For me, Art Nouveau is without a doubt the most beautiful architectural style there is. And thankfully Art Nouveau spread throughout the European continent like wildfire which means you can see it almost wherever you go. We’ve teamed up with fellow travel bloggers to compile this list of the 12 best cities to see Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.
What is Art Nouveau?
Art Nouveau is a total art style popular between 1890 and 1910 especially in Europe and embracing a wide range of fine and decorative arts, including architecture, furniture, painting, jewelry, and more.
The new style (literally “new art”), rooted in the forms and colorations of nature, broke from the dark and complex 19th century esthetic by using illuminated interiors, wide expanses of glass, and elaborate iron structural flourishes. It was filled with light and promise, just as the future might have portended at the time as it emerged in the early 20th century.
Art Nouveau architecture can be seen in works of civil engineering, such as bridges, as well as in vernacular and non-vernacular buildings. This means Art Nouveau is omnipresent in the cityscape. As many other styles, Art Nouveau took on regionalized styles corresponding to regional tastes or available building materials. Some sub-movements are, for example, Modernisme in Spain, Secession in Austria, or Jugend in Finland. Art Nouveau later developed into the more geometric style of Art Deco.
12 Best Cities to See Art Nouveau in Europe
1. Vienna, Austria
‘To the Age its Art – to Art, its Freedom.’ This is what’s inscribed on the top of the Secession building in Vienna. Art Nouveau in Austria took on its own shape in the form of the Secession movement, led and shaped by artists such as Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, and Josef Hoffmann. The Secession building is easily recognizable due to its golden dome and lovingly called the ‘cabbage head building’ by locals. The building also features three gorgons, representing painting, sculpture, and architecture – the main pillars of the Secession movement.
Other notable Art Nouveau buildings in Vienna include stations, viaducts, and decoration of the former Stadtbahn. These were designed by Otto Wagner and can be found throughout the city. My favorite is without a doubt Karlsplatz station.
2. Helsinki, Finland
Finns are widely known for their stoic nature, so it may be a bit surprising that Helsinki is a top address for seeing playful Art Nouveau architecture. Indeed, the style is much more restrained than in other parts of Europe, but it is Art Nouveau nonetheless. In Finland, Art Nouveau is known as Jugend and can be found in both, works of civil engineering as well as residential buildings.
The most famous example of Jugend in Helsinki is the Helsinki Central Station. Not only does it feature a giant arched glass window, it is also adorned by beautiful sculptures. The sculptures at the entrance to the building are known as ‘the stone men’ or ‘the ball guys’. The building which dates back to 1914 was designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and is without a doubt one of the most recognizable buildings in all of Finland. For more Art Nouveau architecture in Helsinki, head to the district of Katajanokka which is dotted with beautiful apartment buildings in the Jugend style.
3. Riga, Latvia
Often overlooked, Riga is an architectural gem and one of my favorite cities for architecture anywhere in the world. About one-third of the historic center is made up of Art Nouveau buildings which makes Riga the city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. In the early 20th century, Latvia was experiencing rapid economic growth which flushed the city of Riga with money for construction projects. Compared to buildings in other parts of Europe, Art Nouveau in Riga can be a little more restrained in its ornamentation, but still makes use of bright colors and round shapes.
One of the city’s most famous buildings was designed by star architect Mikhail Eisenstein. This multi-story apartment building is a beautiful example of the highly decorated Art Nouveau style, featuring a bright blue facade, intricately sculpted ornaments, and mythological motifs. Interestingly, although the building is absolutely stunning it isn’t very representative of Art Nouveau in Riga. A more restrained example and better representation of the style in Riga would be the Ministry of Education.
4. Prague, Czech Republic
The Art Nouveau movement in Prague was led by architect Alfons Mucha and those who followed him. The city is dotted with beautiful Art Nouveau buildings. Thanks to the city’s compactness, you can see many of them while you are out sightseeing.
The leading Art Nouveau building in Prague is the Municipal Building, designed by Antonin Balsanek and Osvald Polivka and completed in 1911. However, my personal favorite is the Grand Hotel Europa, located on Wenceslas Square. The hotel received its Art Nouveau exterior between 1903 and 1905. Its facade is painted in a striking yellow, contrasted by its green balconies. However, it isn’t only the exterior that impresses, but also the interior. In fact, the beautiful interiors of the hotel have been featured in several Hollywood movies, such as Mission Impossible and Titanic.
5. Budapest, Hungary
Art Nouveau in Hungary was largely inspired by Hungarian and Transylvanian folklore and motifs. It quickly became a popular style among the affluent in the city. Although Art Nouveau buildings can be found all throughout Budapest, a few of them certainly stand out. Some of the best examples of the style are the Geological Institute, the Museum of Applied Arts, Gresham Palace, and Paris Department Store. The building that stands out the most, though, is without a doubt Gellert Baths.
