reading room holds over 30 million items. This library is open to the public.


At BellaTerra, we love making your European dream come to life by designing custom trips that suit your particular hobbies, passions, and interests. If you’re a bibliophile looking to tour Europe’s literary culture and history, contact us today and we’ll get started.