Bucharest offers many places of interest. Known also the "Little Paris", the capital of Romania is a tourist destination to discover little by little. Here's what there is to see in the city.
A fascinating city of Eastern Europe, Bucharest is the perfect destination for those seeking a trip outside the usual tourist circuits. The capital of Romania, Bucharest combines relaxation, culture, and fun: there are many museums in the city, as well as discos and exclusive clubs where you can spend wonderful evenings.
Known also as the "Little Paris", Bucharest is a harmonious blend of ancient and modern and is without a doubt one of the most fascinating capitals of Europe. Once in the city, one immediately perceives the desire for rebirth and redemption from a difficult past, the signs of which can still be seen in many of the city’s buildings.
Still, off the beaten track, Bucharest is a unique and probably undervalued city, yet it is perfect the destination for an alternative, cheap weekend getaway (thanks to its low cost of living). So, let’s discover this wonderful city, starting from its historic center. Here's what there is to do and see in Bucharest.
The Curtea Veche of Bucharest, a walk through the historic center
The historical center of Bucharest is a tangle of alleys and cobblestone streets that open onto churches, museums, and buildings designed in Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau architectural style. The area is enclosed in a quadrilateral between the Dâmbovița - the river that flows through the city - Calea Victoriei and the two Blvdul Regina Elisabeta and Bratianu.
Old Bucharest begins with Curtea Veche, or the “old court”, a 15th-century building built under the reign of Emperor Vlad, more commonly known as Count Dracula, whose famous bronze statue is on display for visitors (although the museum is temporarily closed now for renovation works).
The center of Bucharest is full of clubs and restaurants, although its beating heart is Lipscani street, populated by craft shops and other businesses. We are in place with a long history of settlements. The name derives from Leipzig, the German city from which many merchants came, and "lipscan" was precisely the name that the locals used to give to merchants. Much of the area is pedestrian and during our walk, you might want to make a stop at Caru Cu Bere, one of the oldest restaurants in town, or have a beer at Hanul Iui Manul, a 19th-century inn with a beautiful interior garden.
Among the places to see in the center of Bucharest there is definitely the Church of Stavropoleos, an Orthodox church from the 18th century that stands next to a monastery, a perfect example of medieval Romanian architecture, with its beautiful cloister and decorated domes. Nearby are other buildings that have made the history of this city, such as the Museum of the National Bank of Romania, which is open to visitors free of charge (available from Monday to Friday by appointment) and the University Square or Piata Universitatii, the symbol of the revolution of 1989, with the 10 stone crosses in the center commemorating the victims. In the four corners of the square are the University of Bucharest, the Coltea Hospital, the Sutu building (home of the Museum of History), and the National Theater of Bucharest.
Sight-seeing attractions in Bucharest: from the National Theater to Piata Revolutiei
The National Theater of Bucharest is one of the largest in Europe. Built in the 1970s in place of the old "Grand Theater" - destroyed first by war bombings and then by the Communist regime - this building is striking for the "hat" shape of its roof, with a red outline that stands out against the rest of the white building. Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit the interior of the theater without attending a show.
A little further north we find Piata Revolutiei or Revolution Square, one of Bucharest's historic sites, in the heart of the Communist Party's headquarters. Here, in 1989, the dictator Ceaușescu delivered his last speech in front of an angry crowd. In this square, we find the memorial to the Rebirth, the symbol of the end of the regime, the former Royal Palace and the Romanian Athenaeum or Roman Athenaeum, a temple of music in the city dating back to the late 1980s. This circular concert hall, surrounded by a neoclassical colonnade, seats up to 600 spectators and is located in the square named after George Enescu, the most famous Romanian composer and one of the best violinists of the 20th century (a festival is dedicated to Enescu every year).
Inside the former Royal Palace, instead, we find the National Art Museum, with the largest collection of contemporary European art in the country. Do not miss the sculptures crafted by Romanian artist Constantin Brâncuși or the works of Corneliu Baba, as well as the international collection, which includes works by Tintoretto and Monet. The museum is open every day except Mondays. In the surroundings of the square, the Crețulescu church is also worth a visit, easily identifiable by its reddish facade. Built in the 18th century, this Orthodox church has survived several restorations, risks of demolition and earthquakes. Returned to its former glory, today it is possible to admire the magnificent frescoes, the furnishings, and the large enameled bronze candelabrum.
Places of interest in Bucharest: Piata Unirii and the Parliament Building
We continue our journey in Bucharest towards the south, in the direction of Piața Unirii, one of the most impressive squares in the city. Strongly desired by Ceausescu, today the square is the main junction of road traffic. In the center of the square, there is a fountain which, according to the dictator, was supposed to fill the pools of the entire square with water.