The complex that houses a thermal spa was originally built between 1912 and 1918 but damaged in World War II and restored again afterward. It features round arches, intricately decorated columns, stained glass windows, and brightly colored tiles.
Leading up to the complex is Liberty Bridge. Although Art Nouveau is rarely associated with civil engineering projects, this bridge is Art Nouveau through and through. The top of its four masts are decorated with mythological ornaments.
6. St. Petersburg, Russia
In Russia, Art Nouveau was known as ‘stil modern’ or ‘The World of Art’. As opposed to other European countries, Art Nouveau in Russia drew its motifs from Russian folklore rather than nature. Architects in Russia often made use of bright and clashing colors during this time. The style quickly gained popularity in the early 20th century and hundreds of buildings were built in this new style, including residential buildings, churches, and more.
To find some of St. Petersburg’s finest examples of Art Nouveau, head to its main artery, Nevsky Prospekt. In particular, look out for the Singer Company House as well as the Eliseyev Emporium.
The Singer House towers over the street with its 6 stories of Art Nouveau ornaments. It’s easily recognizable due to its glass tower topped with a glass globe sculpture. Eliseyev Emporium is one of St. Petersburg’s most striking examples of Art Nouveau architecture and beloved by many today, although its design was controversial at the time. Its most distinguishing feature is a single arch which constitutes more than half of its entire facade.
7. Barcelona, Spain
Recommended by Claire from Tales of a Backpacker
Barcelona is the best city in the world to see Modernist architecture, a specific style of Art Nouveau which Antoni Gaudí made his own. Gaudí’s works are dotted all around the city, and it would take days to see them all. A good place to start is to see Gaudí’s first commissioned work in Plaça Reial, two lamp posts which could easily go unnoticed. Nearby Palau Guell on Carrer Nou de la Rambla is a mansion that Gaudí designed for his patron Eusebio Guell, and is where the Guell family lived until they moved to Park Guell.
Park Guell is up in the hills above Barcelona, and is where Gaudi’s imagination began to run wild. The park was intended as a housing development, but only two houses were built, and unfortunately, no buyers came forward. The park is home to Gaudí’s famous lizard mosaic statue, and a beautiful terrace with mosaic tiles which has wonderful views of Barcelona. The Eixample area of the city has three of Gaudí’s most famous works; La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia, all of which you can admire from the outside, or explore inside to get a true sense of Gaudí’s vision. As a student, one of Gaudí’s tutors once said that he was either a genius or a madman, and seeing the beautiful, striking and bizarre designs it isn’t hard to see which he really was.
The Sagrada Familia is Gaudí’s masterpiece, which is still unfinished 135 years after construction began. The basilica is due to be completed in 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death, but time will tell if that timeline is realistic! The Sagrada Familia blends Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, and the design has evolved over the years, as it is said that Gaudí’s original plans were destroyed during the Spanish Civil war, so although the original features and interior are clearly Gaudí’s designs, the newer façades and towers are markedly different in style.
The exterior of the Sagrada Familia is magnificent, but the interior is truly spectacular, as Gaudí blended inspiration from nature to create a stunning place of worship. Columns stretch up to the roof and reach out like branches at the roof, and stained glass throws beautiful patterns of colored light inside, and it really does feel magical. If you only visit one of Gaudí’s works in Barcelona, it has to be the Sagrada Familia!
8. Glasgow, Scotland
Recommended by Nienke from The London Tester
Award-winning architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh transformed the way Glasgow looked in the 1890s and even developed his own ‘Glasgow Style’ together with contemporaries Margaret MacDonald (who married Charles later), Frances MacDonald and Herbert MacNair. Like other architects in Europe at the time, they drew from the natural world and put a strong focus on innovation and decoration. The Glasgow Style would eventually influence early schools of modernism.
Mackintosh’s style included plain surfaces, long flowing lines and attention to detail. During the First World War, he also focused on interior design featuring geometric designs and primary colors. His work can still be found throughout Glasgow, from the ‘The Hill House’ to ‘The Lighthouse’ and from ‘House for an Art Lover’ to the stunning ‘Willow Tea Rooms‘ (soon to be rebranded to ‘Mackintosh at the Willow’), where you can enjoy both the exterior as the interior over a cup of tea.
The Tea Rooms opened for business in October 1903 and feature an asymmetric facade that respected the neighboring buildings by matching the major lines and heights, but still explored the emerging ideas of Art Nouveau and the modern movement. It was finished with a white paint in contrast to the natural stone finish of nearby buildings. The windows are small-paned and everything together gives the building an elegance and lightness that you would expect in a Tea Room. The Tea Rooms are currently under renovation and will open to the public in July 2018.
