While Romania is not typically the first destination people think of while planning a European vacation, the country’s capital city of Bucharest has a ton to offer for travelers interested in getting off the beaten path. Bucharest was once known as “Little Paris” due to its elegant architecture and rich culture. The city is filled with churches from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, spectacular mansions in the Art Nouveau style, Byzantine buildings, and excellent examples of Neoclassical architecture. The myriad of different artistic styles that can be seen around the city will both amaze you and boggle your mind.
The history of Bucharest is long and multifaceted. The city was first settled in antiquity and has been a center of conflict and melding cultures ever since. From German occupation to a royal coup to the dark and turbulent Communist period, Bucharest has had its fair share of unrest, and evidence of the city’s hardships can be seen on every street corner.
Today, Bucharest is a modern city on the rise, filled with commercial buildings and industrial sectors that are vital to the country’s economy. A visit to Bucharest allows you to experience a glimpse into the city’s fascinating past as well as a vision of what the future of Romania might look like.
If you’re planning to travel through eastern Europe, a visit to Romania’s capital city of Bucharest is absolutely worthwhile. Here are the best 7 things to do while you’re there:
1. Palace of the Parliament
Perhaps the most impressive building in all of Bucharest is the Palace of the Parliament, also known as the Republic’s House or the People’s House. While the palace is an absolutely gorgeous work of Neoclassical and Socialist realist architecture, it represents a dark time in Romania’s past when the country was under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu, who was impressed by the strict systematization he saw in North Korea during his visit in 1971, returned to his country with the goal of implementing a similar system of urban planning in his own country.
The Palace of the Parliament is most renowned for the ornate interior decoration of its 23 sections. The building is home to the two houses of the Romanian Parliament: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. There are also three museums and an international conference center. However, due to the massive size of the palace, many of the rooms remain unused.
Visitors can admire the Palace of Parliament from the courtyard in the front or pay to go on a guided tour of the palace’s chambers.
2. Romanian Athenaeum
For a truly remarkable cultural experience during your visit to Bucharest, make sure you visit the Romanian Athenaeum, the most revered concert hall in all of Romania. The Athenaeum is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, a collection of the country’s best musicians who perform compositions by some of the world’s greatest classical composers.
Beyond the incredible performances that you can experience in the Romanian Athenaeum, the building itself is incredibly impressive. Built in the 19th century and designed by French architect Albert Galleron, the Athenaeum features a massive dome with six Ionic pillars guarding the entrance, making it resemble an ancient Greek temple. The interior of the Athenaeum contains vaulted ceilings covered in gold leaf, marble spiral staircases, awe-inspiring frescoes, and beautiful balconies.
The George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra puts on performances from September to May and tickets can be purchased right at the venue’s box office.
3. Stavropoleos Church
For a look at one of the more unique landmarks in Bucharest, visit Stavropoleos Church. The church is pretty much impossible to miss, as it stands out because of its unique architectural style and intricate carvings. Built in 1724 by a Greek monk by the name of Ioanikie Stratonikeas, the church represents an interesting blend of Romanian and Byzantine cultures that can only be found in this part of the world.
The church is known for its large library, its carvings and frescoes, and the graveyard that sits behind it which contains tombstones dating back to the 18th century. Concerts are occasionally held at the church that offer visitors the opportunity to hear traditional Romanian music in a beautiful setting.
4. King Mihai I Park
If you thought that Bucharest was nothing but Soviet-style cement buildings, you need to take a walk down to King Mihai I Park, formerly known as Herastrau Park. The park is located on the northern edge of Lake Herastrau, one of several lakes formed by the Colentina River. Local Romanians love to spend the weekends walking around or having a picnic in the park. However, at 187 hectares, the park is so large that it never feels overcrowded.
Apart from enjoying some nice weather and possibly seeing some street performers, King Mihai I Park has much to offer in the way of landmarks. Visitors can admire Elisabeta Palace, the residence of Romania’s royal family, from afar; however, the palace currently is closed to the public.
If you do find yourself strolling through King Mihai I Park, make sure to stop at the Village Museum, an open-air museum that showcases the traditional Romanian mode of life. Visitors can admire 272 peasant style-houses representing the cultural traditions of Romania’s many regions.
5. National Museum of Art of Romania
Established in 1948 in the former Royal Palace, the National Museum of Art of Romania is the largest collection of Romanian art in the world. There are over 100,000 pieces in the collection dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, many of which are from some of the country’s most beloved painters such as Nicolae Grigorescu and Theodor Aman.
Romanian artists are not the only ones represented in the National Museum of Art of Romania, though. Visitors to the museum can also check out the European Gallery, which houses works from international greats such as El Greco, Monet, Renoir, and Rembrandt. You can purchase tickets to the museum online or right at the door.
6. Cismigiu Gardens
If you’re looking for some more outdoor relaxation in Bucharest, make sure to head over to Cismigiu Gardens, the most centrally-located of Bucharest’s public gardens. The gardens are full of trees, flowers, lakes, and lawns, making Cismigiu Gardens the perfect place to sit down with a book. The area was originally designed by German landscape architect Carl Meyer, who had thousands of plants brought from the Romanian mountains as well as more exotic plants brought in from botanical gardens in Vienna.
The Roman Garden, one of the more famous areas of Cismigiu Gardens, was designed in the ancient Roman style and features busts of famous Romanian writers. You can also look for the French Memorial, a marble statue that commemorates the French soldiers killed in Romania during World War I.
7. Carturesti Carusel
If you’re interested in doing a little shopping while in Bucharest, you should make sure to visit Carturesti Carusel. The massive six-floor bookshop has shelves upon shelves of books, albums, DVDs, and so much more. You can also admire local art displays, get a cup of coffee at the in-house cafe, or just sit down and read a book.
Even if you aren’t all that interested in reading, Carturesti Carusel is still worth a visit because of its ingenious architecture. The interior of the building is rather minimal, but the central skylight gives visitors the impression that they’ve just stepped into a carousel of light.