A Design Lover’s Guide to Art Nouveau in Europe

Despite a relatively short period of popularity, art nouveau left its mark in cities across Europe; these are the best places to spot the ornate, elegant style.

A Design Lover’s Guide to Art Nouveau in Europe

From grand government buildings to shopfronts, Prague is a treasure trove of art nouveau design.

Photo by Jason Batterham/Shutterstock

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:

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Alberta Street in Riga, Latvia, is a wonderland of art nouveau architecture.

Photo by Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

Riga, Latvia

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.

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Barcelona’s Hospital de Sant Pau was a functioning hospital until 2009. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by Lena Serditova/Shutterstock

Barcelona, Spain

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.

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Besides its art nouveau facade, the Municipal House in Prague also houses artwork by Alfons Mucha.

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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.

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The Mackintosh House is a perfect example of the scaled back “Glasgow style” of art nouveau design.

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Glasgow, Scotland

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.

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Because of its dragon decorations, Palazzo della Vittoria in Turin is also known as Casa dei Draghi, or the Dragon House.

Photo by Uccio “Uccio2” D’Ago…/Flickr

Turin, Italy

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.

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The Secession Building in Vienna was built in 1898 to display the works of secessionist artists.

Photo by Romas_Photo/Shutterstock

Vienna, Austria

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.

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Aveiro, Portugal, is filled with art nouveau architecture.

Photo by RossHelen/Shutterstock

Aveiro, Portugal

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.

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Two stone giants guard the entrance to Helsinki’s art nouveau train station.

Photo by Andrei Nekrassov/Shutterstock

Helsinki, Finland

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.

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Soak in Budapest’s art nouveau architecture in the famous Gellért Baths.

Photo by Ungvari Attila/Shutterstock

Budapest, Hungary

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.

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The 16th district in Paris is replete with art nouveau architecture, including the Hector Guimard–designed Castel Béranger.

Photo by Fred Romero/Flickr

Paris, France

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.

>>Next: 10 Frank Lloyd Wright Houses You Can Visit Across the U.S.

Chris is a Barcelona-based writer, translator and artist with Midwestern roots. She shares her adventures as a Missourian in the world at midwesternerabroad.com.
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