Art Nouveau Prague – The Ultimate Guide

by Apr 29, 2020

Prague architecture is one of the biggest draws of all to the beautiful Czech capital, and Art Nouveau in Prague is especially well-represented around the city.

Prague was home to one of the greatest Art Nouveau artists, Alfons Mucha, and the Mucha Museum on Prague Old Town Square is a must-see for Art Nouveau lovers. Yet Art Nouveau Prague can be seen everywhere, from Art Nouveau paintings and stained glass to complete Art Nouveau buildings like the magnificent Municipal House Prague.  

In our article on Prague Art Nouveau, we’ll tell you about the history of Art Nouveau, and what Art Nouveau architectural features to look out on buildings when you visit Prague. We’ll then show you over 20 photos of some of the best Art Nouveau Prague buildings, with information on where to find them. Two of them are famous landmarks of Prague, and several are simply Prague apartment buildings.

As you’ll discover, many of the best things to see in Prague would never rate a mention in a tourist guide. But if you’re keen on photographing Prague, these buildings are unmissable. We’ve loved discovering Art Nouveau Prague – so please do join us for a virtual perambulation around the streets of the Czech capital.

What is Art Nouveau?

Image of Art Nouveau artwork on U Kapinu apartment building in Prague
THIS is Art Nouveau – U Kapinu apartment block on Gorazdova, Prague

Art Nouveau is the name given to a vast range of contemporary art roughly between 1890 and 1914. Art Nouveau originated in Belgium and France late in the 19th century, a more free-flowing expression of art and architecture emerging after decades of neo-Gothic and neo-Classical influence.

What are the characteristics of Art Nouveau?

Image of a bar sign and lamp in Municipal House Prague
Art Nouveau architects and designers were involved in every aspect of a building, right down to the lamps

Art Nouveau designs covered everything from complete buildings to items of furniture to paintings and advertisements for bars of soap. Whole buildings were now considered to be works of art.

There are several elements which suggest Art Nouveau design and influence. One of the most obvious is Art Nouveau calligraphy, which you’ll see below with the Art Nouveau façade of the Hotel Central in Prague, and the former Grand Hotel Europa on Wenceslas Square.

Art Nouveau architects also experimented more with form, especially bringing curves into their design. So if you see a curved doorway or a window with a curve rather than a corner, it’s highly likely you’re looking at Art Nouveau architecture.

Another aspect of Art Nouveau in Europe was the inspiration of natural forms. This often meant floral flourishes on doorway or window corners, or statuary on the exterior of buildings.

Depictions of women are another common theme in Art Nouveau, and you see many great examples on Art Nouveau houses in Prague all around the city.

An Art Nouveau house or building could turn into a very expensive project because of the materials used – especially ceramics used for mosaics. The buildings of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona were notoriously expensive, and his Park Güell project, one of the great Spanish landmarks, was barely started – most of the project was abandoned.  Mosaics – like those on the Hlahol building in Prague – cost a serious amount of money.

Was Czech Art Nouveau different to Art Nouveau elsewhere in Europe?

Yes – and no!

Natural forms were a common inspiration around the continent, and the floral patterns on buildings are one of the most widespread features.

Different cities and countries tended to develop their own unique styles with inspiration from – and contemporary with – Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau had different names depending on where it was. Hungarian Art Nouveau was known as Szecesszio, while Art Nouveau in Austria was called Sezession. In Germany it was known as Jugendstil. Italians called it Stile Liberty.

What other cities have the best Art Nouveau architecture in Europe?

Image of the Applied Arts Museum in Budapest, Hungary
Don’t look for this in Prague! It’s the Applied Arts Museum in Budapest!

The influence of Art Nouveau had spread far and wide by the early 20th century, and you can find examples all over the continent.

Art Nouveau in Budapest isn’t as widespread as in Prague, but it has some breathtaking buildings, including the Museum of Applied Arts by Ödön Lechner.

The Catalan expression of Art Nouveau was modernisme, and its best works were completed in the capital, Barcelona. The Antoni Gaudi buildings are the best-known of all, but several other architects produced extraordinary work in the early 20th century as well.    

Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia had an enormous impact, with over a quarter of the buildings in the city centre dating from this time.  Most Riga Art Nouveau buildings have relatively little external decoration.

