It’s fair to say that Bucharest is not the most visited capital of the EU, yet the Romanians never sized to amaze with their cosmopolitan vibe and energy that they integrated into cities foundation. Between two world wars, Bucharest’s epithet as the “Paris of the east” was accurate, up to a point. However, today’s cityscape is largely one of imposing socialist architecture, the result of former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu’s savage redevelopment project during the 1980s that mark the bleakest of communist years for Romanians.
Things are much brighter these days, however, and lurking among this tangle of concrete are some wonderful art nouveau buildings (many housing terrific museums), ancient churches and monasteries, lush parkland, lakes and elegant boulevards. Bucharest’s culinary scene is at last worth getting excited about, while the city has few peers anywhere in the Balkans when it comes to nightlife.
Above all, though, the old town, also called Lipscani after the main street that crosses the area, has become the city’s go-to party place and, on any given night, you’ll find the bars full to bursting.
With the ferocious summer heat being just a hazy memory, late autumn is the perfect time to explore this compelling city’s unexpected delights.
What to Do and See When You Arrive
Bucharest’s old town was mercifully untouched by second world war bombs and Ceauşescu’s bulldozers and is the city’s most charismatic neighborhood. It is the same place where many of the famous Bucharest stag do weekend parties take place.
Although much of the area remains agreeably tatty, a massive regeneration project has transformed many of its hitherto grubby-looking streets and buildings, the most spectacular example being the new Cărtureşti Carousel bookshop on Strada Lipscani.
The magnificent Stavropoleos Church, with ornate carvings in stone and wood both inside and out, is another architectural wonder that decorated Bucharest postcards for decades.
Whether you consider it a thing of beauty or (more likely) brute ugly, the Palace of Parliament (aka the People’s House) is indisputably jaw-dropping.
Constructed at Ceauşescu’s behest, its scale and opulence are head-spinning: 12 stories (including four underground levels, and one nuclear bunker), 1,100 rooms, 4,500 chandeliers, and so on – although apparently, not even 700 architects could satisfy Ceauşescu’s, or rather his wife’s, ever-changing whims.
Guided tours (5€) take in a dozen or so of the largest and most extravagant rooms and conclude on the balconied terrace, affording fabulous views down boulevard Unirii.
For more Ceauşescu-linked culture, head to the Piata Revolutiei and check out the pockmarked buildings. The square was the focal point of fighting during the 1989 revolution, which led to the end of the dictator’s regime.
Don't forget to take a stroll around Cişmigiu Gardens, the oldest and largest park in central Bucharest. It’s a welcome dollop of green space in the city and there’s a boating lake for would-be rowers.
For a break from the noise of downtown, make your way to the enchanting Mogoşoaia Palace, which is about 10km north-west of the center. Created by the Constantin Brâncoveanu, it’s a red-brick design is typical of the region, and the interior retains some lovely detail, not least dazzling Venetian mosaic flooring and carved wooden doors. It is just worth taking a walk around the grounds and woods.