Join us and explore the history, architecture, and what’s on at five of the UK’s most beautiful libraries.
British libraries provide a quiet retreat and are the ideal place to get lost in an engrossing novel or spend time working on that all-important thesis or dissertation.
1. The British Library, London
The British Library, which is the UK’s national library, contains between 150–200 million items from across the globe, including original lyrics from The Beatles. Established in 1976, it’s far from the oldest library on our list, yet its importance as a research library and its extensive collections mean it is certainly the most significant.
Architect Colin St John Wilson spent 30 years working on the building which he described himself as a “30-year war" against both politicians and financiers.
Today, the reading rooms are a nice quiet place to work and access the library’s extensive collections, while events and exhibitions explore history, society, and politics.
Hotels Near the British library
Pullman St Pancras is just a one-minute walk from the British Library and is the perfect place for an indulgent night’s rest after a day out exploring busy London.
2. The Codrington Library, Oxford
The Codrington Library is the library of All Souls College and is part of the University of Oxford.
Nicholas Hawksmoor designed the library, which opened in 1751, after a lengthy design and build financed by West Indian sugar plantation owner Christopher Coddington.
Renovation took place in the early 2000s which brought the building up to modern standards, although it remains a gem of a library and a must-visit when in Oxford.
3. John Rylands Library, Manchester
The John Rylands Library, a neo-Gothic masterpiece on Manchester’s Deansgate, is part of the University of Manchester Library and has been open to the public since 1900. Founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband John Rylands, a local philanthropist, the library houses a large collection of medieval manuscripts.
The library also has the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, which is thought to be the world’s oldest record of a canonical New Testament text – dating form between 100-150 CE.
The historic reading room is magnificent, with high ceilings, stained glass windows, and statues which flank students and tourists who pass through almost continuously.
The library was also featured in the movie The Darkest Hour, as a replacement for WWII-era Houses of Parliament, and houses exhibitions covering the local area’s history.
4. Maughan Library, London
The main research library of King's College London, Maughan Library is a 19th-century neo-Gothic triumph which was designed by James Pennethorne and opened in 1851. The structure as we know it today is home to around 750,000 items.
The Grade II* listed building is located on Chancery Lane and is known for the round reading room and ivory-looking towers which mesmerise students and tourists alike.
5. Library of Birmingham, Birmingham
The Library of Birmingham opened in 2013 at a cost of £188.8 million and is the largest public library in the United Kingdom as well as the largest regional library in Europe. This modern masterpiece has won awards, including Architects' Journal Building of the Year 2013 and the RIBA West Midlands Regional Awards Building of the Year 2014.
If you’re in Birmingham, it’s worth a visit, whether you need a quiet space to read or study or want to take in one of the region’s most-loved modern public buildings.