It’s no secret that most modern Western literature either came from, was inspired by, or can be traced back to Europe in some way. The continent is a literal treasure trove of literary locations, inspirations, and history. This is likely why so many literary aficionados make, at some point in their lives, a pilgrimage to bask in the wonder of the places that have shaped our lives in so many ways.
Bodleian Libraries – Oxford
Among some of the most celebrated libraries in the world are those at Oxford. Their collections are incomparable. Some of their buildings have been in active use since the Middle Ages. The libraries group includes research, faculty, department and institutional libraries, the principal of which is the Bodleian Library (also known as ‘the Bod’), named for Thomas Bodley, chief benefactor and instrument of the Oxford library’s survival of the purge of Catholicism by the Dean of Christ Church in 1550.
Modern tourists can take 30, 60 or 90 minute guided tours of the library which include Duke Humfrey’s Library, the Divinity School, the Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and a visit to the Radcliffe Camera, home of the Radcliffe Science Library.
Word on the Water – London
Originally a 50-foot-long Dutch barge built in the 1920s, Word on the Water is a floating bookstore on Regents Canal near King’s Cross in London. One of the few barges on the canal granted a permanent berth, the bookstore offers not only a warm fire for winter reading, but summer performances including everything from folk groups to jazz bands as well as poetry slams in its rooftop garden.
Mid-week visits tend to find the shop less crowded, with a higher availability of cosy chairs to relax in while you peruse new and used books. Keep your eyes open for Star, the shop’s resident dog, and a couple of cats which can occasionally be found roaming the decks.
Trinity College Library – Dublin
The oldest of the Trinity College Library buildings completed construction in 1732. With over six million printed volumes covering over 400 years of literary achievement, Trinity College Library is permanent home to the Brian Boru harp (the national symbol of Ireland) as well as the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Ussher Collection. The library’s main chamber, the Long Room, is nearly 65 meters (213 feet) in length, and holds around 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.
For a crowd free exploration of the library, visitors can purchase a fast-track ticket and show up a little bit before opening time, making you one of the first people allowed in. Tickets to see the Book of Kells also gives entrance to the Long Room, and guided tours of Trinity College that include the Trinity College Library are available as well.
Gladstone’s Library – Hawarden, Wales
Memorial to four-time Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, Gladstone’s Library was known as St. Deiniol’s Library from its founding in 1894 until 2010, when it was renamed for its founder. The current building wasn’t constructed until after Gladstone’s death, and currently it houses not only the library itself, but a restaurant, a chapel, conference facilities and 26 bedrooms which are available for those who are looking for a truly unique experience.
Throughout the year, the library hosts a series of events focused around William Gladstone’s personal areas of interest such as religion and theology, history and politics, and 19th-century literary culture. The Reading Rooms at Gladstone are filled with desks and comfortable arm chairs, providing a pleasant, peaceful atmosphere for students, researchers, historians, academics, theologians, and award-winning novelists, scriptwriters, poets, and playwrights.
Access to the Reading Rooms is as a member, residential guest or on a “Glimpse” tour which runs at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm completely free of charge. Glimpses take around 10 minutes and include a history of the Library before a short visit to the silent History Room. The tours cannot be booked in advance, and are offered on a first come, first served basis.
Located on the Welsh side of the border between England and Wales, Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli Gandryll) is world renowned for having the most bookstores per capita in a single town. Trains run on a regular basis from London and other major cities to Hereford, a town about twenty miles away. From there, visitors can take advantage of a regular Stagecoach service that will take you from Hereford’s train station right to the middle of Hay-on-Wye. The town has about 1500 residents, and the average tourist can circumnavigate the town on foot in about 20 minutes, so you won’t find any sort of public transit within the city.
The annual book festival (The Hay Festival) is held in Hay-on-Wye to celebrate books and the town itself. The festival lasts for two weeks, and has happened in early June (usually) every year for over thirty years. Drawing book lovers, writers, and artists the normally tiny population jumps to nearly half a million during the festival season.
If major festivals aren’t your cup of tea, there are many other festivals and events that take place in the town throughout the year, including Hay-on-Wye Food Festival, Hay Arts and Crafts Festival, Hay-on-Wye Horse and Pony Show, Hay-on-Wye Winter Food Festival, and Hay Fever, the children’s book festival.
Strahov Library, Prague, Czech Republic
Strahov Monastery (Strahovský klášter) is a Premonstratensian abbey founded in 1143 in Strahov, Prague, Czech Republic. The monastery is home to the Strahov Library (Strahovská knihovna), the oldest section of which dates back to the early 1670s and is arguably one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
The library has three main areas to explore: The Grand Philosophical Hall, The Baroque Theological Hall and the Cabinets of Curiosities. The Grand Philosophical Hall contains over 42,000 philosophical texts watched over by frescoes painted by Anton Maulbertsch, representing humanity’s quest for knowledge and drive to learn the secrets of the universe.
The Theological Hall contains over 18,000 religious texts above which is a magnificently painted fresco depicting the ethos of the library that a person with great faith must also build on his knowledge and provide education for those who need it. Between the Philosophers Hall and the Theological Hall, are the Cabinets of Curiosities, each a tiny museum unto itself.
The library is open daily from 9am to 5pm (with a lunch break from 12pm-1pm). The entry price for the Library and Pictures gallery is around CZK 120, and there is a small fee if you want to take pictures.
Book Tower, Municipal Library, Prague, Czech Republic
Not to be outdone, the Prague Municipal Library (Městská knihovna) partnered with artist Matej Kren to install “Idiom” an incredible book tower. With mirrors in placed at the top and bottom of a cylindrical tower made of books, Visitors peek through the opening on one side of the tower which presents the illusion of a tower of books which extends infinitely. There is generally a short wait before you can line yourself up to get the perfect photo, but the tower is a beautiful site to see and well worth the stop!
The Municipal Library is also home to the Prague City Gallery, a home for contemporary artists to display their work. Founded from the small collection belonging to the Prague Municipal Government, the gallery is situated in exhibition halls reserved specifically for it. As one of the most important galleries in the Czech Republic, it is a single facet of seven gallery locations throughout the city.
Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland
The Abbey Library of Saint Gall (Stiftsbibliothek) was founded by Saint Othmar, who also founded the Abbey itself. While the Abbey of Saint Gall was destroyed in a fire in 937 CE, the original section of the library was untouched, and to this day it holds some of the oldest collections in Switzerland covering 12 centuries of continuous collecting.
Currently the collections reside in the new (mid 1700s) Rococo styled hall designed by architect Peter Thumb. With elaborate art installed on the ceiling whose frames flow into the curved molding of the hall itself, the library is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the library as photographs of any kind (including cell phones) are forbidden.
If you are a book lover with an unquenchable sense of wanderlust, the Bibliophile’s Tour of Europe is just what you’ve been waiting for. To explore some or all of these phenomenal libraries, give us a call and we will help you plan an excursion to remember.