Once known as “Little Paris”, Bucharest in Romania is a capital with a rich history that merges with its modern identity. The confluence of architecture is dazzling yet fascinating. Byzantine buildings; Churches from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries; Art Nouveau mansions; and neoclassical facades have survived earthquakes, war and later communism. During that political era, block masonry left its mark, as did the gigantic Palace of Parliament, the prized creation of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
Bucharest’s charm is revealed by exploring its vast city parks, admiring the works in its excellent museums and getting “lost” in the gritty yet charming alleys that weave through the Old Town. A stroll down Calea Victoriei , perhaps the most beautiful street in the city, is an encounter with the country’s most beautiful buildings and meaningful monuments, all a testament to times gone by. Exploring Bucharest is about understanding its complex past giving way to its modern sensibility as a thriving European capital.
1 The old town
The Old Town is one of Bucharest’s earliest settlements, where structures date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Throughout time it was the seat of Romanian princes, a center for trade, a place of worship and a crossroads for travelers. It managed to survive Ceausescu’s 1980s, which destroyed a fifth of the city to build his vision of a new socialist capital. After decades spent as a slum, much of the old city has been renovated and renovated. Historic buildings have been gallantly restored, but other properties are still awaiting their facelift. The contrast adds much more charm to the pedestrian alleys and cobblestone streets lined with mom-and-pop bookstores, theaters, restaurants and cafes.
Location: between Calea Victoriei in the west, Bulevardul Bratianu in the east, Dambovita River in the south and Regina Elisabeta in the north
2 Palace of Parliament
The Palace of Parliament is one of the main tourist attractions in Bucharest. It is the world’s second largest administrative building (after the Pentagon), an architectural colossus that also claims the title as the heaviest building in the world. With more than 3,000 rooms over 330,000 square meters and built with marble and steel, it was originally called the People’s House by its visionary, former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who used it as his family’s home and the seat of his government. To top it off, he destroyed places of worship, workshops, factories, parks, part of the old city and entire neighborhoods. More than 20,000 workers and 700 architects worked on the opulent neoclassical-style palace for 13 years while Romanians faced poverty.National Museum of Contemporary Art . Scheduled tours bring visitors up close to its vastness, its kitsch, and the outrageous luxury that Ceausescu would have experienced had he not been overthrown in a coup.
Address: Strada Izvor 2-4, Boekarest
3 Romanian Athenaeum
Home to the Romanian George Enescu Philharmonic , the stately Romanian Athenaeum is the city’s most prestigious concert hall. The 19th-century building, designed by French architect Albert Galleron, resembles an ancient Greek temple with a 41-meter-high dome and a colonnade of six Ionic columns. The interior features a lobby with intricately painted gold-leaf ceilings, cascading balconies and spiraling marble stairs. The 652-seat auditorium is known for its excellent acoustics and fine art. A 70-meter-long and three-meter-high fresco that winds its way around the circular hall proudly displays scenes from Romanian history.
Address: Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3, Bucharest
4 Stavropoleos church
Small, peaceful and beautiful, Stavropoleos Church was built in 1724 by a Greek monk, Ioanikie Stratonikeas . With its intricately carved columned entrance, the Brâncovenesc-style church stands out as a unique monument in Bucharest. The Orthodox church has beautiful stone and wood carvings and a combination of Romanian and Byzantine elements. It is surrounded by a courtyard with a garden full of 18th-century tombstones. Inside you can admire several frescoes and wooden icons. The church complex once included an inn and a monastery, but both were destroyed. The church itself has been restored several times after earthquake damage.
Address: Strada Stavropoleos 4, Bucharest
5 Old Princely Court and Old Prince Court Church
In the old town, the old princely court was the palatial residence of the Wallachian monarchs, including Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker’s story of Dracula. A statue of the infamous Romanian prince stands among what remains of the past, including the court walls, various arches and columns.
A 16th-century prince, Mircea Ciobanul, repaired the palace after the reign of Vlad the Impaler, and he grew the surrounding Lipscani area into Bucharest’s trading core by establishing a community of skilled craftsmen. In 1559 Ciobanul built the old princely church next to the palace. For the next two centuries, it was the place where successive Romanian princes were crowned. Also worth a visit is the Old Court Museum , displaying pottery and artefacts from an archaeological dig around the ruins.
Address: Strada Franceza 25-31, Bucharest
6 Revolution Square
Revolution Square earned its name after hosting the scene of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s last minutes in power in Romania. On December 21, 1989, a coup took place here with the help of a crowd of more than 100,000 people, forcing the leader of the Communist Party to flee and changing the course of the country’s history. Until that date, the central square was known as Palace Square, due to its proximity to the Royal Palace, which is the current home of the National Art Museum . Other historic buildings stand nearby, including the Senate Palace , the Romanian Athenaeum and the Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest.
