11 Most Beautiful Libraries in Oxford
Insider Oxford is supported by readers like you. If you buy something through the links on the website, I may earn a small commission. Cheers! Learn More
Ready to discover the most beautiful libraries in Oxford? These are the gorgeous buildings you need to check out on your next trip.
With its historic buildings and the famous University, it should come as no surprise that Oxford is known for its beautiful libraries. In fact, there are 28 making up the wider Bodleian Library alone.
Not sure which ones to visit? Or want to explore all of them but don’t know how? Well, that’s why we’re here.
Get bookish at one of these stunning Oxford libraries.
11 Beautiful Libraries in Oxford
All Souls College Library (Formerly The Codrington)
The All Souls College Library is unlike any library – as soon as you step into it you can feel the culture fill your bones. It’s a special one and has a vast history.
Despite the library being founded after the Hundred Year’s War in 1428, the library wasn’t completed until 1751. The fortune put into the library at the time by Christopher Codrington was in fact money that had orginigs in the slave trade.
In 2020, the library announced that it was no longer going to call it ‘The Codrington Library, ’ acknowledging that plantations worked by enslaved people were the source of revenue for the library.
The beautiful architecture and incredible selection of books make this library a must-visit on your trip around Oxford libraries.
Bodleian Old Library
Whilst the Bodleian Libraries are a collection of 28 different libraries, the Bodleian Old Library is arguably one of the most famous (and beautiful) of the bunch. It’s connected to the Radcliffe Camera via an underground link and boasts three reading rooms.
Rows upon rows of books here are available to peruse – though you won’t be able to take any books out of the library, feel free to head here and study or read for a few hours. The library is open for students and visitors alike, though you’ll need to apply for a card here.
The Radcliffe Camera
Without a doubt, the Radcliffe Camera is the most iconic library in Oxford – the Rad Cam is both an Oxford landmark and a working library which is part of the central Bodleian Library complex.
The library is a huge symbol of Oxford, and you will recognize the library on many postcards or pictures of Oxford University.
The library is a celebration of incredible architectural design and a masterpiece in its own right – you will have seen the library in many TV series or films, including the famous Inspector Morse. It’s quite the treat and a very special library to visit.
Duke Humfrey’s Library
Duke Humfrey’s Library is most known for being the oldest reading room in the building as well as being the library that was used as the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films. If that isn’t reason enough to visit, we don’t know what is.
The library was mainly used for researchers in codicology, bibliography and local history but now a lot of the material has been moved to the Weston Library.
The library is a must-visit, have a look around and check out the stunning portraits of founders and wander through the H-shape first-floor library.
The Fellow’s Library at Jesus College
The Fellow’s Library is a fine 17th century room which holds the College’s 11500 early printed books.
This library has some seriously rare books, including a 1545 Greek Bible with the signatures of Philip Melanchton and other 16th-century reformers.
The wark wood and antique bookshelves make you feel like you’ve walked straight into a film, it’s absolutely breathtaking and one of our favourites out of the Oxford libraries. If you’re looking for the most beautiful aesthetically pleasing library, this one is for you.
Lincoln College Library
The Lincoln College Library is one of the most beautiful libraries in Oxford, potentially even all over the world. The library is open long hours and has almost 100 spaces to study.
The beautiful windows, chandelier in the middle of the room and long table at the centre makes it feel more like you’re about to sit down for a banquet meal than study.
By far the most inspiring of all the Oxford libraries and a room that you will never forget, the Lincoln College Library has our vote for the best library in Oxford.
The library is one of the best examples of detailed and elaborate architectural design that will have you staring into space for a long time.
The Upper Library at Merton College
The Upper Library at Merton college is much darker than the others and it feels as though you’ve stepped into a piece of rare history. The library building dates back to 1373 and is in fact the oldest continuously functioning library for uni students in the world!
The vast collection of manuscripts, early printed books and personal papers of notable Mertonians such as Irvine and Beerbohm is definitely something to note and a reason to take your first step in this magical Oxford library.
The library is an international phenomenon and people travel far and wide to visit this special place. Make sure you put it at the top of your list as a must-see library in Oxford!
The Old Library at Oxford Union
So, this library has no affiliation with the university itself but has become one of the most famous libraries for students because of its great range and incredible décor. This is the ballroom of all libraries.
The best part about this library are its murals, which were created by a group of young artists between 1857 and 1859. The incredibly talented group included the likes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.
Whoever you are, trust us, you will fall in love with this library. There’s something so special about it that makes it stand out from the others, and in some ways, you have to see it to believe it.
Taylor Institution at The Bodleian Libraries
A library mainly dedicated to the Western European Modern Languages, including French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Ditch Duolingo and head here instead.
The library owes its time and existence to the highly successful London architect Robert Taylor and the purpose of the library was always to provide a working collection to support the languages rather than simply having a lot of rare books, and it does just that.
A much-loved library for students and definitely one of the most beautiful libraries in the UK, this library is a very special place.
St Edmund Hall’s Library
The St Edmund Hall’s Library boasts the rightful claim that it lives in one of the oldest churches in Oxford… and that is pretty cool. The library is the most beautiful depiction of mediaeval architecture and design and you can notice many elements of it such as the mediaeval well and quadrangles.
It’s quirky, cool and very aesthetically pleasing.
Holding over 40,000 titles, it’s also constantly kept up to date. If anything, this library is a positive and supportive place for members of the college and one that is most loved.
With its striking Grade II-listed exterior and impressive decor inside, Rhodes House was certainly one of the most beautiful libraries in Oxford.
Its catalogue was taken from the Bodleian Library and specialised in Commonwealth, African and West Indies collections of work, and so it was the place to come if you’re looking for a glimpse into the history and culture of these areas.
That was, until everything at Rhodes House was transported to the Weston Library, where a huge collection of books, academic papers, and artefacts are now stored.
Practical Tips for Visiting Oxford’s Libraries
- Always check the websites for visiting and opening hours, some colleges are stricter than others and there’s no point just turning up as you won’t be let in.
- Oxford libraries are some of the most beautiful libraries in the world and you’ll want to soak up as much knowledge as possible – so take your time and look into potentially getting a guide or doing a tour.
- As a general rule of thumb for Oxford, you’ll be walking a lot so make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes!