The Most Beautiful Library in the World

Considered by many to be the most visually striking library in the world, the Old Library of Trinity College Dublin is a sight not to be missed.

History of the Long Room

Nestled within the heart of Trinity College, the Long Room is one of the most striking aspects of the university. Built between 1712 and 1732 as part of the college's Old Library, it was designed to house the expanding collection of books, because since 1801 the college is entitled to one free copy of every book published in Ireland and Britain. Needless to say, the Long Room soon outgrew its humble beginnings and in 1860 the beautiful barrel ceiling was added, expanding the space into the architectural marvel we see now.

A beautiful photo of the Long Room at Trinity College.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

To walk through the Long Room is to feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. The room stretches for over 65 metres, with the oak-panelled walls rising to a breathtaking height of nearly 14 metres. Sunlight streams in through the arched windows, casting warmth upon row after row of books. Long ladders allow access to the higher volumes, while spiral staircases take readers to the upper levels.

Treasures at Trinity College

Aside from being a book-lover's dream setting, the Long Room is famous for hosting two items in particular: the Book of Kells, and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

The Book of Kells is an ancient masterpiece of calligraphy and art, dating back over twelve hundred years. It came to Trinity College in 1661 for safekeeping from the Cromwellian raids of the time and went on display in the 19th century. Created by monks in either Scotland or Ireland (the debate on this still rages on!), it is a hand-written and -illustrated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Combining intricate Christian icons with Celtic knots, mythical creatures, and human and animal figures, carefully etched onto vellum, the Book of Kells has been celebrated for centuries for its beauty and craftsmanship.

A spiral staircase inside the Long Room at Trinity College Library.
Photo Credit: Josh Ellis Photography

This ever-popular tourist attraction offers a glimpse into the rich cultural and artistic heritage of medieval Europe and is well-worth the often-long queues.

Another wonderful display in the Long Room is of one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. This document is the physical embodiment of the intention to have the Republic of Ireland as a free state, having been ruled by Britain for centuries. Along with these very notable examples, you can also find treasures like “Brian Boru’s Harp” (a medieval instrument which was used as the model for the coat of arms of Ireland, as well as the trademarked Guinness Stout logo) and a variety of marble busts of college patrons, famous writers, and philosophers.

Harry Potter and the Long Room

Having seen the amazing photos of the space, many have wondered were the library scenes in Harry Potter filmed in the Long Room? Unfortunately, the answer is no - it was actually filmed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The Horcrux cave is in Ireland though, at the cliffs of Moher, if you did want an IRL visit to a Harry Potter movie location while travelling the country. Speaking of movies, The Jedi archives of the Jedi Temple in the movie Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clone also look incredibly similar, but the movie makers apparently dispute the Long Room as being the model for their Jedi Archives, even if they do look strikingly alike...

A low-angle shot of the bookshelves in the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Planning your visit

Located at College Green, Dublin 2, Trinity College is mere minutes away from other Dublin highlights like St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street, The Spire, Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. When you walk in the main gates, carry on straight into the Library Square and the Old Library will be on your right. The College is accessible by bus, DART and easily walkable from the previous locations mentioned.

The tour of the Long Room at Trinity College is self-guided, allowing visitors to explore at their own pace.  Going around the Long Room itself typically takes around 30 to 40 minutes, but visitors are welcome to spend as much time as they want in the library. The entire Book of Kells experience takes around ninety minutes.  

There are currently vast restoration works going on with volumes in the Old Library, so only the first four rows in the Long Room currently hold books... but the space is still stunning to visit. See a cool timelapse of the books being removed here:

Early bird adult entry to the Book of Kells Experience costs €21.50 and this includes The Book of Kells & the Old Library, The Long Room, The Book of Kells 360 interactive exhibit, and more. It's advisable to book online to bypass potential queues, and for those who wish to explore at a quieter time, the later afternoon slots are generally less busy, as larger tour groups often begin early in the day.

The exhibit is open seven days a week, and winter opening hours are 9.30 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.  

Trinity College also offers a Virtual Library as well as a certain amount of the Book of Kells in digital format.

A floor plan on how to locate the Trinity College Library in Dublin.

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