Revolution Square is also known for the dramatic Monument of Rebirth . Erected in 2005, it contains the names of the 1,058 victims of the bloody revolution and a bronze statue of Iuliu Maniu, the Romanian prime minister imprisoned by the communist party.
Address: Calea Victoriei Boulevard, Bucharest
7 The Arch of Triumph
Bucharest’s first triumphal arch, completed in 1922, was made of wood and dedicated to the Romanian soldiers who fought in the First World War. In 1936 it was reconstructed in granite and designed by architect Petre Antonescu at a height of 27 meters. The arch is decorated with sculptures created by the most prominent Romanian sculptors, including Ion Jalea and Dimitrie Paciurea. It continues to serve its purpose of being the focal point for military parades. Romanian soldiers march beneath it for major events, including the first of December, the country’s national holiday.
Address: Kiseleff Road, Bucharest
8 National Art Museum
In the former Royal Palace, the National Art Museum is Romania’s most important art museum with the most complete collection of Romanian art, including medieval and modern art. Founded in 1948, the museum is also where the Royal Collection , including Romanian and European art dating back to the 15th century, can be admired. More than 100,000 works are on display in its various galleries, including paintings by the country’s most celebrated artists, Theodor Aman, Nicolae Grigorescu and Gheorghe Tattarescu. The modern Romanian collection includes sculptures by Milita Petrascu and Dimitrie Paciurea. One room is dedicated to Constantin Brancusi, one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. The European Gallerynext door has 15 rooms, including works by El Greco, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir and Rubens.
Address: Calea Victoriei 49-53, Bucharest
9 Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
Founded in 1936, this unique open-air museum stretches through the green Herastrau Park and depicts the traditional way of life in Romania. Visitors can wander through 300 traditional buildings, including steep-roofed farmhouses, thatched barns, heavy log cabins, churches of various types, workshops and mills – all transported from towns in every region of Romania. Each building was carefully taken apart, shipped to the museum, and rebuilt to become part of the park’s walkable, village-like environment. The village museum also displays artefacts and pottery as well as other traditional items sourced from around the country.
Address: Sos. Kiseleff 28-30, Herastrau Park, Bucharest
10 National Museum of Romanian History
The National Historical Museum is housed in a neoclassical building originally built for the Romanian postal service. Since 1970, the museum’s 60 rooms have showcased the country’s most fascinating historical exhibits, dating from prehistoric times to modern times. The largest permanent exhibit is a huge replica of the 2nd century Trajan’s Column , built in honor of the conquering Roman emperor Trajan, who defeated the ancient Dacian tribes of Romania. Thousands of gold objects and Neolithic objects, including jewelry from the time of the Geto-Dacians, can be found in the Romanian Treasury. On permanent display are the Romanian Crown Jewels, including beautiful emerald green pieces made for Queen Marie, who was the wife of Romania’s King Ferdinand. Also here are gold artefacts from the 4th century Pietroasele treasures . They were once considered the most valuable collection of treasures in the world before Tutankhamun’s tomb was excavated.
Address: Calea Victoriei 12, Bucharest
11 Parks in Bucharest
Bucharest is shrouded in beautiful parks that are visited by locals all year round. The oldest city park, designed in the mid-19th century, is Cismigiu Garden . Rowing boat rentals are one of the most popular things to do here in the summer, and the ice skating rink is popular in the winter. German landscape architect Carl Meyer designed the park, which opened in 1860, with 30,000 trees and plants from the Romanian mountains and greenery from the botanical gardens in Vienna.
Spread over 400 hectares, Herastraupark is home to the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum , an open-air theatre, a sports club and an old-fashioned amusement park. Boat rentals are available to the public at the lake each summer. The villas from the 19th and 20th centuries are located on the edge of the park and are the homes of Bucharest’s elite.
Designed by French landscape artist Eduard Redont and completed in 1906, Carol Park is considered one of the most beautiful parks in the capital. Romanian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located here as well as a Roman-style open-air theater called Arenele Romane , which is popular for summer concerts.
12 Carousel Carousel
Located in a beautifully restored 19th-century building in the center of the old town is the city’s most impressive bookstore, Carturesti Carusel . The 1,000-square-foot space is spread over six floors, with shelves stocked with more than 10,000 books and 5,000 albums and DVDs. The design is impressively minimal, playing with light filtering through a central skylight, creating an atmosphere similar to a moving carousel, hence the name, meaning Carousel of Light .’
The bookstore is a local hub not only for reading and browsing books, but also for art and relaxation. Carturesti Carusel is also visited for its changing displays of contemporary art, presentations in the media center and an inviting bistro café on the top floor.
Address: Strada Lipscani 55, Bucharest