Among the things to see in Bucharest, east of Piata Unirii, we find the Great Synagogue which, with simple architectural lines, it houses the local Jewish community. Open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., it can be visited free of charge. Returning to Piata Unirii we see two other attractions of Bucharest. The first is the Patriarchal Cathedral, an Orthodox church dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helen, a favorite destination of tourists because of its mosaics. The Cathedral stands on a small hill that also houses the Palace and the Patriarchal Residence, the dwelling place of the "Patriarch" of all Romania, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The church can be visited every day for free. 10 minutes away we find the Monastery of Antim: almost hidden among the houses, it stands out because of its red outer bricks and the high tower.
From Piața Uniri, a large tree-lined avenue unfolds that leads to the Romanian Parliament. The Parliament Building is one of the largest buildings in the world (second only to the Pentagon). Built in the 1980s at the behest of the dictator, the building has more than 1,000 rooms and an area of over 300,000 square meters. In addition to the parliament, there are also three museums, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Communist Totalitarianism and a museum dedicated to the history of the building itself. Also known as the People's Palace, it is a monumental work covered with marble and sparkling chandeliers, which leaves you wondering how much the maintenance must cost.
You can visit the building on weekdays as part of a guided tour (reservation required).
As for the government offices, we cannot fail to mention the Cotroceni Building, west of Bucharest, presently the seat of the President of the Republic. It is a magnificent building that dates back to the 17th century, first conceived as a monastery and that has marked the history of this country. Inside there is also a museum that can be visited by appointment.
A little relaxation: from Parcu Herastrau to the Bucharest spa
One of the access points to "Little Paris" is the Arc de Triomphe de Bucharest, a granite work rebuilt in 1936 on a previous wooden model of the late 1900s to celebrate the independence of Romania. A few steps from here we can see another symbol of the city, Palatul Primaverii, the summer residence of the Romanian dictator, now a house-museum. The villa is a building with over 80 rooms, with a private cinema and a swimming pool.
This is a very green area of the city that is famous among locals as the Herastrau park, for jogging or for a simple walk. Inside, the park hosts many attractions, such as the Muzeul Satului or Village Museum, which will take you on a journey through time and through the history of Romania, from the Paleolithic age to the present day.
Among the things to do in Bucharest to enjoy a moment of relaxation is a trip to the famous spa in Bucharest. This is a thermal complex of over 3 thousand meters deep and which features 8 swimming pools and several water slides. The spa lies 5 minutes from Bucharest Otopeni airport and about 10 km from the center but is easily accessible by taxi or bus. This spa - the largest in Europe - also houses the largest botanical garden in Romania. Among the many plant species, there is also the tree of life, a tropical specimen about 120 years old. The facility is open every day and admission fees vary depending on the area of the complex, but a night-time experience at the spa is a must.
Nightlife in Bucharest: the city's nightlife
Bucharest is a place of non-stop partying. Despite the old stereotypes, the Romanian city offers a wide range of activities and walking around the streets of
the city center late at night is in no way dangerous. Romanians also love the nightlife and for this reason, in Bucharest, there are many discos and clubs with a rich calendar of musical events. Among the most popular venues are Dianei 4, in an old house with an intimate atmosphere, and the Coffee Factory on Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta, which offers delicious freshly roasted coffee and a selection of Romanian wines until late at night.
Bucharest cuisine and the Obor market: a gourmet trip to the city
Bucharest is a capital city with amazing cuisine. Among the typical dishes are many delicacies that we are sure you’ll enjoy. We call it the ciorbă de burtă, similar to tripe, the legendary spicy meatballs made with grilled beef, and the sarmale, vine rolls or cabbage stuffed with pork and rice. We also recommend that you try the Tochitura cu mamaliguta, a beef stew with cornmeal, and the Placinte, a pasta dish with Nasal, a typical Romanian cheese.
The typical sweets of Bucharest are cozonac, a cake filled with candied fruit, cocoa, and walnuts, traditionally consumed at Easter, the saraille, made of almond paste and soaked in rum, and papanasi, a dessert of sweet cheese, sour cream and jam.
Bucharest certainly has plenty of places where you can enjoy traditional food, and the Obor Market is one of them. It is the oldest market in the city, rich in typical culinary products, but also other objects such as books and vinyl. The market is open every day and is well worth a visit (it is easily accessible by metro): here you can sense the authentic spirit of the city!
To visit Romania and organize a trip to Bucharest you must be in possession of a passport or identity card valid for expatriation, if your stay in the state does not exceed 90 days. Romania is in fact part of the EU but not part of the Schengen area.
What is the best time of the year to visit Bucharest? With its typically continental climate, characterized by very cold winters and hot summers, the best time to discover Bucharest is in spring or autumn. The months of April, May and September are perfect for visiting the city.
A good opportunity to get to know Bucharest in depth, however, is during the feast of St. Nicholas, which corresponds to our Epiphany, an event celebrated by locals on the night between 5 and 6 December.