There’s something magical about a library, from the abundance of books to the quiet, relaxing atmosphere. If you’re a book worm on the hunt for the best libraries in England, this is the list you need. From massive modern ones to dark, gothic ones, to the ones that are home to your favourite books, check out some of the most beautiful and historic libraries in the country. Here is our list of the best libraries in England…
If you’re the kind of person who can spend hours looking at book spines and searching for your next read, hanging out in a library is probably your idea of a day out (and we’re totally on board!)
Book lovers can’t get enough of England’s libraries, because we have some of the oldest, most beautiful libraries in the world. All over the country you’ll find amazing spaces designed for browsing, reading and working, so if you’re on the lookout for the best libraries in England, you’re sure to find some on this list.
Hop on a train to some of these great cities, from academic Oxford to bustling London to creative Liverpool, and check out each city’s very best libraries.
The Best Libraries in England
Looking for England’s best libraries? Read on!
1. Bodleian Library, Oxford
If you’re visiting Oxford and you love books, you can’t skip a visit to the Bodleian Libraries. This collection of libraries comprises several different libraries and rooms, the first of which was founded back in 1602, so you’ll feel the history the second you step through the door. Its reading rooms have hosted many famous faces over the years, from Prime Ministers to authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
As one of the oldest libraries in Europe, the rooms in the Bodleian Libraries have been the backdrop for several films and television shows over the years, such as Harry Potter (explore the library as part of your Harry Potter day out in England). Inside you’ll find three famous reading rooms: the Lower Reading Room, the Upper Reading Room, and Duke Humfrey’s Library.
The interior provides an atmosphere that many seek out to work in or soak up some knowledge from the books. Fun fact: The Bodleian Libraries contain over 13 million printed items! So this is definitely one of the best libraries in England, and you can pair it with these other great ideas for a wonderful day out in Oxford.
2. The John Rylands Library, Manchester
The John Rylands Library is home to one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts, so it’s a pretty special place to add to your library list. It’s part of the University of Manchester, and their Historic Reading Room is stunning inside; it has the aesthetic of a church with each alcove offering space for private study, writing, or any other academic work you might need to do while visiting.
One thing you’ll want to look out for here is the toilets, which remain as they were in 1900 — if you love Victorian history don’t forget to pop to the loo!
If you love the feeling of stepping back in time, this is definitely one of the best libraries in England. Whether you’re going there for some quiet time to study or you’re just going to wander and take in all those spines and the smell of old books, you’ll love this Neo-gothic building and its atmosphere.
3. Library of Birmingham, Birmingham
The Library of Birmingham is, unsurprisingly, in Birmingham, and has a huge collection of archives, photography and rare books to marvel at. The exterior design of the building is the first thing to wow you, designed by Francine Houben of Mecanoo and her team, it’s clearly a stunning fixture amoung the surrounding Birmingham buildings and draws you inside. Her design was apparently ‘inspired by the energy of this great city’.
Inside you’ll find the BFI Mediatheque which offers free access to the National Film Archive, as well as a studio theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre and other performance and work spaces for young people. The Library of Birmingham has got to be on our list of the best libraries in England, as it was at one point named the most popular visitor attraction outside of London.
4. The Lit & Phil, Newcastle
The Literary & Philosophical Society in Newcastle is nicknamed the Lit & Phil, and it’s an independent library you must add to your list for several reasons. One, it’s very close to Central Station, two, it’s a learning hub for the city, and three… well just look at it!
Opened in 1825, the Lit & Phil was not originally intended as a library, but rather a space for lectures, discussion and experiments. But as more and more books found themselves in its halls, and the collections grew, it became what it is today — it contains around 200,000 collections.
Whether you’re looking to find one of the hundreds of volumes printed before 1701, or you’re keen to check out the newly published crime fiction, the Lit & Phil is a great place for lovers of literature, and certainly one of the best libraries in England.
5. The British Library, London
How could we list the best libraries in England without mentioning one of the biggest and best?!
The British Library is home to a staggering 150 million printed items, and continues to receive a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland — pretty impressive! From books to music manuscripts to maps and stamp collections, it has so much to discover all in one building.
You’ll also find some exhibitions on British History to make your visit extra interesting, and you can sit in the quiet of their reading rooms to absorb a book, study, or whatever else you enjoy.
Their collection include ‘artefacts from every age of written civilisation’, and they continue to add more and more fascinating work every year. You can check out the primary site in London or their other site in Yorkshire if you’re up north. Either way, you’ll be inside one of the best libraries in England.
6. Liverpool Central Library, Liverpool
Yes, the Liverpool Central Library is brilliant, but when you visit, all focus is on the Picton Reading Room which is what makes this one of the best libraries in England. This huge circular room is famous for its domed ceiling, and is really something to behold. It plays host to their extensive reference collections, and they also have the historic Oak Room and the Hornby Library, which are home to some of their other special collections and rare books.
In the library itself, you’ll come across architecture dating back to 1860, as well as more modern sections, so it’s a lovely blend of old and new. You could easily spend a day there wandering the many reading rooms, checking out some of their rare volumes, sipping a tea in the cafe, visiting the roof terrace, or studying in one of their quiet spaces.
Whether you want to dig into the language courses, the graphic novels, or even bring the kids along to the dedicated children’s library, they have everything, so add this stop on to a great day out in Liverpool.
7. The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral, Hereford
For something a bit different, the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral is very unique and well worth a visit for any bookworms. Why chains, you ask? So that none of these rare, historic books can be taken out of the library. A chain is attached to the front cover of each book with the other end attached to the shelf, so you can bring it down to read it at the desk, but not remove it from the building. This system dates back to the 17th-century, and its original chains, rods and locks are still intact.
With books like the 8th-century Hereford Gospels onsite, it’s no wonder they want to keep these books thoroughly protected. Plus, they keep the books in controlled environmental conditions to preserve them. While not one of the biggest libraries in the country, we think given its unique protection system and historical books, it deserves a place on our list of the best libraries in England.
It could make for a great stop on your big day out in Hertfordshire.
8. Chetham’s Library, Manchester
Book lovers will love this one, as it’s the oldest public library in the English speaking world… and it’s in marvellous Manchester!
This one is seriously special because of its medieval look. With hundreds of books locked away, you’ll find yourself wanting to peek at all of them. In this library though, you can visit but you must make an appointment to see whatever book you have your eye on so the staff can help you.
The best way to see this library is via a tour, which you can book on their website. And it’s a nice bonus that your ticket price goes towards maintaining this beautiful space and its conservation projects.
Founded in 1653, Chetham’s Library has been designated as one of national and international importance, as it hosts a fine collection of early printed books, manuscript diaries, letters, deeds, paintings and many more key items. You can feel the importance when you walk in here, and you’ll leave knowing you saw something very special. Add this to your list of things to do in Manchester for a day out.
Ready to head to one of the best libraries in England? Whether it’s to use their quiet workspaces, check out a book you’ve had your eye on for a while, or just to snap a photo for your Instagram, these libraries have something for everyone so head to your nearest one with your book bag and soak up the atmosphere — you’ll fall in literary love!
Quick List: 8 of the Best Libraries in England
- Bodleian Library, Oxford
- The John Rylands Library, Manchester
- Library of Birmingham, Birmingham
- The Lit & Phil, Newcastle
- The British Library, London
- Liverpool Central Library, Liverpool
- The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral, Hereford
- Chetham’s Library, Manchester