Bucharest has always been the subject of much debate amongst travellers, some absolutely love it, but more often than not most people tend to find its evident communist architecture and limited attractions add up to being an underwhelming city, especially when it is the capital of a country. Yet on my recent trip there I was completely surprised by what I found. After reading article after article on why Bucharest is not even worthy of a visit I found its wide boulevards and momentous buildings an extremely pleasant surprise, maybe that was because I had subconsciously set my standards low after what I had studied, or maybe it is because a lot of people do not truly appreciate what Bucharest is offering. Although it is the capital of Romania, Bucharest has always suffered from fewer tourists than the more popular areas of Brasov and the Transylvanian region, often only visited quickly as a stopover en route to other parts of the country. I will admit that I was one of those people, but before you shout hypocrite, I only had time for two nights in Romania, and on my first day I was so exhausted that as soon as I checked in I passed out on my bed and missed my opportunity to fully explore this city. But I will be back to properly uncover all that Bucharest has to offer very soon I’m sure!
So what exactly is there to do in Bucharest? First arriving into the city I was taken aback by how large it was, having just come from other Eastern European capital cities that were a lot smaller compared to western cities the likes of Paris and Rome, I expected as much for Romania’s capital, but Bucharest is a very large city, and so there is plenty of sites to entertain you over a couple of days.
Stare in awe at one of the largest buildings in the world: The Palace of Parliament
Romania was one of the many countries that fell under Soviet control after the end of World War II, and so many of its buildings are constructed in the typical communist style including what is now the Parliament building. While it does somewhat represent that standard socialist influence, it is a truly beautiful and remarkable structure when compared to other buildings constructed in that time. But what makes this building so incredible is the size of it! Housing more than one thousand rooms (yes you read that right 1000!), it is the biggest parliamentary building and is one of the largest buildings in the world! Guided tours within will take you through only a small section and will point out the extensive marble, gold, and hardwood details that went into this impressive building.
Appreciate the hard times at Revolution Square
Bucharest has suffered from a turbulent past, forever being held by the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Nazis, and the communists, before breaking free into a democracy in 1989. That final step into the free Romania that it is today was a hard time for the country and its capital, with much bloodshed and fatalities. Revolution Square was one place that saw a lot of the violence. Yet it stands proud today with the Memorial of Rebirth at its centre commemorating the honour and bravery of those that suffered. Revolution Square is also where you can wander through the National Art Museum housing pieces from the 15th -20th centuries.
Wander the remains of the Bucharest Old City
It is hard to find a European city in today’s time that doesn’t have an old town section, yet for a long time it looked as if Bucharest might be without one. Being hit hard during WWII and then being almost completely rebuilt in communist fashion, Bucharest’s Old City was left to rot and crumble until a few years ago when a resurgence of bars and restaurants began to take interest in the area. Nowadays you will find it hard not to be entranced by the restored buildings and the gypsy atmosphere that is still highly present. This part of the city is also the nightlife hotspot for all those partygoers.
Take a walk through time at the Village Museum
With most of the Romanian population living in the big cities like Bucharest and Brasov it is easy to forget that most of the country is hardly occupied, yet the history of Romania is full of interesting tales and villages past. While these places may not exist in their former locations, it is easy to take a walk through them and the history of the country at the Village Museum conveniently located right in the centre of the city. Here you can experience the past as you discover what life was like in Romania during the 18th and 19th centuries through the houses coming from all the different regions including Transylvania, Oltenia, and Moldavia.
Visit the legendary Transylvania
No one can go to Romania and not visit the beautiful and mysterious Transylvania region. Wander through the castle and grounds of what is thought to be one of the most picturesque castles in Europe, Peles Castle, before heading to the rumoured inspiration for Bram Stocker’s Dracula’s home at Bran Castle. While in the area make sure to stop by the delightful city of Brasov, where you can pick yourself up some ice cream at Caprices and if you’re up for it take the hike up to the Brasov sign.
Experience the unique blend of communism and Paris
It is a little known fact that Bucharest was highly influenced by Paris and French architects, but as you stroll the wide boulevards and sip coffee in the park it is not hard to find yourself feeling as if you’ve travelled across borders and into France. One of the most obvious connections between the two cities is the Arch of Triumph that both capitals share. Another Parisian style attraction that is worth a peep is the Romania Athenaeum. Designed by French architect Albert Galleron, the interior of this building is beautifully decorated with gold leaf, fresco covered ceilings, and pink marble columns.
Eastern Europe is slowly starting to gain the recognition that it should earn, and Romania is a country that is so beautiful and rich in culture that it deserves a lot more appreciation than what it currently gets. While I too am at fault for overlooking Bucharest, this city is truly a wonderful place that more travellers should consider visiting. I cannot wait to get back to Romania to properly explore its capital and all of it hidden treasures.