The prettiest library in Rio de Janeiro is sandwiched between graffiti-tagged buildings on an uneven brick road northwest of downtown. On its facade, the busts of famous Portuguese explorers peer down on pigeons picking at litter and weeds poking through the sidewalk.

The Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura, which roughly translates to royal reading room, was built in 1837. It houses more than 350,000 works from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, as well as a small collection of paintings and old coins.

A man reads in the Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura

A man reads in the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura. The royal reading room houses more than 350,000 works from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

The library is the brainchild of Portuguese immigrants who wanted to bring the literature of their homeland to the new colony.

Now the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura has the largest collection of Portuguese titles outside of Portugal.

The walls of Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura

The walls of the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura. The library holds the largest collection of Portuguese titles outside of Portugal.

Despite the library’s impressive collection, all the books on the first floor’s shelves appeared fake.

Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura fake books

The books on the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura’s first floor appeared to be fakes.

The library’s constructed in the Manueline style, which just means it was built in the manner popular during the time of Portuguese king D. Manuel I, who ruled from 1495 to 1521.

The facade was inspired by the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, resting spot of the explorer Vasco de Gama. Inside the library, three stories of wooden shelves stretch up to an iron skylight and chandelier.

Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura skylight

The iron skylight of the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura.

It’s free to pop into the library for reprieve from the crowds and noise in the city’s Centro district. The library is about a 15 minute walk from Tiradentes Palace.

The surrounding area is a little gritty, but we felt safe walking around during the day. At the time of this post, the library’s hours were Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm.

Real Gabinete Portugues da Leitura interior

Pop into the Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura for a free reprieve from the crowds and noise of the city center.

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