As the cultural capital, decorated with French-style Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture, it used to be referred to as “The Little Paris” of Eastern Europe. During the 20th century, the city endured World War II, a communist dictatorship, and an earthquake that cost Bucharest, Romania much of its splendor. But since then, replacements have been made, creating an architectural contrast that cannot be found in many other parts of the world.
The capital is a little rough around the edges, still undergoing a transformation and working to bounce back from its complicated history. But with so much character, there are plenty of things to enjoy in Bucharest, where the most luxurious experiences do not mean the most expensive. Of course, Bucharest offers its visitors a more affordable taste of Europe, but the type of luxury we mean is a truly enriching experience. Follow along to find out how to have an unforgettable stay in Bucharest.
Things to Do in Bucharest, Romania
Gawk at the Communism Monument
The colossal Palace of Parliament is unmissable at the end of Unirii Boulevard. Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s former communist dictator, came up with the idea after the 1977 earthquake, demolishing homes and causing displacement. Now, it is the second-largest administrative building after the Pentagon. It is also the heaviest building, weighing 4.10 million tonnes, and actually sinks 6 millimeters annually! The Romanian Parliament occupies only 30% of the building. The other part is open to visitors, and we highly recommend taking a guided tour (bring your passport!). You learn about many fascinating features influenced by Ceausescu’s paranoia of being overthrown, such as the absence of vents.
Under Ceausescu’s orders, the Parliament was built from exclusively local materials to showcase Romania’s wealth. At the same time, he was heavily restricting people’s food allowance resulting in many deaths on top of those caused by the build. As a result, some locals associate the Palace with despotism and humiliation. But the narrative is slowly changing, as with the Transfagarasan Road (link-Brasov article), another result of Ceausescu’s extravagance, becoming the greatest driving road in the world.
Bonus tip: head to the Politehnica subway station to walk on history! The floor of this subway station was accidentally constructed of marble slabs containing 80-million-year-old fossils. Unfortunately, the workers did not take time to inspect the slaps because of tight deadlines followed by harsh punishments in case of non-compliance. Where else in the world can you admire such historically rich and peculiar creations?
Visit the Ceausescu’s Mansion
The former communist leader’s home now serves as a museum for anyone interested in seeing how Ceausescu lived. Take a guided tour to visit every room of this opulent house. From bedrooms and the infamous gold bathroom to his very own beauty spa, this place is anything but humble. There is a reoccurring theme among Ceausescu’s constructions as the biggest, sparkliest, and most extravagant. So naturally, he had peacocks for pets, which still roam around his gardens.
Explore the Rural Heart of Bucharest
To refresh your palate from all the luxury, catapult back in time to 17-20th century Romanian villages in the Village Museum. It is the largest outdoor museum in Europe that recreates Romania’s rural architecture in the middle of urban Bucharest. The museum showcases 272 structures with different techniques and decorative motifs. You can also browse traditional arts and crafts at the folk events occasionally hosted on the premises.
The museum is conveniently located in the spectacular Herastrau Park, where you should go for a long stroll afterward. The park spreads around the Herastrau lake and makes for a popular place to escape the summer heat, especially at weekends, but the park is big enough never to feel overcrowded.
If you take the Michael Jackson Alley to exit the park, you’ll be greeted with the view of the majestic Triumph Arch, built to commemorate lives lost in World War I. The Arch was actually built three times, and the first one was constructed of wood for Romania’s independence in 1878.
Capture the Piata Unirii Fountains
Some prefer to enjoy Bucharest, Romania by night as you don’t see the graffiti tags, moss, and damage on the buildings. While these imperfections do give Bucharest its unique not-trying-too-hard charm, Piata Unirii (Union Square) is a location best enjoyed at night. Its fountains are refreshing during the hot summer days. But even more spectacular at night when the fountains put on a dance show accompanied by music and colorful lights. You can catch the show Friday through Sunday from 20:00 to 21:00 outside the winter months.
Appreciate Piata Revolutiei
The Revolution Square is not a place you go to for its beauty but for its historical importance. The square became known worldwide when global TV stations broadcasted the communist leader Ceausescu and his wife fleeing in a helicopter during the 1989 Revolution. And the bullet holes are still visible on the buildings, commemorating that day.
The Memorial of Rebirth is a tall monument commissioned to honor the victims of the Revolution. It’s a tall marble spear with an oval metal “crown” on top. Some locals call it a potato on a skewer. Let us know what it reminds you of in the comments!
Just a few blocks away from Revolution Square is the iconic blend of two architectural styles coming together. Combining old and modern architecture, brick and glass, the Union of Romanian Architects looks like a tiered cake.
Explore the Old Town
Behind Union Square and across the Dambovita River is the Old Town, the historic part of Bucharest. It withstood World War II and Ceausescu when he decided to tear down more than 9000 historic buildings to accommodate copy-paste apartment blocks. This part of town is the most vibrant, with museums, churches, cafes, and galleries to explore. This is another place to marvel at Bucharest’s architecture. Some of the historical buildings were taken over by hotel chains, and additional floors were added on top, creating a sharp contrast like the Union of Romanian Architects building.
While we were there, we were fortunate enough to watch the ceremony on Flag Day in June in front of the Palace of the National Military Circle which was adorned with hundreds of flags. There were spectators, children, and the military present.
Where to Eat in Bucharest, Romania
Caru’ Cu Bere
Located in the Old Town, this is one of the oldest restaurants in Bucharest, dating back over 140 years. Although it may seem overrun with tourists, it is also popular among locals. The building is considered a historical monument, but that’s not the only historical aspect – their beer recipe originated in 1879 and should be paired with your hearty main. Dining at Caru’ Cu Bere (Beer Wagon) is a whole experience, surrounded by Gothic vaults, stained glass, and carved paneling.
Linea Closer to the Moon
This rooftop bar and restaurant, located in the Old Town, offers picturesque views sought-after by every tourist. Sampling their space-themed cocktails at sunset is a must after a long day of exploring.
If you’ve been traveling in Romania for a while, like us, a stop at Emilia Cremeria in Bucharest is a must! This place was our favorite of the summer, not only because it had delicious ice cream, but the people who worked there were charming and so very friendly. We have such fond memories of them, especially since we ate here almost every day!
Carturesti Carusel is a bookstore in the Old Town, but it is one of the most Instagram-able places in the world. Its bright and open space expands over six floors. There is a reading area, art gallery, and a serene cafe on the top floor to head to after exploring all areas and taking your photos. It is the ideal place to break up a busy day of sightseeing.
Bucharest made us appreciate the difference between expensive and luxurious. Every place we visited and everywhere we ate had added value. It was either rich in history or fascinating facts, or atmospheric magic. By the end of our journey in Romania, we learned how much the country has to offer beyond Dracula. And we hope to have shared its essence with our stories from Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, and Brasov (link each). Thank you for reading, and let us know if you have any comments below!
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