Bucharest Romania is one of Europe‘s least visited capitals and for most people, it remains shrouded in mystery. One of the reasons is its bloody and violent history. Bucharest or București had more than its fair share of cruel dictators and from Vlad the Impaler (famously known as Dracula) to the more recent Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian capital had experienced them all. Due to its strategic location, the city has undergone a ceaseless political turmoil ever since its conception but has somehow managed to survive. It has also thrived on and off, between regimes of cruelty and was known as “Little Paris of the East”. Once upon a time, Bucharest was indeed a stunningly beautiful city, which was destroyed over and over again by earthquakes, wars and Nicolae Ceaușescu’s program of systematization. In 2016, the historical city center of Bucharest Romania was listed as “endangered” by the World Monuments Watch and it is now slowly limping back to the former glory.
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The local currency makes your money last longer
Today Bucharest Romania is once again decorated with pristine city parks, excellent museums, and a gritty yet strangely charming Old World New Money vibe. You can actually feel the winds of change there and not many places on earth can boast of that quality. Plus, despite being an EU nation, Romania is delightfully out of the Euro zone, so your money goes a long way. Presenting some more reasons why the Romanian capital of Bucharest should be on your travel list right now.
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Re-invention and the charming urban decay
Today the Romanian capital is redefining itself and here grunge merges with sophistication in an extremely seductive way. No European city does chaos like Bucharest and these are but the winds of change. The city is busily merging its layered history with a modern identity and this can be keenly felt in Bucharest‘s beautiful cafes, bookshops, art scene and the charming Old Town. Once a place where traders mingled with travelers in the 15th century, history seems nearly tangible in every corner of Bucharest and though not, “on your face beautiful” the charm of the Romanian capital is absolutely undeniable. Here, urban decay is flaunted as a badge of honour and though this puts off most visitors at first glance, one needs to scratch beneath the Soviet scars to discover a buzzing new European destination.
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The Old Town
Bucharest Romania Old Town is undergoing a massive restoration process and its cobbled pedestrian only lanes offer one of the most hedonistic nightlife in Europe. Located in the heart of Bucharest, it is not classically pretty, but there are plenty of attractions to make a visit memorable. The historic old buildings with their breathtaking grandeur stand out like glittering jewels and, the old churches and outdoor cafés create a vibrant atmosphere. We were there on a layover in the midst of winter and though the skies were grey, the light dusting of snow heightened the aura. Check out the highlights like the University Square, The Old Court, Old Palace of the Chamber of Commerce or simply soak up the atmosphere. Bucharest Old Town is amazing at any time of the day and at night it is the party hot spot of the young and the beautiful.
The architectural rainbow
The best thing about re emerging Bucharest is its fantastic architectural mix. The Romanian capital has an impressive number of architectural beauties and their styles range from delicate neo classical, art deco, Bauhaus, communist era and modern. At first glance, this mix may seem dizzying but it is very easy to spot Byzantine buildings, centuries old monasteries and churches, pretty Art Nouveau mansions peeping out amidst dreary Communist era apartment blocks. Often one can spot colourful onion domes of Russian Orthodox churches in the skyline and this delightful architectural mish mash goes a long way in re establishing Bucharest as one of the most upcoming capitals of Europe.
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The world‘s heaviest building
Bucharest Romania is home to the Palace of the Parliament, the world‘s heaviest building. I have often wondered how the weight of the building could be measured to be given this laurel, until the sight of this monument actually made me gape. We saw it from a moving taxi, and it seemed vast even from a distance. This architectural giant wins many plaudits, including heaviest building in the world, the largest building in Europe (nearly four million square feet and one thousand rooms) and the world’s second-largest administrative building (after the Pentagon). It is also an epitome of the outrageous luxury Ceausescu envisioned for himself before he was overthrown in a coup d’état. Though we had skipped it, you can take a tour inside to marvel at the ornate interiors. Ironically called the “People’s Palace” this behemoth took 5 years, 20,000 workers and 700 architects for completion. In total, it has 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, 4 underground levels and an enormous nuclear bunker.
Admissions fee: 30 lei/$9 + photo fee. You need to show your passport to enter
Bucharest Romania old churches
In Bucharest Romania, religious places are of immense interest. These are not only places of worship, but monuments of high cultural importance and the Zlatari, Selari and Stavropoleos churches are landmarks of the city. Due to a shortage of time, we managed to visit only the Stavropoleos Monastery and it was a delightful experience. Founded in 1724 by the Greek monk Ioanikie Stratonikeas, the Stavropoleos Monastery is a masterpiece of Brancovan architectural style. A little oasis of tranquility tucked away in the heart of the old town, it is It’also one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Bucharest. Famous due to the rich stone-carved decorations and frescoes painted on the walls, Stavropoleos monastery is also one of the very few churches in the Bucharest Romania old town center which survived the Big Fire in 1847. The frescoes date back to 1720‘s and are beautifully preserved. We visited in the dead of winter when its little rose bushes filled courtyard was covered with dazzling snow and only sparrows could be seen flitting about fearlessly looking for food.
