The Netherlands has an impressive collection of (public) libraries where you can find rare books, artworks, and countless collections of objects that tell the stories of different cities, their origins, and their inhabitants.
They’re also a paradise where bookworms come to peruse and congregate — and the Netherlands is home to some real architectural masterpieces.
Here’s a look at 11 of the Netherlands most beautiful libraries — from historic university libraries to the most special public spaces. They’re all worth a visit, and you may even be inspired to check out a book!
1. Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA), Amsterdam
With no less than 28,000 square meters, the OBA is the largest library in the Netherlands. Since 1919, the OBA has been where Amsterdam residents congregate for both interaction and personal development.
It’s a stimulating and vibrant place, where the many languages and cultures from the city come together, learn from one another, and discuss matters in the city and the whole country, focusing on social themes such as health, activism, sustainability, etc.
Don’t miss the beautiful wall poems and the café with the largest collection of magazines ever. And don’t forget to check out the seventh floor, which houses a theatre and a restaurant with a terrace that offers a spectacular view of the entire city.
The modern library building has 300 workplaces, 1,000 seats, several meeting rooms and even a library theatre that hosts events. With 177,000 members, more than 3.5 million visitors and almost 7,000 activities per year, the OBA is the most visited cultural meeting place in Amsterdam.
Location: Oosterdokskade 143, 1011 DL, Amsterdam
Website: Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam
2. Handelingenkamer, The Hague
The inner part of the building complex of the House of Representatives used to house the Ministry of Justice, where you find the striking red former library, more commonly known today as the Old Library.
The Handelingenkamer houses rows of bound books with written reports and minutes. You can find all the written reports of the meetings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the past 200 years there — should you ever have the wish. 😉
When the complex was built at the end of the 19th century, there was no electricity. Combustible substances, such as candles and gas lamps, had to be kept away from the library to prevent fires. To allow as much light as possible, the roof was constructed as a leaded glass dome. Although the library is four storeys high, the floors are well lit due to the open cast-iron staircases and balustrades.
TIP: The Handelingenkamer can only be visited on Open Monumentendag (Open Monuments Day). You’ll probably have to stand in a queue for it, but it’s definitely worth it.
Location: Long Legs 4, 2511 CL The Hague
Website: Handelingenkamer, The Hague
3. TU Delft Library
The TU Delft Library is one you definitely want to visit on a sunny day because then you can lay on top of the lawn — where it merges into the roof of the building!
The centre of the library houses a huge cone, a symbol of technology depicting what the school is all about. And when you take a peek inside, you can see a gigantic bookcase that runs from the ground floor to the ceiling.
In addition to teaching rooms, project rooms and quiet (study) rooms, the TU Delft Library also offers good facilities for small businesses.
Location: Prometheusplein 1, 2628 ZC Delft
Website: TU Delft Library
4. Boekenberg, Spijkenisse
The Boekenberg’s shape with its characteristic gabled roof is inspired by a barn, referring to the agricultural past of Spijkenisse. This also applies to the interior, with the red bricks evenly laid on the floor and the bookshelves that meander through the entire library.
When you stand outside the library, you can see the books through the glass walls, and once inside, you see how cool it is that the terraces with bookcases literally form a mountain of books.
The way upstairs leads past a coffee corner, nice seating areas, and lots of greenery. This is a building that basically beckons you to come and read.
Location: Markt 40, 3201 CZ Spijkenisse
Website: Boekenberg Spijkenisse
5. LocHal, Tilburg
Reading and borrowing books alone is not enough these days. If there is one library that has understood that, it is the LocHal Library in Tilburg. The building houses a new kind of hybrid library: a place for visitors to view and borrow books and other kinds of media and collectables.
The Tilburg library is housed in a former locomotive shed in the railway zone next to the Central Station, an area that has been transformed step by step into a new heart of the city. Large open spaces and floor areas are in line with the heritage value of the monumental hall and with the idea of an ‘open library.
The glass and steel building still retains the industrial character of years past. For example, the original floor — with grease pits and rails — has been well preserved. And many materials used in the building were recycled.
The building has won numerous awards. In 2019, it was declared the best building in the world!
Location: Burgemeester Brokxlaan 1000, 5041 SG Tilburg
Website: LocHal Tilburg Library
6. De Jutter Library, Vlieland
The idea behind the design of this special library — and school — is almost like a mega tent in a dune. The wooden and glass building has a large canopy, the side elevations are tapered, and the colours match the surrounding pine trees.
The colours in the building were not chosen randomly. The aerial pictures of Vlieland were used for the colour of the floors, and the greenery of the surrounding woods and different colours of the beach and dunes can also be seen in the building.
