Known as Szecesszió in Hungarian, art nouveau gained popularity in Budapest in the 1880s. An aesthetic heavily influenced by leading Hungarian architect Ödön Lechner – often described as the country’s version of Antoni Gaudi – much of his inspiration came from exotic places such as India and Syria, as well as from traditional Hungarian folk art. Characterised by brightly hued ceramics as well as natural motifs, the presence of the art nouveau movement can still be traced throughout the city today. Discover the best art nouveau sights in Budapest on this walking tour of the city’s most magnificent buildings from the period.
Begin at the Royal Geological Institute, which was designed by Lechner and built between 1896-99. The eye-catching building incorporates Hungarian folk art symbols in addition to its turquoise ceramic roof tiles, which were made by the famous Zsolnay ceramic factory. The shape and colour chosen for the roof is intended to symbolise the ancient Tethys Ocean whilst the windows of the building are engraved with Hungarian flower designs and fossil motifs can be spotted on the exterior walls. It’s worth stepping inside if you can, not only to admire more of the amazing architecture, but also to see the permanent Ödön Lechner exhibition that’s housed at the institute.
Walk for 12 minutes or catch a taxi to the nearby National Institute for the Blind, one of the capital’s most impressive art nouveau masterpieces. One of the first institutes of its kind in Europe, the organisation was set up by Archduke Joseph in 1825, but the current building was designed by Sandor Baumgarten and Zsigmond Herczegh between 1899 and 1904 and the hallmarks of Hungarian art nouveau can be easily spotted, from the Eastern influences to folk art inspired details.
Stroll through the idyllic city park until you reach Budapest’s zoo. This may seem like an unlikely location for art nouveau design, but seek out the elephant house and you’ll soon see why this is a popular attraction for architecture fans. Designed by Kornél Neuschloss, the remarkable pavilion was built in the early 20th century and features Zsolnay majolica roof tiles plus glazed ceramic elephant, hippo and rhino heads.
Stop for lunch at Gundel, situated in City Park. This is one of Budapest’s most renowned restaurants, located in an art nouveau palace. Opened in 1894, this historic venue combines illustrious architecture with fine dining. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the spectacular banqueting rooms which feature golden motifs, grand chandeliers and gilded accents. Make sure you order the famous pancakes with walnuts and bitter chocolate sauce.
Walk off your gourmet lunch with a 20-minute stroll to the elegant Andrassy Avenue. A distinctive part of one of the city’s most exclusive boulevards, the Paris Department Store was a relatively late addition to Budapest’s collection of art nouveau buildings. Designed by Zsigmond Sziklay, the property was built for Samuel Goldberger, who wished to build a French-inspired department store in Budapest. Interestingly, the building combines both neo-renaissance architecture as well as art nouveau. This is because it has two facades; one on Andrassy Avenue, which is typically art nouveau, and another on Paulay Ede Street, which has all the tropes of neo-renaissance style.
End your tour of Hungarian art nouveau as you began – with a building designed by the founding father of the movement, Ödön Lechner. Located close to Liberty Square, the Royal Postal Savings Bank is a mesmerizing mix of coloured ceramics and folk art influences. Built in 1901, look out for the gilded beehives positioned on the tops of the building, which symbolise collecting and saving money.