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The glamour of the Romanian Athenaeum
Possibly the finest building in Bucharest Romania, the Romanian Athenaeum is the majestic heart of Romanian music culture. Designed by the French architect Albert Galleron, who also designed the National Bank of Romania, the building was inaugurated on February 26, 1888 and it stands out proudly at the center of the city’s busiest public square. Resplendent in its baroque cupola, the Romanian Athenaeum was built almost entirely with money donated by ordinary citizens of Bucharest responding to the soulful campaign called ‘Give a penny for the Athenaeum’. Loosely translated from the catchy tag line (Dati un leu Pentru Ateneu), this campaign rescued the project from folly after the original patrons ran out of funds. Today it is the seat of the Romanian Philarmonic George Enescu and the auditorium can seat 800 spectators comfortably. Renowned worldwide for its outstanding acoustics, this is one of the most stately 19th-century buildings in Bucharest and it resembles an ancient Greek temple with a 41-meter-high dome. Its interiors are simply awe inspiring weave of gold leaf, marble balconies, and wide, spiral stairs. The highlight of the Athenaeum is the intricate 70-meter-long and three-meter-high fresco depicting Romania’s history on the ceiling of the concert hall.
Admissions fee: Varies from 20-65 lei
The National Art Museum
The National Art Museum is another important landmark of Bucharest Romania which worth visiting, especially if art interests you. The museum currently exhibits over 100,000 works of local Romanian painters along with some masterpieces of and world-renowned artists like Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Cezanne.
Entrance fee: 15 lei/$3.5
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The most beautiful bookshop in Europe
It has happened only twice during my travels, that I have made special space for bookshops in my itineraries. The first one had been in Bucharest Romania and the second in Venice. Both have been unique places and the one in Romania had been posh enough for royalty. To begin with, it is a huge store located inside a beautifully restored 19th-century mansion on Strada Lipscani and houses a bistro on the top floor where you can get the most expensive coffee in Bucharest. Known as the Carturesti Carusel, this really pretty shop has a huge range of books, stationery, and novelty items line for sale and you can take as many photos without any objection from the staff. Also housing a gallery, Carturesti Carusel‘s impressive minimalistic design plays up the natural light pouring in through the skylight thus creating one of the world’s most stunning bookshops. This one is an Instagram hotspot.
Romanian food and drink
This Balkan cuisine is an undiscovered travel joy. In Bucharest, try the Sarmale which is a traditional Romanian food served at festivals. Sort of stuffed cabbage rolls, Sarmale is traditionally served with mamaliga a kind of polenta served with sour cream. It is a drool worthy dish which will surely make you come back to Romania and then there is the famous Papanasi. Considered a traditional Romanian dessert, this is a plate of fried doughnuts served with cream and sour cherries, raspberries or blackberries jam. Romania‘s beer prices too are equally pleasurable and even in the most touristy spots, two pints will cost you back less than anywhere in Europe. Don‘t forget to try out tuică, a traditional spirit made from plums or the Romanian beer Ursus. Brewed in Cluj, Ursus is a sharp, light-bodied, reasonably hopped pilsener. It is tasty with a pale color and is extremely inexpensive.
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Pay homage to Caru‘ cu Bere
Caru’ cu Bere or The Beer Cart is one of the oldest restaurants in Bucharest. A very popular tourist attractions in its own right, around 2,500 people visit it every day. It has everything nice on offer; a great experience of food and beer, live music, dance along with a super friendly staff. The interiors of the restaurant are simply gorgeous and they remind of Romania of 1980’s when it was called the “Little Paris of the East”. Caru’ cu Bere is located in a historic house that was once the property of Elena Lupescu, mistress of King Carol II of Romania. It is open every day and book in advance for a table.
According to legends, Bucharest has been named after a shepherd called Dambovita Bucur, which means joy. It is a truly a hidden gem of Europe and one destination where we will definitely return. Here are some quick facts on Bucharest Romania.
Visa = Romania is not yet part of the Schengen visa agreement but Schengen Visa holders do not need to get a (special) Romanian visa to visit Romania as long as their Schengen visa allows at least two entries in Schengen space and the number of entries and/ or length of stay has been not exhausted. For more details, check out Romania Tourism.
Currency = 1USD = 4.2 Romanian Lei
1Euro = 4.4 Romanian Lei
Airport = Henri Coandă International Airport
Bucharest has a decent range of places suitable for all budgets. Most major European airlines fly into Bucharest and getting into town from the airport is relatively easy. There are plenty of cheap and reliable taxis costing no more than 40 lei (around €9). Public transport in Bucharest is cheap and the metro links the station (Gara de Nord) with the city center. The other Romanian cities like Brasov, Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara are reachable by train or bus.
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