Municipal House Prague

Image of the exterior of Municipal House Prague
The splendid front of Municipal House (Obecni Dum)

The Municipal House – Obecni Dum – is a rather humdrum name for one of the most extraordinary, exuberant buildings in Prague. It should be on any what to do in Prague list, a mainly Art Nouveau building with a pinch of Baroque revival influence. It’s one of the foremost concert venues in Prague.

It was designed by Antonin Balšanek and Osvald Polivka, two Prague architects whose working relationship was tense. Balšanek was responsible for the layout, and Polivka worked on the Art Nouveau decoration.

Image of the stained glass marquee at the the entrance to Municipal House Prague
The marquee at the front of Obecni Dum

The Municipal House (sometimes called the Town House) is next door to the medieval Powder Tower, one of the finest such towers in Prague. The exterior of the building is bright and vivid, with a fine mural above the entrance and below the main glass dome. The entrance is also stunning, with outstanding stained glasswork in the marquee in front of the doorway.

It’s a public building so you can enter at any time – and you can see enough of it to marvel at it. The café to the left of the entrance is superb, as is the restaurant to the right. Inside, almost every detail is exquisite Art Nouveau, from the bar signs to the ticket booth. Look out for an Alfons Mucha mural on the first floor.

Image of the Smetana Hall in the Municipal House in Prague
The splendid Smetana Hall

If you want to experience classical music in Prague, the sumptuous Smetana Hall is one of the best places to do so. We saw our first Prague concert there, and it’s an experience we strongly recommend.

If you want the full Prague Municipal House experience, we recommend the guided tour which takes you to all of the ceremonial halls and the Smetana Hall.

Prague Main Railway Station

Image of the Art Nouveau dome in Prague main railway station
The Art Nouveau half-dome in Hlavni Nadrazi station

If you travel to Prague by train, chances are you’ll miss the stunning Art Nouveau entrance hall to Praha Hlavni Nadraži, the main Prague train station. You wouldn’t just stumble on it, as it’s hidden away up a small escalator in the corner of the main concourse. Follow the sign to ‘Historic Station’ and be seriously wowed. The hall is a soaring half-dome, beautifully decorated and lit by a stained-glass window. The station downstairs is one of the places in Prague you just have to pass through out of necessity. But this entrance hall is one of the surprise Prague destinations, and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the city.

Former Grand Hotel Europa

Image of the former Grand Hotel Europa in Wenceslas Square Prague
The former Grand Hotel Europa, prime Art Nouveau on Wenceslas Square

The former Grand Hotel Europa Prague is another Art Nouveau masterpiece. Its superb façade, which looks out onto Wenceslas Square (Vaclavské namestí) remains intact, while everything behind it is being restored or added to in time for its reopening in late 2020. It will then be the W Prague Hotel, and the façade will be kept as it is, one of the most beautiful buildings in Prague.

Hotel Meran, Wenceslas Square

Image of Art Nouveau Meran Hotel sign Prague
The Europa’s next door neighbour, the Meran Hotel

Next door to the Grand Hotel Europa, Hotel Meran is a much smaller building with an equally eye-catching Art Nouveau façade and sign on the roof. The letters are laid over a lined background, so they resemble musical notes.

Lucerna Passage

Image of the upside down horse sculpture in Lucerna Passage Prague
My kingdom for an upright horse – the Lucerna Passage

Lucerna Passage is one of our favourite places to visit in Prague. The arcade leads between Vodičkova and Wenceslas Square, and is an Art Nouveau treasure trove. There’s the Art Nouveau Café Lucerna upstairs and Kino Lucerna cinema downstairs, both of which are well worth seeing.  Look up and you’ll see what looks like a soldier sitting on an upside-down horse. That’s exactly what it is, as it happens. The sculpture was made as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the statue of King Wenceslas on an upright horse, outside the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square. The subtle stained -glass dome above is something else you shouldn’t miss.

Čechuv Most Bridge

Image of the Svatopluk Cech bridge, or Cechuv Most, Prague
The Art Nouveau Svatopluk Cech bridge with Prague Castle in the background

Most bridges in Prague don’t tend to get much of a look-in with the Charles Bridge dominating most visitors’ Prague sightseeing priorities. The Svatopluk Čech Bridge – Čechuv Most in Czech – is possibly the most beautiful ‘other’ Prague bridge, a mixture of fine Art Nouveau wrought ironwork with dancing winged figures at either end. The bridge links the Old Town with Letna Park and Holešovice.