9. Paris, France
Recommended by Elisa from World in Paris
Paris, the City of Lights, is well known for its beautiful architecture, especially for Art Nouveau architecture.
In Paris, we can find Art Nouveau architecture in the most well-to-do Paris districts, like Paris 7, Paris 8 and Paris 16. By the end of the 19th century several modifications of the Parisian building’s specifications “softened” the previous strict specifications. Whereas the buildings had to respect some characteristics like similar height, the architects could experience with new designs and materials creating an interesting mix of architectural styles. Parisian bourgeois with enough money were attired by all this new creativity and were happy to invest their money in a new house designed in Art Nouveau style.
One of the best Art Nouveau buildings in Paris is l’Immeuble Lavirotte (29 Avenue Rapp in Paris 7) designed by architect Jules Lavirotte between 1899 and 1901. This 6-floor building has a fantastic main façade, lavishly decorated with beautiful sculptures and ceramic tiles. The Immeuble Lavirotte was the winner in the Paris competition of new facades of 1901, a prize that catapulted to fame its architect. Today, Immeuble Lavirotte is classified a Historic Monument of France.
10. Brussels, Belgium
Recommended by Betsy from Passing Thru
If you have more than a passing interest, Brussels is the place to understand how the art nouveau architectural style gained a footing in Europe and around the world. Art nouveau in Brussels is alive and functioning today, a testimony to the timeless elements developed by its founding father, Architect Victor Horta, and his contemporaries leading up to the turn of the 20th century.
When in Brussels, visit the Horta Museum, housed in the architect’s personal residence and attached atelier (part of a UNESCO heritage designation). Close by, you can take a walking tour of significant buildings in the Ixelles, Uccle, Saint Gilles, and Bialli neighborhoods.
Worthy of note are the two additional Horta townhouses cited by UNESCO – Hôtel Tassel and Hôtel Solvay. For an interactive, immersive experience visit the Musee Fin-de-Siècle, which presents 3-D images of six houses in the style.
Balance your learning with atmospheric fine dining at Brasserie La Quincallerie, in a former hardware store designed by Horta’s colleagues. No matter whatever depth you wish to pursue your interest in art nouveau, Brussels will deliver an impressive experience.
11. Subotica, Serbia
Recommended by Kamila from My Wanderlust
Not many have heard about Subotica, Serbia – a sleepy town, located a few kilometers away from the border with Hungary. Yet this is one of the highlights of Serbia and the real gem of art-nouveau architecture in Central Europe. Even if the city dates back to the 6th century it developed rapidly during the Austria-Hungarian rule when it was one of the most important towns in the area. That’s also when all the grand Art Nouveau masterpieces were built.
The most beautiful one is Raichle Palace, which will be the first thing you see when you arrive in Subotica as it is located in front of the train station. It looks like from a fairy tale with curvy shapes and blue add-ons. But the further you walk into the city the more Art Nouveau buildings you will find: tenement houses, banks, palaces and many more. You don’t want to miss the town hall which hosts McDonald’s on the ground floor and yes, the interior of the fast-food chain is also in Art Nouveau style! Another building that you need to see is the synagogue which also impresses with Art Nouveau interiors.
If you have a chance you should also visit the nearby lakeside town Palic with even more amazing Art Nouveau gems!
12. Oradea, Romania
Recommended by Brigitta from Get Lost in the World; Photo by Perdy-Fazakas Brigitte
In the 19th century the city of Oradea, Romania witnessed an “architectural boom”, and it was often called “Little Paris” or “Paris of the Pece bank”. To discover some great examples of Art Nouveau architecture, start your tour at the Piata Unirii (Unirii square), where a lot of the (newly renovated) buildings can be found. Some well-known examples of this unique architectural style are: Black Eagle Palace (Palatul Vulturul Negru), Darvas-La Roche House, Sonnenfeld Palace, Moskovits Miksa Palace, Roth House, Apollo Palace, and Darvassy Palace.
The Ulmann Palace pictured above was designed by László and József Vágó in 1911. The building is representative of the Hebrew community of Oradea and a hidden gem of the city, as other important Art Nouveau buildings tend to steal its spotlight. This beautiful building was conceived as an apartment building with an inner courtyard as well.
The facade is built in symmetry, beautifully proportioned, carrying sacred Jewish symbols. The ones you can see on the picture are: Menorah (candlestick with seven branches) along with two lions and alluring floral elements.
Now, what do you think? What is the best city to see Art Nouveau in Europe? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!