Bucharest, the capital of Romania is a developing city with fast-paced, vibrant neighborhoods. Explore the remains of communism and discover its recent history that is obvious throughout the city. Read on to learn what to do, what to see, and where to eat and drink from this budget-ized Bucharest travel guide.
1. Palace of the Parliament
Remains from another era, this monstrous building – it is the second largest government building in the world after the Pentagon – with numerous halls, tall marble staircases and columns, was commissioned 1984 by Ceausescu, the dictator of Romania, to house the Communist Party. Today it houses the Romanian Parliament and some administrative offices.
The Palace of the Parliament is located on Strada Izvor 2-4, which is a 7 minute drive from city center. Guided tours are offered to the public daily from 10 AM to 4 PM. The admission fee is 25 RON per person (6.18 USD) and 13 RON (3.21 USD) for students, and admission is only by prior arrangement. You can book a tour online for the Palace of the Parliament via the official website, but a day prior to your visit you should call them to ensure your visit and book an exact time from 10 AM to 4 PM. Ask at your hotel, as some hotels are willing to call and book the tour for you. Make sure you have your passport with you as they need it for security reasons. The tour lasts about an hour and covers a small part of the building, enough to understand the megalomania of this dictator and the customs of the communist era.
2. Visit the Old Town for dining and clubbing
The Old Town of Bucharest (Centrul Vechi) is located in the Lipscani neighborhood. It extends between the streets Calea Victoriei, Bratianu blvd., Regina Elisabeta blvd. and the river Dambovita. Its cobblestone streets are full of bars, pubs, clubs, eateries and one-night hotels next to massage parlors. It is suitable for lovers who would like to go clubbing in a quite decadent style. The Old Town is characterized by architectural anarchy and a mix of various styles. A great exception to this anarchy, an oasis of culture, is the bookstore Carturesti Carusel located on Lipscani Street 55, by far my favorite place in the old city, which is definitely worth a visit.
3. Walk along the most charming street of the city
Calea Victoriei is the oldest and undoubtedly most charming street of the city. It was built in 1692 to connect the Old Princely Court to the Mogosoaia Palace and was originally pedestrianized with oak beams. Today, it is a major avenue in Bucharest and its main shopping street. Get off at Metro Station Piaţa Victoriei and walk along the street Calea Victoriei. Along your way, apart from shops, cafes and restaurants you will discover the most emblematic buildings of the city: Cantacuzino Palace, the National Military Club Palace, the Headquarters of the National Savings Bank CEC (built in 1900), and the National Museum of History, which is an exquisite neoclassical building. The Cantacuzino Palace was built in 1901-1903 for Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, mayor of Bucharest and former prime-minister that today hosts a museum dedicated to the artist George Enescu. Summing up, in order to see Bucharest’s main buildings, you just have to walk along Victoriei Street!
4. Piata Revolutiei - an infamous revolution square
The Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei) is the most famous square in Romania. Nicolae Ceausescu’s last moments of power on December 21, 1989, just before getting caught and driven to death, was broadcasted worldwide from here. Discover “The Wall of Remembrance”, a memorial dedicated to people who died during the Revolution. However, this square has much more history than the Fall of Communism. Here one can find the former Royal Palace that today hosts the National Art Museum, the exquisite building of Athenaeum and the historic Athenee Palace Hotel. In the southern part of the square you’ll find the small but beautiful Kretzulescu Church, one of the oldest – it was built between 1720-1722 – and best preserved Orthodox churches in Bucharest.
5. University Square and the Bucharest Museum of History
Always crowded with people and traffic, the University Square is the most popular meeting point among locals. It is surrounded by important architectural buildings in each of its four corners; when you look around you can see the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Bucharest, the National Theater, the neoclassical Coltea Hospital and the Sutu Palace, which now houses the Bucharest Museum of History. You can visit the Museum of History if you want to discover Romanian history and it is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Normal admission is 25 RON (6.20 USD) per person, 15 RON (3.75 USD) for pensioners and 7 RON (1.73 USD) for students. Have in mind that since 2012 the museum is only partially open due to an extensive restoration project.
6. Dine at the delicious Caru’ Cu Bere
Caru’ Cu Bere is maybe the most famous restaurant in the city, and not without reason, as it offers amazing traditional food in a great atmosphere. Housed in a historic building that dates from 1899 in the Old City on Stavropoleos Street 5, it hardly goes unnoticed as it is always crowded with people. As soon as you walk inside you are impressed by the imposing architecture, the lovely mosaic floor and the wooden stairs leading down to the cellar. Choose a table on the ground floor, not in the cellar, because on the ground floor you can watch traditional Romanian dancers while you eat.
The specialty of the restaurant is the pork shank with potatoes and the soup. If you have not booked a table in advance, you may have to wait for quite a while at the bar until there is an empty table!
A trip in Bucharest offers a great opportunity to see the remnants of the communist era and feel the changing wind that blows in the city. Beautiful architectural gems surround the main squares and the emblematic Palace of the Parliament is a must-see. You will feel small and wonder about human megalomania if you enter this building that now hosts administrative offices. Nightlife is different in Bucharest, but you can definitely enjoy a cultural dive in Carturesti Carusel, one of the most beautiful bookstores you have ever seen, and eat a great meal in a historic building, Caru’ Cu Bere. And oh, if you’re looking for budget accommodations, take a look at the low-cost Airbnb vacation rentals.
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