The most gorgeous NYC libraries
This iconic location, proudly guarded by regal-looking marble lions, is among the city's most ornate public spaces. The pièce de résistance is of course the Rose Reading Room—who wouldn’t be inspired by all those crystal chandeliers? But if you’re here for the books, you won’t be disappointed either: There are some 50 million items spread out across these stacks.
Originally the private library of none other than John Pierpont Morgan—yup that J.P. Morgan—this lavish edifice was first dedicated to bookish pursuits in 1910. In 2006, a massive renovation by the famed Renzo Piano brought more natural light into the building and doubled the size of the exhibition space. Today, a museum welcomes visitors to see collections of original Michelangelo drawings and Steinbeck manuscripts and a theater, Gilder Lehrman Hall, regularly hosts recitals and concerts.
This former courthouse building has been an important part of the Greenwich Village community for more than four decades. Arched stained glass windows are some of the major architectural draws, along with carved doorways, a public garden, and a variety of mural-size artwork. Also, it looks like a freakin’ Victorian castle, so there’s that.
The townhouse-set New York Society Library includes some cozy reading rooms that are open to the public—but you have to be a member check out a book. (After all, it is called a society). But the Upper East Side location deserves a spot on this list regardless: It’s the oldest book lender in the city, opened in 1754, and holds some 300,000 volumes.
Designed to physically resemble an open book, this 1941 Art Deco building is arguably Brooklyn’s most popular library. Overlooking Grand Army Plaza, this branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system also boasts an outdoor performance space for concerts and other events. Among the library's strongest suits is its first-floor Youth Wing, with designated spaces for toddlers and teens to discover a love of reading.
Whether you’re looking for some worthwhile literature on your favorite ballroom dancer or would rather gawk at beautiful people—all while hanging out in a sleek, modern space—this library will not disappoint. Housed within the Lincoln Center complex, naturally, this branch of the NYPL is known specifically for the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, one of the world’s largest collections with works about the performing arts.
What better place to get some inspiration than this poetry mecca touting views of Rockefeller Park and the Hudson River? Founded in 1985 by poet laureate Stanley Kuntz, the whimsical, sunlit book den is fitted with quirky decor like a canoe-shape bookcase, an old-fashioned birdcage and antique school desks. And with some 70,000 volumes to peruse, there’s no doubt you’ll get your poetry fix here. The best part? It’s free and open to the public. There’s even a Children’s Room for the youngest sonneteers.
Opened in 1904, this library isn’t the largest even in Brooklyn, but it has an antiquated charm that makes it worth a stop if you’re a local or happen to be in the area. Architecture buffs will get a kick out of the century-old beaux arts building, which was thankfully saved from demolition in 2013 by City Council. It’s also notable for being the first Carnegie library in Brooklyn.
A bona fide historical landmark—it’s been added to both the National and State Registers of Historic Places—this Palladian-inspired, James Brown Lord–designed building is one of Manhattan’s most elegant. Opened officially in December of 1902, it was the first of the Carnegie-funded branches of the New York Public Library. Architecturally, it boasts a limestone facade with soaring arched windows and Ionic columns.