Bucharest, the city situated on the banks of the Dâmboviţa river, where East meets West, is astonishing through its cosmopolitan and vibrant atmosphere, its eclectic architecture, its Byzantine churches and plenty of cafés, restaurants and bars which are a definite promise of fun. The contrast of architectural styles, the blend of chic central areas with their large boulevards, parks and gardens (such as Cișmigiu and Herăstrău), with the communist heritage embodied by monumental buildings such as The Palace of Parliament or the House of the Free Press make Bucharest a unique experience.
You can discover the metropolis during a short city-break or during a business trip if given the opportunity, but ideally, you should take a few days in order to find out more about its history and its day-to-day life.
Bucharest, similar to other European capitals, is the main political, administrative, economic, educational, financial and cultural centre in Romania. Placed in the middle of a plain, between the Carpathians and the Danube river, Bucharest is one of the most crowded European cities, with a population of over 2,000,000 people. Its development and evolution spread throughout centuries, mainly due to its position at the crossroads of trade routes connecting East and West, while its first official recordings date back from only 600 years ago, during the reign of Vlad Țepeş (Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad Dracul, the emperor which stood as inspiration for Bram Stoker's famous character). Initially built around the Old Princely Court, the city had a long and tormented history during which it constantly reinvented itself, ceaselessly changing. This feature reflects in the blend of architectural styles, varying from Art Nouveau to Neo-Romanian, and from Art Deco to, inevitably, the so-called communist style.
Though like many capitals it seems to drown in traffic, pollution and buildings that do not seem to match any urban plan whatsoever, Bucharest nowadays has a special charm and it’s worth being discovered during any season.
If this is your first visit, we recommend you begin by exploring the labyrinth of small paved streets from the historic centre (the Old Town) situated near Unirii Square (Piaţa Unirii), with buildings dating back to the end of the 19th century with various architectural styles. Perhaps the most famous is Lipscani, the only street in Bucharest that was meant for trade since its creation and that has remained pedestrian since the 1930s. In the historic centre of Bucharest there are many interesting old churches such as the Curtea Veche Church (the oldest church in Bucharest) located near the ruins of the Princely Court, the elegant Stavropoleos Church or the amazing Russian Church, as well as the Zlătari Church with its fascinating interior painting executed by the famous Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu.
On your walk through the historic centre, you will encounter numerous buildings exhibiting fascinating architecture: the Romanian National Bank Palace, which has an Eclectic style with elements typical to both the Renaissance Period and the French Classic period, the National Museum of Romanian History hosted by the Post Palace or even the C.E.C Palace (the Deposits and Consignments House), as well as other numerous testimonies of the trading past of this area.
The old stores, now transformed into chic cafés, restaurants and nightclubs, and the famous inns from times of past (Manuc, Gabroveni or the Linden Tree Inn), still preserve their true vintage charm. While here, you will also encounter several attractive plazas and lovely passages (the Macca-Villacrosse passage) filled with cosy terraces that attract hundreds of visitors daily.
After visiting the historic centre, you can head South-West, and near Unirii Square (Piaţa Unirii) you will find the Palace of the Parliament, also known as ‘House of the People’ (Casa Poporului): it was built at the express request of the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu in the ‘80s. It is the second largest and heaviest administrative building in the whole world and currently hosts the Romanian Parliament.
Going north by foot or by bicycle along Victory Avenue (Calea Victoriei), one of Bucharest’s main boulevards, you will encounter the impressive the National Military Centre (Cercul Militar Naţional) and Revolution Square (Piaţa Revoluţiei), the place where the ’89 revolution started. In this square you will also find the old and beautiful Kretzulescu Church, the Royal Palace hosting the National Museum of Art of Romania, the Central University Library of Bucharest and also the Romanian Athenaeum, a fabulous concert hall where many concerts and recitals are held, the most important being the George Enescu International Festival. Behind the Royal Palace you will discover another emblematic building of the communist era, Palace Hall (Sala Palatului), a venue where various events are held. This was actually a place of assembly for the communist party congresses in the past. In the vicinity, you can go for a stroll in the lovely Cişmigiu Park, the oldest park in Bucharest.
