Common misconceptions of Africa include the ideas that everyone lives in poverty or one of the few things that tourists can do while there is visit safaris throughout the continent. Although those activities are worth the travel costs, Africa has other attractions that can lure its visitors, including stunning African libraries. 

Along with its diverse culture that has 1,500 languages and 16 percent of the world’s population, it’s no surprise that there are African libraries to be explored by tourists and book lovers from all over the world.

Travel Noire has compiled this list of five of the most stunning African libraries you should have on your bucket list.

1. Library Of Alexandria

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The most famous library in Africa is the historic Library of Alexandria.

Located on the shore of Alexandria, this library has enough room for over eight million books.

Currently, the book collection is at about one million, half of which were donated from the National Library of France. The library holds the largest collection of French-language books in Africa and the sixth largest in the world. The rest are mostly in Arabic and English.

The library also has a conference center, four museums, 19 art galleries, a manuscript restoration laboratory and multimedia library.

2. Saint Catherine's Monastery Library, Egypt

Also located in Egypt, Saint Catherine’s Monastery was established in 381 A.D. This is widely considered the oldest monastery in the world.

Its library was built around the sixth century, which makes it one of the oldest continuously running libraries on Earth. The library has an astonishing collection, holding over 3,500 titles in several idioms, ranking the second library of its kind after the Vatican’s.

One of the monastery’s most important holdings is the Achtiname, which contains a promise from Muhammad himself offering his protection to the monastery.


3. Kenya National Library

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Kenya National Library is the first sub-Saharan African library on our list. This beautiful building was renovated and reopened in 2020.

The reception desk at the rebuilt Kenya National Library is adorned with relief sculptures of drums, accentuating the main theme of the Library building and the importance of drums in African culture.

Special features of the library include a 300-person capacity children’s theater, a 50-person capacity senior citizen section and four auditoriums with a combined capacity of 1,200 people, tailored to provide spaces for local authors and artists to showcase their work.

The new building also has a section for persons with disability where books and other materials are available in different formats including Braille, audiobooks and large print formats. Sanaa Centre, a 500-seater gallery, is also available for local artists to showcase their creativity.

4. Balme Library, Ghana

The Balme Library at the University of Ghana is considered one of Africa’s premier research libraries.

Built in the 1940s, it boasts over 100,000 books, 500 microfilms, a variety of electronic titles, and scarce manuscripts, including Arabic books as well as an extensive Africana collection of books and primary source materials from countries across the continent.

5. Al-Qarawiyyin Library, Morroco

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The oldest library in the world was reopened for visitors in 2016, after  extensive renovation. Located in Fez, Morroco, and founded in 859, the library holds ancient manuscripts that date as far back as 12 centuries.

The public will be able to wander through a complex that includes a reading room, book stacks, a conference room, a manuscript restoration laboratory, and a rare book collection — along with new administrative offices and a café.