Bucharest, Romania

Romania is situated on the shores of the Black Sea, in the north of the Balkan Peninsula. The country enjoys both great natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. In the first of a three part series exploring this fascinating destination, we take a look at some of the most popular attractions in the bustling capital city of Bucharest.

Bucharest: Eastern Europe’s “Little Paris”

Bucharest is Romania’s capital, and the largest city in the country. The city became known as “Little Paris” during the period between the two World Wars, on account of its elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite. There is much to explore and, as with many cities, a walking tour is often the best way to become acquainted with the surroundings.

A good place to start is Calea Victoriei or “Victory Avenue”, a fashionable thoroughfare where you can view the Cantacuzino Palace and Revolution Square. The French Baroque/Art Nouveau-style Cantacuzino Palace was built in 1902, and today houses a museum dedicated to renowned Romanian composer George Enescu. Known as Piața Palatului (Palace Square) until 1989, Revolution Square was renamed following the 1989 Romanian Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime.

Revolution Square, Bucharest, Romania

Revolution Square, located on Calea Victoriei in central Bucharest.

Old Meets New

Throughout Bucharest, the modern-day architecture stands in stark contrast to older historic buildings, making it a fabulous example of old meets new. In the center of the city you can find the Romanian Athenaeum, a beautiful concert hall which has become one of the city’s most iconic sights.

Designed by the French architect Albert Galleron, this neoclassical landmark was inaugurated in 1888. The ground floor hosts an ornate conference hall, whilst the main auditorium seats more than 600 people. In front of the building you can find a small park, which contains a statue of the famous Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu.

Romania Bucharest

The Romanian Athenaeum, a beautiful concert hall and famous landmark in Bucharest.

The World’s Biggest Parliament Building

Located on Dealul Arsenalului in central Bucharest, the Palace of Parliament is the largest administrative building in the world, covering an area of 365,000m2. Built in the 1980s on the orders of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, this imposing structure features more than three thousand rooms, all fashioned from the finest Romanian marble.

In addition to huge quantities of marble, other materials used in its construction included 3,500 tons of crystal (480 chandeliers and 1,409 ceiling lights were manufactured), 700,000 tons of bronze and steel, 900,000 m3 of wood (including walnut, oak, sweet cherry and elm), and  200,000 m2 of woolen carpeting. All of these combined make it officially the world’s heaviest building, weighing in at around 4,517,822 tons.

Romania, Bucharest

The imposing Palace of Parliament building in Bucharest holds the record for the world’s heaviest building.

Experience Living History

If you are seeking an authentic glimpse into Romanian history you can visit the Old Town (Lipscani), home to a variety of attractive mid-19th century buildings. From the Middle Ages to the early 19th century, this was the most important commercial area of the city. Originally named after the German city of Leipzig (Lipsca in 17th century Romanian), the word lipscan meant “trader who brought his wares from Western Europe” in Romanian.

A must-visit within the Lipscani district are the ruins of the Princely Court of Targoviste – otherwise known as the first residence of Vlad Tepes, aka Count Dracula. Churches, restaurants and traditional taverns line the narrow, cobblestoned streets, bringing centuries of history to life before your eyes. Today, much of the district has been transformed into a pedestrian zone, and the area has become a popular spot for nightlife.

Romania, Bucharest

Ruins at the Princely Court of Targoviste, once home to the infamous Vlad the Impaler.

Enjoy a Stroll in the Park

On the north side of the city, nature lovers can visit the beautiful Herastrau Park and the nearby Arcul de Triumf  or “Arch of Triumph” – the monument bears a striking resemblance to the more famous one found in Paris. The original arch was built in honor of Romanian independence in 1878. Military parades are held annually beneath the arch on the 1st December, marking Romania’s main national holiday known as “Great Union Day”.

No trip to Bucharest is complete without a visit to the Cismigiu Gardens. Built in 1847, this is the oldest and largest park in the city. It is also home to the Rondul Român (“Romanian Round”), a circular alley which contains stone busts of twelve important Romanian writers. Other pleasant outdoor areas to visit include the beautiful Parcul Alexandru Ioan Cuza, a peaceful oasis of green amid the hustle and bustle of the city, and the enchanting Bucharest Botanical Gardens.

The Cismigiu Gardens in Bucharest, Romania

The attractive Cismigiu Gardens is the oldest and largest park in the city.

Culture Aficionado’s Delight

History buffs will be in their element with all the museums, palaces and grand buildings that Bucharest has to offer. One of the most famous for sightseers is the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum. Located in Herăstrău Park, this open-air ethnographic museum showcases traditional Romanian village life. Visit the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant to view a collection of textiles, icons, ceramics and other relics of day-to-day life.

The Cotroceni Palace (Palatul Cotroceni) is famous as the official residence of the President of Romania. In addition, the palace houses the National Cotroceni Museum, an extensive collection of traditional Romanian arts and crafts.

Bucharest is home to many ancient churches and monasteries, including the Stavropoleos Church and Kretzulescu Church, both Eastern Orthodox monasteries built in the early 1700s. The Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral was completed in 1658, and features an elegant facade in the Brâncovenesc style. This building witnessed a historical moment in 1862, when Romanian Prime Minister Barbu Catargiu was assassinated as his carriage passed in front of the cathedral. The Antim Monastery is a beautiful walled complex built in 1715 by the metropolitan bishop Antim Ivireanu. The monastery still functions today, and also hosts a museum featuring historical religious artefacts.

Antim Monastery, Bucharest, Romania

Antim Monastery, one of the many historic religious structures which can be found in Bucharest.

Take a Spin Through Automotive History

Our tour of Bucharest concludes with a more up-to-date attraction, the Tiriac Collection. A hit among vintage car enthusiasts, this museum dedicated to automobiles includes over 150 historical vehicles manufactured since 1899. The cars on display all belong to the private collection of Ion Tiriac, a Romanian businessman and former professional tennis player. It is the only collection in the world to feature all six models of Rolls Royce Phantoms produced between 1927 and 1972.

In addition to the older models, the museum showcases several modern performance cars. A full list of vehicles currently on display can be found on the museum’s official website.

Tiriac - Bucharest, Romania

The Tiriac Collection gathers vintage motorcars from the private collection of Ion Tiriac, a businessman and former Tennis champion.

Further Reading

In the next part of our trip around Romania, we will take a look at the historical region of Transylvania. A destination long associated with spooky myths and legends, this area is perhaps not as scary as you might believe. Stay tuned to find out why!

Romania in Focus Part Two: Transylvania
Romania in Focus Part Three: Other Popular Destinations

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