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Art Nouveau and Art Deco sightseeing in Brussels

Dotted around Brussels are some spectacular Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings. The city’s love affair with brave new architecture began in the 1890s when architects such as Victor Horta and Paul Hankar launched the Art Nouveau movement.

There are still some 500 intact Art Nouveau buildings including department stores, cafes and private houses. Their exquisite details still catch the eye as you wander through neighbourhoods such as Place Saint-Boniface and the Ixelles Ponds.

Less well known are the sleek Art Deco buildings that developed in the 1920s. Many striking apartment buildings have survived from this period, along with landmark Art Deco cultural hubs such as Bozar and Flagey.

It’s easy to put together your own walking tour that takes in Art Nouveau and Art Deco highlights. But if you want some help, download the Tales & Tours app developed by visit.brussels which lists 42 key Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in the city, along with text, photos and maps.

You can also book a specialised architectural tour run by the urban action group Arau. These informative and often critical tours take you on foot through lively Art Nouveau neighbourhoods like Ixelles Ponds and the Marolles. The same organisation runs a fascinating bus tour on Saturday afternoons that allows you to see inside several sublime Art Nouveau buildings normally closed to visitors.

It’s also worth checking out the programmes of art organisations Arkadia and Itinéraires for their informative architecture tours.

Should you have a burning desire to step inside one of these fabulous buildings, it’s worth picking up a copy of the Voir et Dire Bruxelles programme from the tourist office. Their tours are focused on getting small groups inside landmark buildings normally only seen from the street.

Look out also for Voir et Dire’s Victor Horta season for summer 2016, which offers five different one-hour tours inside the most striking Art Nouveau town houses in Ixelles. One tour allows you to step inside the gorgeous Max Hallet House where the highlights include a sweeping staircase and glass conservatory.

Another tour takes you behind the closed door of the sumptuous Solvay House built by Victor Horta for the rich industrialist Armand Solvay. One of Horta’s earliest houses, it reveals the architect’s attention to the smallest details, from the curve of a staircase to the design of the door handles.

You can also sign up for a tour of the Van Eetvelde House built for an administrator in Leopold II’s Congo Free State, where Horta demonstrated his unique skill in combining glass, metal and wood.

The Voir et Dire programme also includes a sneak look inside the Autrique House in Schaerbeek. Built by Victor Horta in 1894, this early Art Nouveau house was restored as a museum by the Brussels comic book artist François Schuiten. It is currently closed for renovation work, but is open for groups.

Some Art Nouveau buildings can be visited without a guide, including the Horta House in St Gilles, built by Horta as a private home and studio, and the former Waucquez department store in central Brussels, which has been lovingly restored as the Comic Strip Center.

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