When you arrive in Bucharest, prepare yourself for a trip through history as the Romanian capital is dotted by architectural gems reminding of long gone times. More than a century ago, Bucharest prided itself as being a Little Paris and if you walk down the large tree-shaded boulevards downtown you will see why. There are plenty of richly-decorated Art Nouveau buildings rubbing shoulders with Art Deco houses of the interbelic period. If you know where to look you can find hidden treasures like old churches nestled among towering modern buildings.
Let us walk you through the streets of the city so you turn your trip to Bucharest into a memorable experience.
The Royal Palace
What better place to start a tour of Bucharest than Revolution Square, a place so rich in significance for Romania? It is the place where the 1989 revolution took place and if you look carefully some of the buildings still bear the marks of the bullets fired then.
The square is dominated by the Royal Palace, an impressive Neoclassical edifice withe Baroque elements. Today, the Palace houses the National Arts Museum, but inside you can still see the Throne Room or the Royal Dinning Hall. Right in front of the palace there’s the bronze statue of Carol I, the first king of Romania.
The Kretzulescu Church
Since you’re here, don’t miss the Kretzulescu Church, hidden behind the Royal Palace, which is a fine example of the Brâncovenesc architectural style. Built in 1720-1722, the little church with its brick facade bears Byzantine and Ottoman influences, blended with Renaissance elements, the hallmarks of the Brâncovenesc style.
The Romanian Athenaeum
Still in Revolution Square, take a short break on one of the benches along the alley that leads to the country’s most important concert hall, The Romanian Athenaeum built in the late 19th century. The Athenaeum host the main events of the George Enescu International Music Festival, which takes place every autumn. Right in front of the imposing Neoclassical building there’s the statue of Mihai Eminescu, the country’s most celebrated poet.
The George Enescu Museum
Whether you’re a music lover or not, you should definitely visit the George Enescu palace, further down on Calea Victoriei. The museum is dedicated to the country’s most famous composer and is housed in a splendid edifice that used to be known as the Cantacuzino Palace. The Baroque palace was inaugurated in 1902, when it was the private residence of Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, former prime minister. Make sure to visit the museum and prepare to be amazed by the sumptuous interior, dominated by exquisite frescoes and breath-taking pink marble columns. Violinist and composer George Enescu lived on the premises after 1939.
The CEC palace
Walk down Calea Victoriei, until you reach the CEC Palace, which is named for the country’s oldest bank. Built at the end of the 19th century, the palace has a composite style, featuring elegant arches and columns, plus the unmistakable Renaissance domes that grace the four corners of this impressive edifice.
The Palace of the Parliament
It is a must see for any tourist. The huge building not far from the banks of the Dâmbovița River is testament to former Communist ruler Nicolae Ceaușescu’s megalomania, but also to the titanic work of his malnourished and underpaid subjects. Nicolae Ceaușescu never got to host a Party Congress there and it now houses the Romanian Parliament, although with its 1,100 rooms it is way too big for that. The edifice can be visited and since you’re there you should also see the National Museum of Contemporary Art, also housed in the building.
More than 700 architects worked on this gigantic project and it is entirely up to you to decide if you like the palace or not. In any case, it’s worth s few photos as it is one of the largest buildings in the whole world.
The Elisabeta Palace
If you’re taking a tour of Bucharest, you will certainly want to stroll down the alleys of the beautiful Herăstrău Park, in the northern part of the city. If you get there, make sure to visit the Elisabeta Palace, the residence of the country’s royal family. The cozy little palace was built in 1936 in the Brâncovenesc architectural style as the private residence of the former Queen Elizabeth of Greece (born Princess Elisabeta of Romania), following her divorce from King George II of Greece in 1935.
The Village Museum
If you’re passionate about architecture, you absolutely must visit the Village Museum which sits right next the Elisabeta Palace. This is a truly unique place as you can see dozens of very old wooden houses from various parts of the country that were moved to the museum for preservation. Most of the exhibits are hundreds of years old and, in many cases, you can actually step inside to see how people used to live. Some interiors are fully furnished and you can also see kitchen utensils, fire places and traditional carpets. A very educational visit if you travel with children.
The Free Press House
As you leave the Village Museum spare a look for the huge edifice known as Casa Presei Libere, or the Free Press House. Truly speaking, the building isn’t worth more than a look, but it offers you a glimpse of pure Stalinist architecture. As a matter of fact it was built to resemble the main building of the Moscow State University as it looked after it was expanded during Stalin’s reign who used prisoners from the Gulag as workforce. The Free Press House in Bucharest was completed in 1957, and three years later a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin was placed in front of it. Lenin is gone and so are the Communist newspapers that used to be printed there.
The Old Princely Court
The locals call it Curtea Veche and it is indeed very old. What you’ll see there are ruins of the palace built in 1459 by Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad III Dracula, yes, the one that many believe was the model the vampire of the same name is based upon. Well, Vlad the Impaler was no vampire and the building was not meant for nefarious purposes. It was to be a fortress from where his army could protect the southern border against an Ottoman invasion.
This is the best place to end your tour as the building sits in what is known as Centrul Vechi, the Old City Center, a place where you can enjoy the most exciting night life Bucharest has to offer. The meandering streets entice you with plenty of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Don’t mind the buildings they’re housed in, as great efforts are being made to preserve them as they are since they represent the oldest part of Bucharest still standing.