Characterized by undulating lines and organic shapes, a bold new aesthetic swept cities like Barcelona, Vienna, and Prague in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Widely known as art nouveau, this artistic movement was adopted by architects, artists, designers, and craftspeople like Antoni Gaudi, Alfons Mucha, and Gustav Klimt. The movement, which combined fine arts with applied arts and focused on natural and mythological motifs, shaped some of Europe’s most memorable spaces and designs. Read on for a list of some of the best European cities to get a taste of all that art nouveau has to offer:
Riga boasts the highest concentration of art nouveau buildings worldwide, so the hard part is deciding where to start your tour. Begin on Alberta Street, where you can take in lavishly decorated houses (pictured at top) designed by Mikhail Eisenstein and the Riga Art Nouveau Museum. Continue on to the ornate but pragmatic public buildings in the city center like Riga’s Ministry of Education. Then, find your way to 2 Smilsu Street to ogle celebrated Latvian architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns’ most famous facade. Every window is of the building’s face is framed with different decorative stonework; one sculpture of a woman has even been declared “Miss Riga” by locals.
Here, art nouveau is known as modernisme and Antoni Gaudí is its king. While you should definitely make time to take in his Sagrada Familia, there’s much more Gaudí—not to mention modernisme—in Barcelona. Peek into the master’s beginnings with a tour of the first house he designed, the wild, colorful Casa Vicens. Then wander the streets of the Eixample district to get an idea of modernisme’s popularity at its peak: The area is home to modernista apartments, schools, and even a hospital—Sant Pau.
Prague, Czech Republic
Alfons Mucha put Prague on the art nouveau map with his famous paintings and intricate, stylized commercial posters featuring beautiful women and flowers. His art can be admired in one of the city’s most famous art nouveau buildings, the Municipal House, as well as at the National Gallery and the Mucha Museum.
Leave it to the Scots to take something as opulent as art nouveau and make it subtle and restrained. By adding in traditional Scottish and Japanese design elements and cutting back on ornate details, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald created Glasgow style, a local spin on the movement. Tour the best remaining examples of their architecture in Glasgow at the Willow Tea Rooms (to reopen in September 2018) and Mackintosh House, both of which also feature furniture and art created by the couple.
This northern Italian city is known as the capital of stile liberty (Italy’s version of art nouveau). You’ll find buildings adorned with the style’s trademark floral and mythological motifs throughout Turin, but they are most abundant in the Cit Turin neighborhood. Take the metro to Principe d’Acaja and stroll Corso Francia. At number 23, pose with the dragons at Palazzo della Vittoria. And be sure to stop and sip espresso in art nouveau splendor at a marble-topped table at Caffè Mulassano (Piazza Castello, 15) on the city’s main square.
Led by painter Gustav Klimt and architect Otto Wagner, Vienna’s art nouveau movement was called the Vienna secession. It even had its own slogan: “To the Age, its Art—to Art, its Freedom,” which was inscribed above its iconic namesake building, now easily identified by the golden “cabbage” that tops it. Don’t miss Wagner’s art nouveau Kirche am Steinhof (Church of St. Leopold), which was the first of its kind in Europe, or Klimt masterpieces like The Kiss at Belvedere Palace.
Only an hour train ride from Porto, Aveiro is a citywide museum of arte nova (Portuguese for art nouveau). For views of these brightly colored and elaborately decorated buildings that feature traditional Portuguese tiles, walk along the city’s main canal, or better yet, hop a flat-bottomed barco moliceiro and see it all from the water.
Characterized by fortress-like shapes, sturdy building materials, and a decidedly practical, pared-down style, the Finnish version of art nouveau is called jugend. The best-known example in Helsinki is the central train station, a formidable granite-clad building with an imposing arched entry flanked by stone giants bearing spherical street lights. For an eyeful of residential buildings in the jugend style, stroll the streets of the Katajanokka district.
In a city known for its thermal baths, one of the best places to appreciate local art nouveau is Gellért Baths. Mosaic tiled ceilings, ornately decorated columns, and curving, wrought iron balconies make for an elegant atmosphere. After a soak, cross the Danube on the city’s Liberty Bridge, an art nouveau structure topped with a statue of Turuls, a mythological bird of prey straight out of Hungarian folklore.
Art nouveau architecture isn’t as widespread in the City of Light as are the austere, 19th-century Haussmann buildings, but there are plenty of beautiful examples of it within Paris’s sprawling limits. Most are concentrated in the 7th and 8th districts, as well as in the beautiful 16th, an upscale residential area packed with well-maintained art nouveau residences and businesses. To get there, grab the metro to Jasmin and explore on foot. Be sure to stop at Castel Béranger (14 rue de la Fontaine); designed by famed French architect Hector Guimard, it was the city’s first art nouveau residence.
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