Bucharest is known as the “Paris of the East” by dint of French-designed buildings and Art Nouveau architecture. Today the capital is mixed with decades of communist influences, creating an enthralling cultural melting pot. So if you have ever wondered why Bucharest should be the next destination on your travel list or what to do and where to go when in the Romanian capital, here is a great list that will help you make up your mind.
Visit the Palace of Parliament
Prepare to be “wowed” by the world’s most extensive parliamentary building. The Palace of Parliament is a significant embodiment of Bucharest’s communist era, built in the 1980s under the Ceaușescu regime. It is the second biggest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. So why not book a tour inside the building and have a peek at the most beautiful 1000-plus rooms.
See the “Old Paris” remains
In the early 20th century, Bucharest became known as the “Paris of the East”, the city’s nickname decades before World War II. The name came about when Paris greatly influenced the ‘Art Nouveau’ palaces and architecture. Unfortunately, the communist rule and the 1977 earthquake brought most of the old city to the ground; however, there are still a few places where you can discern the former ‘Parisian’ beauty. So stroll around the Cișmigiu Gardens, imitating the streets of Paris, see Şoseaua Kiselef’s broad avenues, or even check out Bucharest’s own Arc de Triomphe built-in 1935 to commemorate the reunification of Romania in 1918.
Visit Bucharest’s 19th-century bookstores
If you are a fan of old buildings and picturesque interiors, then you are in for a treat in Bucharest. The Romanian capital is packed with beautifully restored 19th-century buildings boasting white carousel staircases and minimal designs show-casing colourful goods. Many of these old buildings are now bookshops; one of the most renowned stores is Cărtureşti bookstore on Strada Lipscani 55 street. The books are pricey, but walking around the store and having a coffee on the top floor’s coffee shop whilst capturing great photos is a must.
Wander around the capital’s historical churches
Romania is a very religious Eastern Orthodox country, and it is no wonder that Bucharest is home to many significant cathedrals. However, the real hidden gems are Bucharest’s abundance of small hidden churches and chapels scattered around and squeezed into tiny corners of the city. Most of them date from the 17th and 18th centuries and are influenced by a great mix of styles, from the Renaissance to the Ottoman, Greek and Byzantine architecture. A few must-visit churches include the Stavropoleos Church in the Old City, with its ornate wall paintings, delicately carved doors, a charming courtyard, or visit St. Apostles’ Church, Antim Church and the very hidden church of Doamnei.
Eat and drink your way through Bucharest’s Old City
Don’t let the name “Old” city fool you, as it is now the centre of town for vibrant cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs. From hipster to traditional, to classy or lively, there is a place for every mood. So wander through the narrow streets of Strada Smârdan or Strada Covaci, once the Princely Court in the 15th century and later the main trading street where you could find horseshoeing and all sorts of metalworking. Today you can stop off and enjoy a glass of wine at Abel’s Wine Bar, party up a storm at Beluga, La Muse or Bicicleta or enjoy a beer under the sumptuously painted vaults of Caru’Cu Bere, the Old Town’s most famous beer hall.
Discover the inspiration behind the famous Dracula
Last but not least, explore the homeland of the world-renowned vampire, Dracula. The character was inspired by the real-life 15th-century Romanian prince, Vlad Țepeș, who was known to be as bloodthirsty as they get. Thanks to Bram Stoker, Dracula is more associated with the Transylvania region, so don’t miss out on a fascinating day trip to Bran Castle, a Romanian landmark known as Dracula Castle. Additionally, just 40 km north of the capital, you can find a remote monastery in the middle of Lake Snagov’s island; here lies the prince’s tomb. Just like the Dracula stories, Prince Vlad’s death and burial are surrounded by mystery, bringing doubt to whether his final resting place is even on the island. Nevertheless, a trip to the island’s monastery is worth a visit.
Many don’t know that Bucharest is a dynamic mix of old and new, influenced by centuries, forgotten architectural treasures, hidden cafés, and alternative nightlife. The charming city’s authentic culture and diverse history make it a unique European getaway.