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Bucharest: 12 things to see

Have you thought of visiting Bucharest?

By Anna Purpurpurpur

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is not the most popular destination among European cities, however, to be honest, I was pretty impressed with Bucharest – I didn’t expect it to have so many beautiful buildings. It feels underfunded and not really well cared of but it has lots of potential and it definitely exceeded my expectations. I’ll show you some of its most prominent landmarks to convince you!

Bucharest was first mentioned in a document of 1459 by Prince Vlad Țepeş (yeah, Vlad Dracula) when he was referring to the citadel of Bucureşti and was the main city of Principality of Wallachia and later Romania.

1. Take a tour of the Palace of the Parliament

The notorious Palace of the Parliament, known for its colossal size (it’s frequently called the second-largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon, US, and the most expensive administrative building in the world) and for how its construction drained the funds of the country, is an unmissable landmark of Bucharest.

Its construction started in 1984 under the order of Nicolae Ceauşescu, a dictator that led Romania to a disastrous state and who was shot along with his wife Elena after a short trial in 1989 during the events of Romanian revolution. The building itself was completed in 1997.

It’s still a seat of Romanian Parliament, there are a few museums inside however a big part of the building remains empty.

You can visit it only with an official guide: you can either call and pre-book you visit a day ahead buying the tickets yourself or buy the tickets online from one of the trusted websites (we opted for Viator because we could leave the pram in their office – otherwise, we’d have to fight 300 steps of the Parliament as there is no storage space available) who for a small extra fee additional to the tickets price meet you close to the parliament, escort you there and buy the tickets for you.

Either way, you can proceed for the tour with an official guide only, and don’t forget your passport! During your one hour tour, you learn some bits of Romanian history and its recent communist rule and of course explore some parts of the Palace. I was left with mixed feelings though – the building itself is breathtaking, both in architecture and materials used, however, it’s hard to ignore the price the country paid for it.

If you want to learn more about Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu, you can also visit their residence Palatul Primaverii (the Palace of Spring).

2. Admire the Revolution square

Revolution Square is probably the prettiest square of Bucharest thanks to the amazing architectural sites located there: National Museum of Art of Romania that sits in the former Royal Palace completed in 1837; the Senate Palace (former Central Committee of the Communist Party; the 25 metre high Memorial of Rebirth symbolising the overcoming the communist period; the restored statue of King Carol I of Romania; the Romanian Athenaeum (the 1888 concert hall) and others.

It used to be known as the Palace square however after the events of 21/12/1989 and Ceaușescu’s speech here it was renamed the Revolution Square.

By the way, the Sala Palatului, or the Palace Hall, the large venue built during the communist era, is located just a few min walk from it. 

Bucharest guide Romania what to do

3. Walk along the Calea Victoriei

Calea Victoriei, or the Victory Avenue, is one of the main streets of Bucharest so you probably won’t miss it.

Quite a few notable buildings take a seat there including the CEC Palace dating to 1900, the National Museum of Romanian History covering the story of the country from the prehistoric period up to our days, the Zlătari Church (Romanian orthodox church whose founders were the goldsmiths according to the legend – hence the name; the photography is forbidden inside so come in to see frescoes with your own eyes!). Casa Capsa is also might be your destination here if you have a sweet tooth!

4. Have fun at Cișmigiu Park

The Cișmigiu Park is a lovely large green area in the very centre of Bucharest that opened in the mid-19th century. We visited in winter while its pond was frozen and used as an ice rink. There were also a couple of playgrounds and a Romanian Rondum featuring the statues of 12 Romanian writers and a few other monuments.

The park has two entrances: from Regina Elisabeta Boulevard and near the Crețulescu Palace, another architectural gem of Bucharest, a mansion built by Petre Antonescu at the beginning of the 20th century. 

5. Look inside the churches of Bucharest 

I was really impressed with a number of historic Orthodox churches in the very centre of Budapest – although I’m not religious I’d suggest you visit quite a few of them because first those are an important part of the Romanian heritage and secondly they are simply beautiful!

I’ve already mentioned Zlătari Church, and in addition, I’d name just a few more (and I’ll prepare a guide to the churches as well!): Curtea Veche Church, the oldest church of the city; Stavropoleos Monastery; St. Nicholas Russian Church; New St. George Church, Colţea Church; and Kretzulescu Church.

It’s also worth noting that the largest orthodox church – People’s Salvation Cathedral – is currently being built in Bucharest.