Starting from the Revolution Square and going towards Victory Square, you will encounter several old nobility houses with beautiful architecture (Monteoru, Vernescu, Cesianu, etc.), and also palaces such as the romantic Romanit Palace, where the Museum of Art Collections is located, and Cantacuzino Palace, which since 1956 has been hosting the George Enescu National Museum.
Once arriving in Victory Square, you will discover remarkable museums such as the Museum of Natural History, the Geology Museum and the Romanian Peasant Museum, all located in symbolic beautiful old buildings.
In close vicinity of Victory Square lies one of the oldest parks in Bucharest, Kiseleff Park. Together with Herăstrău Park (recently renamed King Michael I Park), which is only a few steps away, they create one of the most beautiful urban oases in Romania.
One of Bucharest’s historic symbols, Arc de Triomph, is also located near Herăstrau Park; it is an impressive monument and to those who have already visited the Arc de Triomphe in Paris it will definitely ring a bell.
Once in the elegant Herăstrău Park, a cool oasis of Bucharest, you can take a walk along its many large alleys or cross the lake by boat. The park also hosts a very important museum, the Village Museum. If you don’t have the time to visit an actual Romanian village, this is your chance to experience the life in these villages as it used to be a 100 years ago. It is an open air museum, and you will feel as if being away from civilisation, into a small village, all while in the heart of a bustling city.
Bucharest has several green oases such as Carol Park, situated south from Unirii Square, Tineretului Park or the first urban natural delta in Romania, Văcăreşti Natural Park, where nature took over the city in a more or less conventional space.
During the post-communist years, the city came back to life and now hosts many cultural events on an array of topics such as art, ecology or street art and the much-desired reinvention of public space.
Even though at a first glance Bucharest might seem rather grey and unattractive, don’t be misled. Give it a chance to astonish you and dare discover its surprising beauty that will definitely provide you with unique memories.
In a nutshell, Bucharest is on an upward trend, and it might soon become a very fashionable tourist destination in Eastern Europe, so we heartily recommend you discover its charm if you have the chance.
If you have a bit more time on your hands, don’t miss the attractions just outside the city, such as Mogoşoaia Palace or Căldăruşani Monastery; those of you hungry for adventure will have a great day in the Lake Snagov Natural Protected Area or in Comana Natural Park.
- If you find yourself in Bucharest for the first time, it may be advantageous to explore it with the help of a well-informed guide who could show you the city’s less known face. You can choose a private tour or participate in a free guided tour with Walkabout Free Tour.
- If you’re only in the city for a short while and don’t have time to go to the countryside, try to make up for it by visiting the Romanian Peasant Museum and the Village Museum, both accessible by public transportation and located semi-centrally.
- Visit the Romanian Athenaeum or even go to a classical music concert.
- Go to one of the many concerts that take place at the Roman Arenas (Arenele Romane), a well-known venue for concerts.
- Go for a walk in the old neighbourhood Cotroceni.
- Go to the Street Delivery Festival, which takes place every July on Arthur Verona Street, where you can see street art in the making, enjoy concerts and buy handmade goods.
- Take a walk along the small quiet streets around Grădina Icoanei Park or in the Jewish neighbourhood near Unirii Square. The old architecture will undoubtedly impress you.
Good to know
- At the Village Museum and at the Romanian Peasant Museum there are small souvenir shops where you can buy authentic traditional merchandise.
- The centre for tourist info, Bucharest CityInfo, is located in the historic centre (the Old Town), at 21-23 Calea Victoriei.
- Post offices in Bucharest are not always easy to find and unfortunately, you can only get stamps from these locations. If you are downtown and wish to send a card, Post Office no. 1 is located at no. 12 Matei Millo Street, close to Calea Victoriei Boulevard.
- You can make a short tour of Bucharest on a hop on - hop off bus that can take you either from Piaţa Presei Libere, Piaţa Unirii, or from other stations along its itinerary. Details here.
- In almost all cafés, restaurants, bars and parks there is free Wi-Fi at very good speed (most of the time).
- In order to use public transportation in Bucharest, you must acquire a special card or pay the ticket by sending a text message. More info about the many places where you can buy the card from or about the payment via text is on the official site of public transportation.