From walking tours to museums to restaurants, there are plenty of ways to discover Brussels’ Art Nouveau art and architecture.
I love art and architecture, and no style intrigues me more than the graceful curves and natural forms of Art Nouveau. With architects like the unparalleled Victor Horta at the forefront, Brussels was a hub for the Art Nouveau movement, and there are more than 200 examples dotted around the city.
In Brussels, Art Nouveau is still a living, breathing style, rather than something preserved behind glass. You can still enter shops, bars, restaurants, and even private residences that proudly display their Art Nouveau heritage. That’s why, for me, there’s no better place in Europe to experience Art Nouveau.
Go for a Walk
The easiest way to explore Brussels Art Nouveau is simply to take to the streets. You can take a free guided Art Nouveau tour with the Brussels Greeters or cover more ground with a bicycle tour from Pro Velo.
For me, though, the best is a self-guided stroll through one (or more) of Brussels’ best Art Nouveau neighbourhoods. You can find a free map on the Visit Brussels website, and they offer a few good suggestions:
- The Bailli area – for Hotel Tassel, the Van Rysselberghe house, the Ciamberlani house, among others.
- The Châtelain area – For the Horta Museum (see below) and houses and cafes near la place du Châtelain
- Ixelles ponds area – For an abundance of private residences
I may be biased, but Visit Brussels overlooked one of my favourite areas, which just happens to be a few minutes from my doorstep. On the edges of St. Josse, Brussels, and Schaerbeek, you can see some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau houses in the city.
Head towards Square Ambiorix and you can see Victor Horta’s Hôtel van Eetvelde (one of the UNESCO listed Horta buildings) and Maison Saint-Cyr, in its flamboyant Art Nouveau Baroque style, by Horta’s protégé Gustave Strauven. On the surrounding streets are plenty of other examples of Art Nouveau just begging to be discovered.
Go to a Museum
Art Nouveau isn’t just about architecture. It influenced decorative arts from furniture to jewellery, to paintings and sculpture. The best place to experience decorative Art Nouveau is at the newly inaugurated Fin-de-Siècle Museum.
For me, the highlight of the Fin-de-Siècle Museum is the Gillion Crowet Collection, containing over 230 works of Art Nouveau from artists like Horta and Mucha. Some of the pieces are simply breathtaking.
One place I was surprised to find Art Nouveau in Brussels was the Cinquantenaire Museum. Tucked away in an almost hidden corner is an entire Art Nouveau shop interior designed by Victor Horta himself. The Magasin Wolfers was originally a gold and silversmith shop, and now displays the museum’s small Art Nouveau collection.
And while it’s not a museum dedicated to Art Nouveau, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favourite building in all of Brussels. The former Old England department store’s swirling wrought iron façade is a striking contrast to the stately colonial buildings on Mont des Arts. This Art Nouveau masterpiece is home to the Musical Instrument Museum (well worth a visit in its own right). You can enjoy one of the best views of central Brussels from the café on the top floor (which also gives you a great excuse to ride in the period elevator!)
Tour an Art Nouveau House
To really get to grips with Art Nouveau in Brussels, nothing beats a look inside one of the Art Nouveau masterpieces. While many of these building are still private residences, some are open to the public on a regular basis.
A logical first stop is the Horta Museum, the former residence and studio of the man himself. Here you can see the stunning interior, stained glass, mosaics, furniture and fixtures, all designed by Victor Horta.
Another interesting visit is the Maison Autrique in Schaerbeek. This was Horta’s first building commission. Although it is a far cry from his later works, you can see a glimmer of Art Nouveau style being born. The house is also one of the few you can tour from the basement all the way up to the attic, and it has some interesting stories to tell.
Horta certainly wasn’t the only Art Nouveau architect working in Brussels. One of the most striking homes, Maison Cauchie, belonged to Paul and Caroline Cauchie, both artists inspired by Art Nouveau. Paul Cauchie is known for his dramatic sgraffito murals, visible throughout the city.
Its current owners (who still live inside) lovingly restored Cauchie House and created a museum in the basement. The museum and ground floor are open to the public the first weekend of each month and on Tuesday evenings throughout the summer.
Have a drink in an Art Nouveau Restaurant
After spending a day touring Brussels Art Nouveau architecture, why not relax and enjoy a drink in beautiful surroundings. While we can’t speak to the food itself in any of the following restaurants, they are certainly worth the cost of a drink to peek inside their Art Nouveau interiors.
- De Ultieme Hallucinatie is one of the most spectacular examples. It actually closed for many years, not long after we arrived in Belgium. Luckily, it has reopened under new management so we can enjoy this unique interior once again.
- Le Falstaff near the Bourse is a popular drinking spot in the summer. The Art Nouveau stained glass here is stunning.
- Nearby is the Hotel Metropole whose Art Nouveau Bar Le 31 is a local favourite. Drinks are pricey but worth it to admire the over-the-top grandeur.
- The Brasserie Horta located in the Horta designed Belgian Comic Strip Museum features high ceilings and views of Horta’s architectural details.
- If you feel like a splurge, Brussels’ most famous Art Nouveau restaurant is its two-Michelin-starred Comme Chez Soi. We had the honour of dining in the kitchen many years ago, and it was worth every penny!
Brussels truly has plenty to offer the Art Nouveau fan – from galleries and museums to touring private homes. This artistic style has left its mark on the Belgian capital and on the hearts of those who admire it.
[Editor’s Note] For even more Art Nouveau, don’t miss a day-trip to Antwerp’s Zurenborg neighbourhood .