6. Explore the remaining bits of Jewish history

The history of Jews in this area wasn’t the happiest story (as of many other Jews in Europe at that period); however, it’s worth noting that many Jews fled Russian Empire and found refuge in Bucharest, with the highest number of people living here in the 1930s and further the pogroms, Nazi and communist periods have forces Jews to flee the country (you can read about the outcome of the Holocaust in Romania in the report of Weisel commission).

Many Jewish landmarks were destroyed to clear the space to build the Unirei Square and Civic Centre; however, there are a few sites that survived the destruction: Museum of the History of the Romanian Jews (the former Temple of the Holy Union built in 1836); the Great Synagogue erected in 1845 and the Memorial of Jewish Martyrs; and the mid-19th century Choral Temple.

7. Have lunch at Caru’ cu bere

Caru’ cu bere, meaning The Beer Wagon, is a historical brewery and restaurant in central Bucharest you must not miss! The brewery business of related Căbășan and Mircea families originally started in 1879.

However, they moved to this location a bit later, and this venue was open to the public in 1899. You’ll admire its colourful and aesthetically pleasant interior, and I also loved its traditional dishes. They also have small concerts inside the restaurant, and we were lucky to accompany our lunch with live music.

Be ready for the place to get pretty crowded because it’s really famous!

8. Don’t miss the Arcul de Triumf

Arcul de Triumf, or the Triumphal Arch, can be easily spotted while you travel from the airport (from the north) to the city centre. The first wooden arch on this site dates to 1878 and was rebuilt in 1922; however, the current marble arch was opened to the public in 1936 and designed by Petre Antonescu. Now it’s one of the symbols of Bucharest – and you can climb it up to see the panorama around it.

9. Walk along the Macca-Villacrosse Passage

Macca-Villacrosse Passage, or Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse, is a covered passage in the very centre of Bucharest that reminded me of Çiçek Pasajı, or the Flower Passage, in Istanbul.

Once on this place stood a few houses, including an inn; however, it was decided to remove it and to make a direct passage to Calea Victoriei; the inn owners refused to agree to their building removal, so the passage eventually was adjusted to a shape of a fork and was finished in 1891. Now, Macca-Villacrosse Passage is covered in yellow glass from above and houses a few dining facilities. 

10. Check the Centrul Civic

Centrul Civic is a relatively new district of Bucharest: during the communist era, the whole old district in the city centre was demolished in the 1980s to clear up space for it. Now you can find there the large Unirii (Union) square, colourful multimedia fountains (unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see the water show there as it’s held from spring till mid-autumn), Bulevardul Unirii (the Union Boulevard) running to the Palace of the Parliament and many new administrative buildings that were supposed to highlight the power of Communist Romania and its mighty leader.

Bucharest guide Romania what to do

Unirea Shopping Center, the largest department store in Romania during the communist rule, opened in 1976; as you might think, it is actually a very sad venue, with the majority of space occupied by closed shops and many entrances and passages closed.

11. Pop into the Manuc’s Inn

Manuc’s Inn is the surviving piece of Bucharest’s history. It’s the oldest operating Inn in the city, dating to 1808, which targeted the merchants travelling with caravans along their trade routes. Manuc’s Inn was founded by Armenian Emanual Marzaian, also known by his Turkish name Manuc-bei (hence the name). The treaty of Bucharest, a result of Russian-Turkish war, was signed here in 1812.

The building with an inner courtyard and a few levels of balconies is well restored and still very impressive – and it is considered an important part of the historical heritage. I presume there are a few venues operating inside of it in the warmer season; however, we spotted only a restaurant. 

12. Buy something at Cărturești Carusel 

Cărturești Carusel, falsely translated as the Carousel of Light, is literally one of the prettiest bookstores I’ve ever been to, and this is a gem you should visit on your trip to Bucharest! It’s again located in the old town, was opened in 1903 and just recently restored. The ground floor is dedicated more to souvenirs and different silly goods; however, proper books are sold on the other floors too.

I must also note that there are a few other bookshops worth your attention at a very close distance: Takumi shop with Japanese goods and Diverta, a large classical bookstore. 

Where to stay in Bucharest?

We stayed in one of the best hotels of the city, The Marmorosch. It’s located very conveniently in the centre of the Old City, with all the major attraction within a short reach. It dates to the mid-19th century and just recently was refurbished.

The hotel itself has a relaxed elegant vibe, being located in the former bank building. It’s where the modernity combines with the lavish framing. I loved their luxurious Orient Express decorations as well as the food in their restaurant, and the spa area was small however still pretty stylish.

You might also like my other blogs about Balkan countries:

Hope you enjoyed my blog!
Anna xxx

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