7 Top International Art Deco Cities to Visit in 2017

Explore iconic landmarks reflecting the elaborate embellishments of the '20s and '30s in top locales.

By Marsha Dubrow, ContributorApril 25, 2017
By Marsha Dubrow, ContributorApril 25, 2017, at 10:56 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 Top International Art Deco Cities to Visit in 2017

The city center of Napier, the Art deco capital of New Zealand

Consider yourself an architecture aficionado? Head to these art-driven destinations across the globe.Getty Images/iStockphoto

When you think of international art deco cities, Havana likely springs to mind. But unexpected must-see art deco spots around the world include far-flung destinations such as Shanghai and Mumbai, India. So, if you want to check out seven spectacular art deco cities this year, head to these under-the-radar destinations, where eye-catching landmarks and detailed buildings abound – just in time for the 14th World Congress on Art Deco in Cleveland, from May 14 to 21.

Mumbai, India

Mumbai is said to have the world's largest number of art deco buildings after Miami Beach. Mumbai, better known for Bollywood, contains city blocks of art deco office buildings and residential structures with Indian embellishments. This architectural style, called "Deco Saracenic," blends symbols of Indian gods and Egyptian sphinxes with geometric styles such as zigzags and saucer-shaped turrets. A great place to see Deco Saracenic is in the Oval Maidan residential area and other parts of South Mumbai, where you'll find several hotels, such as the Astoria, Shelleys and Sea Green Hotel, as well as movie theaters including Eros and the Regal.

Shanghai

Shanghai is such an important art deco center that it had the honor of hosting the prior biennial World Congress on Art Deco in 2015. According to the World Congress on Art Deco, "You can't walk down a Shanghai street without seeing art deco... it's everywhere." Tess Johnston, co-author of "Shanghai Art Deco," who spent 33 years in this city on China's east coast, goes even further. "China has the largest array of art deco edifices of any city in the world," she says. Its unique style is called "Chinese art deco," with touches like upturned eaves. One of Shanghai's many art deco highlights is the 1934 Pétain Apartments. It was named for Marshal Philippe Pétain, a French World War I hero, but in World War II, he headed the Vichy France government that collaborated with Nazi Germany. A happier representation of the art deco era can be found at the Fairmont Peace Hotel, which is replete with a Lalique corridor of mirrors and lights. Charlie Chaplin slept at the hotel, and Noel Coward wrote one of his most famous plays, "Private Lives," during his visit.

Napier, New Zealand

Napier, not to be outdone by Mumbai or Shanghai, also boasts being the "Art Deco Capital of the World," with nearly 150 art deco buildings. Most are concentrated in the center of town, and many are embellished with aboriginal Maori symbols. But why so much deco in this Pacific Ocean coastal New Zealand town? Napier was rebuilt after being leveled by a 1931 earthquake and subsequent fire. Every February, on the earthquake anniversary, Napier celebrates being built anew by hosting an annual art deco festival with vintage cars, fashion and music. An ideal place to stay is the art deco Masonic Hotel Napier. The boutique hotel is in the heart of the art deco center along the waterfront. And if you're a birder or golfer, visit the gannet colony and the Tom Doak-designed golf course in nearby Cape Kidnappers.

Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca is an art deco haven, and is indeed all white, as its French name, "white house," suggests. Its unique art deco style is termed "Mauresque," a blend of Moorish and French art deco styles, dating back to Morocco's French protectorate years from 1911 to 1955. Casablanca's downtown area, "nouvelle ville," has a vibrant art deco district. Many of the architectural gems are located along the Boulevard Mohammed V. To capture the nostalgia of the era, stay in the Hôtel & Spa Le Doge, a converted mansion dating back to the 1930s. Each suite is designed to honor a deco icon, such as Coco Chanel and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Israel's so-called "White City," which offers about 4,000 Bauhaus structures, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tel Aviv's first "White City" buildings were planned by Jewish architects who had studied at Germany's renowned Bauhaus school before Nazism forced them to flee. Some had even worked with Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier before emigrating to what was then Palestine. The best way to experience this city within the city is to take a tour by the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv and also visit its exhibitions, like "Revival Of The Bauhaus In Tel Aviv," which focuses on 25 such buildings. And to revive yourself, stay at the Poli House, a 1934 Bauhaus boutique hotel.

Durban, South Africa

Durban, South Africa, boasts dozens of art deco buildings. Many are located along the beachfront, resembling Miami's South Beach, and others are scattered across the city center. The Durban Art Deco Society has even created a self-guided tour, with buildings rated A, B or C, according to their art deco significance. One striking A-list attraction is The Cenotaph memorial to war victims. The blue, gold and white facade displays two angels holding a fallen man. Another highlight is the 1935 Victoria Mansions, with whimsical geometric, animal and marine decorative elements. A glazed tile panel also commemorates the Union Castle mail ships that docked at Durban for many years.

Havana

Havana, while better known for its '50s era vintage cars, is also a mecca for art deco enthusiasts. The city even hosted the 2013 World Congress. Its finest Cuban art deco building is the 1930 former headquarters of Bacardi Rum, with the firm's bat symbol crowning the zigzag roof of the city's first 12-story skyscraper. Floor-to-ceiling bat motifs can be found in the lobby, highlighted by an enamel, terra cotta panel of nymphs by U.S. artist Maxfield Parrish. Meanwhile, Havana's Museum of Decorative Arts is located in the 1927 mansion built by Cuban sugar mogul Juan Pedro Baró, who is famous for his once-scandalous affair with Catalina Lasa. Her Italian marble bathroom epitomizes art deco opulence, as does her mausoleum, designed by Renè Lalique in the Cristóbal Colón cemetery. Art deco lives on in many other mausoleums across Havana, along with the city's movie theaters, including the America, Arenal and Fausto.

Marsha Dubrow, Contributor

Marsha Dubrow is a freelance writer and editor specializing in travel and the arts. She has ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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