Location: Lutinelaan 3, 8899 BD Oost-Vlieland
Website: De Jutter Vlieland
7. University of Utrecht Library
This beautiful library is located in the former palace of Louis Napoleon. The King had the palace built in 1807 when he moved from The Hague to Utrecht to escape the sea breeze, which he said was bad for his skin. It became a 30 meter long Grande Galerie with a ballroom, two salons and a court chapel. But this stately, stylish building soon housed the library of Utrecht University.
The University Library today owns a collection of manuscripts, early printed books and maps, which are housed in the Special Collections section. Among the manuscripts are about 700 medieval manuscripts, 1000 manuscripts from after the Middle Ages, the Utrecht Organ Archive, written lecture notes from the 16th century, and so much more.
Location: Drift 27, 3512 BR Utrecht
Website: University of Utrecht Library
8. Korenbeurs, Schiedam
“If you have a garden in your library, you will want for nothing” (Cicero, 106–42 BC). This saying from the Roman statesman hangs in this beautiful library in Schiedam.
The main branch of the Schiedam Library is located in the historic Korenbeurs. The former merchant’s fair from 1792 was built under the guidance of Giovanni Giudici, an Italian architect who lived in the Netherlands. He clearly chose the style of classicism; buildings in that style are somewhat reminiscent of a temple.
The Korenbeurs is a place to enjoy some peace and quiet, a good book, a delicious cup of coffee, and of course, a hearty snack! You can see statues of Mercury and Neptune at the top of the sandstone facade. And on top of the building is a wooden bell tower.
Location: Lange Haven 145, 3111 CD Schiedam
Website: Korenbeurs Schiedam
9. Neude Library, Utrecht
Is it a library or a church of books? Thanks to the imposing hall with beautiful brick arches, it looks like you are entering a cathedral — the beautiful result of a former post office from 1924 being transformed into a library.
It’s often hard to imagine that post offices in the Netherlands were once extremely beautiful and grand buildings when you see the current postal service points all over the country. The truth is, in the past, post offices were expected to radiate grandeur. While nowadays, grand post office buildings are no longer as common as they used to be, Neude Library helps give one an insightful look into what they used to look like.
Upon entering, you immediately step into the grandiose hall with its parabolic arches of yellow brick. Nice details such as the carrier pigeons made of stone refer to what post offices do. And don’t miss the black sculptures in Art Deco style by Hendrik van den Eijnde. These human figures represent the continents and symbolise the idea that mail connects people and countries.
The beautiful Neude Library is where the post office meets books and has so many details that make it unique and eye-catching. It is definitely worth a visit!
Location: Neude 11, 3512 AE Utrecht
Website: Neude Library, Utrecht
Tip: You can take a tour of the library. There are almost 1000 bookcases and more than 300 study places and a cinema, theatre, and breakfast bar.
10. Rotterdam Library
Due to the steel pipes along the facade, this building is often compared to the Center Pompidou in Paris. The building is full of nice details, such as the entrance with many lamps and the life-size chess game. On the fifth floor, the Rotterdam skyline is depicted on the window.
For a library that has its roots from the year 1604, Rotterdam Library has a lot of history in not just the books on its shelves but also the story that the building tells. Today, with 2.6 million visitors, 830,000 materials, 2.9 million book loans, hundreds of cultural activities and 100,000 members, the library is the busiest cultural institution in Rotterdam.
Location: Hoogstraat 110, 3011 PV Rotterdam
Website: Rotterdam Library
11. Cuypers Library, Amsterdam
A lot is popular about the Rijksmuseum, but few people actually know that it also has a library. One of the most impressive spaces in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, designed by Pierre Cuypers, is the high, monumental library hall: the Cuypers Library.
As visitors wander through the Rijksmuseum, they are bound to pass this great 19th-century reading room. Tourists, students, and art historians are encouraged to visit and immerse themselves in the unique collection of the Rijksmuseum’s Cuyper Library.
A cast-iron spiral staircase gives access to four galleries as light enters through the frosted glass of a roof truss. The walls and ceilings used to be elaborately decorated until they were painted over in 1921.
The Cuypers Library is the largest and oldest art historical library in the Netherlands. Until 2004, this space housed the library of the Rijksmuseum. Once started as a handbook for the Rijksprentenkabinet, the library is now the largest art history library in the Netherlands with 250,000 book titles, 3,350 magazine titles and 60,000 auction catalogues.
Location: Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
Website: Cuypers Library Amsterdam
Which of these libraries are you dying to visit? Join in the discussion below! Got any others to add to the list?
Feature Image: Ticket to Tilburg/Supplied