Viola Building, Narodni Trida

Image of the Viola Art Nouveau building in Prague
The Viola Building on Narodni Trida

And so to another two next-door neighbours, both designed by the same architect, Osvald Polivka. Just across the street from Narodni Divadlo (National Theatre), this was the Praha Insurance building. The Praha sign is still illuminated each evening, each letter filling one of the oval-shaped top-floor windows. If you’re sitting in the tram, you’ll miss it. Take a walk instead, and stand across the street to admire the view.

Topic Building, Narodni Trida

Image of the Art Nouveau Topic building in Prague
The Topic building was originally home to a publishing house

The Topic building next door to the Viola Building is another Prague Art Nouveau beauty. It was originally home to a Prague publishing house, and has been restored to its former glory in recent years. The ground floor now houses a branch of the Raiffeisen Bank.

Hotel Central, Hybernska

Image of the Art Nouveau Hotel Central in Prague
Even the lettering font was designed specifically for the Hotel Central

There are several Art Nouveau hotels in Prague, and this is one of the most beautiful. Barely two minutes’ walk from Municipal House (see above), the K+K Hotel Central Prague is an early Art Nouveau classic by Friedrich Ohmann. The Art Nouveau lettering on the front of the building is highly distinctive, and was designed by Ohmann himself. The façade has typical Art Nouveau shapes, especially the floral patterns. It’s one of the best Prague hidden gems, and if you’re wondering where to stay in Prague, the Art Nouveau interior décor is rather special too.

Hlahol Building, Masarykovo Nabrezi

Image of the Hlahol choir building in Prague
The Hlahol Choir building – Tchaikovsky once composed a piece especially for them

Hlahol is one of the oldest choirs in the Czech Republic, dating all the way back to 1861, at the time of the Czech National Revival. Its headquarters and concert venue was built in the early 20th century by Josef Fanta, who also designed the magnificent Hlavni nadrazi entrance hall. The superb façade overlooks the river, and is best seen and appreciated from Slovansky Island – from there you’re around 50 metres from the building and can see it in all its glory. The mosaic at the top of the building is especially striking. Masarykovo Nabrezi (Masaryk Quay) is lined with splendid Art Nouveau mansions, and is one of the most beautiful Prague streets to visit.

Vyšehrad Cemetery

Image of the Novak family tomb in Vysehrad cemetery Prague
Art Nouveau in Prague at its most exquisite – the Novak family tomb in Vysehrad Cemetery

A walk up to the Vyšehrad fortress and an afternoon in the park is one of the best things to do in Prague.  The short climb rewards you with some wonderful Art Nouveau Prague surprises. The Gothic Revival exterior of the twin-spired Basilica of SS Peter and Paul gives no hint of what to expect inside, a feast of Art Nouveau painting on the walls and ceiling vaults of the church. Next door, the Vyšehrad Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous Czechs, including two of its most famous composers, Dvorak and Smetana. There are also some beautiful Art Nouveau tombs – the Novak family vault pictured particularly caught my eye. While you’re up in the fortress, make sure you get to see the view of the city from the ramparts, one of the best viewpoints in Prague.

Vinohrady Theatre

Image of the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague
The Vinohrady Theatre on Namesti Miru

There are many examples of Art Nouveau around Vinohrady, the Prague suburb immediately to the west of Nove Mesto (New Town). The most obvious one is the Vinohrady Theatre on Namesti Miru (Peace Square). It has a fantastic exuberant Art Nouveau façade, adorned with statuary recalling the Baroque church of Santa Maria del Giglio, one of the best churches in Venice Italy to visit.

Industrial Palace, Holešovice

Image of the Art Nouveau Industrial Palace in Holesovice Prague
The Art Nouveau Industrial Palace in Holesovice

Prague hosted the 1891 World Exhibition, and the Industrial Palace, one of the earliest Art Nouveau buildings in Prague, is the centrepiece. It looks like a vast marooned railway station, albeit with an elegant clock tower and glass frontage. It blends in beautifully with the surrounding buildings which were also constructed for the World Exhibition. It’s on Vystavište Holešovice, close to Stromovka, one of the best parks in Prague.    

image of David Angel, the photographer/writer/creator of the Europe travel blog Delve into Europe

Let Me Help You Discover The Best Of Europe

Hi, I’m David Angel and I love Europe.   I’ve been fortunate to have spent every spare moment of the past 25 years travelling and photographing this extraordinary continent.  This site shares my best advice, tips and travel secrets for Europe.   And I hope my photos will encourage you to delve deeper and discover some less visited gems of Europe.  You can find out more about me here.

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