The 12 Most Beautiful Libraries in the U.S.
These beautiful spaces offer a whole more than simply books.
If you're traveling solo, or with a group of book lovers, consider adding a stop at a library to your next travel destination. What's not to love about popping into a library? You can check out the latest books on the stacks, and admire the beautiful buildings that the libraries are housed in.
But of course, libraries aren't just for book lovers. Many of them also serve as museums, galleries, places where you can learn new skills like cooking or coding, and many of them are also beautiful works of art themselves.
Libraries are beautiful for a whole host of reasons—while some are visually stunning because they are so modern and technologically advanced, others are seemingly ancient and filled with history, wowing visitors who are mesmerized by the architecture and details.
Read on to discover the most awe-inspiring libraries the U.S. has to offer.
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The Best Libraries in the U.S.
1. Los Angeles Central Library
The city of Los Angeles is well-known and well-visited because of its film industry, but it's also quite a popular literary city, filled with many book lovers who are patrons of the city's main public library, the Los Angeles Central Library. The library building, located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, is designed in the Art Deco style, and stands out among many of the neighborhood's more modern skyscrapers.
The building's exteriors are a marvel of architecture, but the interior of the library is also filled with works of art, including four major murals by Dean Cornwell which display the history of California.
"Its real stand-out attraction is the artwork, with painted walls and ceilings, you won't have time to look at any books when you're staring at the fascinating works around you," says Jim Campbell, the CEO and founder of travel website Honeymoon Goals.
2. Providence Athenaeum
The Providence Athenaeum may be named after Athena, the goddess of war and reason, but upon designing the building, architect William Strickland may have been more influenced by the gods of beauty, as the Rhode Island library is one of the country's most stunning. The library, one of Edgar Allen Poe's former haunts, is an independent, member-supported subscription library, and the building that it's housed in was constructed in 1836. The interiors are a book-lovers dream, and the library itself is also filled with interesting artifacts.
"The library has interesting statues and an exceptional rare books collection, including a study of Egypt that Napoleon commissioned and an original copy of John Audubon's 'Birds of America,'" says Steve Prohaska, a travel expert and the founder of See the Best Places. "A special exhibit here also contains some of the belongings, photos, and signed letters of Walt Whitman."
Visitors can take self-guided tours of the museum with the help of their brochure and information displays.
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3. Boston Public Library
Boston is one of the most historic cities in the country, so it makes sense that the city's public library would also be one of the country's oldest and most beloved. Serving more than four million patrons a year, the Boston Public Library is also one of the largest public libraries in the country.
The Boston library system was first founded in 1848, but its main branch, located in the city's Copley Square opened in 1895. The building was designed in a Beaux-Arts architectural style, and its Bates Hall, one of the most striking areas of the library, features a tall, coffered ceiling that's reminiscent of Renaissance buildings.
"The McKim building is the historic part of the library, first founded in 1848," says Amanda Ghanbarpour, a travel writer at My Vintage Map. "The architecture in this part of the library is stunning, with its ornate ceilings, staircase, paintings and statues. But the best part is the Bates Reading Room, with its vaulted ceiling and rows of tables with reading lamps, surrounded by shelves of books on all sides. It is truly a work of art."
4. Library of Congress
Perhaps the most well-known of all of the country's libraries, the Library of Congress is a research library that is used by members of the U.S. Congress, and it's also the de facto national library of the United States.
The library, housed on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, established in 1800. Its oldest building, the Thomas Jefferson Building, which was built in the late 19th century, is arguably its most visually-striking. Its beautiful, open Great Hall is home to a mosaic of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.
The library is open for visitors Tuesday through Saturday, but you must reserve a timed-entry pass online before entering. Visitors can stop by one of the library's reading rooms to do research, although only high-ranking government officials and library employees may check out materials, or attend one of the library's many events, like concerts or historical lectures.
5. Armstrong-Browning Library
Many libraries pride themselves on the large number of authors whose works are housed within their walls. The Armstrong-Browning Library, on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is a little different. It's home to the largest collections of works by English Victorian-era poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
As the University's collection of the Browning's work continued to grow, the school needed a dedicated space for it, building the Armstrong-Browning Library in the mid-20th century. In addition to the literary works found in the library, it's also home to the largest collection of secular stained glass in the world, so it's a dream for art lovers as well.
"The Armstrong-Browning Library is without a doubt one of the most stunning libraries in the United States," says Jenny Ly, the founder of Go Wanderly. "European influences are evident in the design. But it's the finer points—stained-glass representations of Robert and Elizabeth's poems, literary interpretations of their words, and quotes painted on the walls—that transform a chaotic collection of thoughts into a carefully manicured paradise for book lovers."
As well as allowing visitors to tour the library and museum, the beautiful building is also popular as a wedding venue.
6. Nashville Public Library
The Nashville Public Library is a resource for anyone interested in the Music City's history, but the building that it's housed in, located in the city's downtown, is also an impressive, historic building in its own right.
The library building was first constructed in 1901, and has such stunning architecture that you might forget that you're in there looking for books and not just to admire the building itself.
"Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York designed the three-story, 300 thousand square foot building in a modern classical style with columns and pillars," says Jill Kilgore, a public relations media manager at the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. "Inside is a grand staircase in the lobby, skylights and large windows with a view of the State Capitol, and original artwork commissioned especially for the library."
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7. Hearst Castle Library
It only makes sense that the library of one of the most beautiful mansions in the country, the Hearst Castle, would also contain one of the most beautiful libraries as well. The gigantic home was built in the early 20th century for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, and its massive library wasn't just for books, although it holds plenty of those. It also houses art like antique Greek vases, and a 16th century Spanish ceiling.
"The Hearst Castle Library, on the central coast of California, is one of the most gorgeous libraries in the country," says Larry Snider, VP of Operations of Casago Vacation Rentals. "Built to reflect the European styles of architecture admired by Hearst, it holds approximately 4,000 books as well as his collection of medieval texts, paintings, statues, and textiles."
8. Louisville Free Public Library
The Louisville Free Public Library looks more like a building at a private university than a free, public library in the center of Kentucky's largest city. The main branch was constructed in 1906 by the New York architectural film Pilcher and Tachau, which also designed buildings at private universities, so it makes sense that the library's exteriors look so refined.
"The Louisville Free Public Library Main Branch is considered one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in Kentucky, complete with stained glass, a barrel-vaulted ceiling, white marble columns and two staircases with bronze and iron railings," says Jordan Skora, a marketing communications manager at Louisville Tourism. "On the property stands a 13-foot bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, Kentucky's only native U.S. President."
Although the library is a beloved historic institution in the city, it wasn't always certain that the building would stand the test of time, because it was severely damaged during a flood in 1937.
"During the great 1937 flood, much of the library was damaged as the Ohio River rose 30 feet above flood stage, covering 60 percent of the city," Skora says. "Nonetheless, the library prevailed, becoming the first U.S. library with its own FM radio station in 1950."
9. Morgan Library and Museum
When you picture a beautiful library, you're probably imagining the Morgan Library and Museum, a research library and museum in Manhattan. While the small library's name might not ring a bell, it's safe to say that one of its owner's, J.P. Morgan's, might. The library is a collection of the financier and investment banker's private library, which contained manuscripts books, prints, and drawings.
"The Morgan Library and Museum is one of the most gorgeous libraries in the United States," says Nick Mueller, director of operations at Hawaiianislands.com. "Financier JP Morgan possessed a comprehensive collection of art, from rare books and prints to ancient artifacts. In 1924, his son donated the library to the public and it's been open ever since. The structure was built between 1902 and 1906 and occupies half a city block."
The library stands out for its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, lined with aged manuscripts and books, and its richly decorated interiors, including its muraled ceilings and dramatic Rotunda room with a domed ceiling.
10. Suzzallo and Allen Libraries
You wouldn't expect the Suzzallo and Allen Libraries, the main libraries for the University of Washington in Seattle, to only have been constructed in the past 100 years. The library looks as if it's been around for several centuries, and instead of belonging at an urban college campus, it should be in a castle in the countryside somewhere. It's a beautiful building that reflects the modern needs of the college campus that it serves.
"Seattle has a library that's known as the Harry Potter library," says Sarah Simon, a travel blogger at Mukikapup's Travels. "The Suzzallo and Allen Libraries are in the University of Washington's campus and are considered the 'soul' of the school. The architecture is in the Collegiate Gothic style and includes a batwing vaulted ceiling, outdoor facade with buttresses and statues, and coats-of-arms from around the globe. There are also art installations, one of the world's biggest books, hand-painted globes and stained glass to see."
In addition to students doing research, visitors are welcome to tour the libraries Sunday through Friday.
11. Kansas City Public Library
Libraries are beloved institutions for the books and resources that they have inside of their walls. But the Kansas City Public Library is a treasured part of the city, and one of the most beautiful libraries in the country, for the books that they have outside of the library.
The central branch of the city's public library, which formerly housed the First National Bank, has a facade that's designed to look like a gigantic bookshelf, designed with 25 foot by 9 foot book spines showing titles of classic novels like Charlotte's Web and To Kill a Mockingbird.
"Its parking garage, which is designed like an enormous bookshelf, is one of the major attractions," says Martin Betch, the cofounder of travel website Hi-van.
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12. Parkway Central Library
The main branch of Philadelphia's public library system is the Parkway Central Library. It was opened in 1927, and serves as the largest branch of the library system's 54 branches. It's also, arguably, the most beautiful. The building that the library is housed in is seven stories, with four of them open to the public.
"The library is so stunning that many choose it as a wedding venue," says Melanie Musson, a travel expert with Clearsurance. "But, despite its grandeur, the intricate architectural details give an intimate feel to the space. So it's ideal for both large and small gatherings."
But weddings and other elaborate affairs aren't the only reason that people visit the library. In addition to checking out books, movies and other items, the library offers a series of opportunities to learn, including cooking lessons.
"One of the unique offerings of this library is that they have a full commercial kitchen on the fourth floor," Musson says. "It was designed and used as an educational hub for the culinary arts."