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Top 10 Things to do in Bucharest

This was already our second time traveling to Romania, which made me feel more than obliged to visit the capital this time. It’s odd, how often it is the capital being the first place to visit. In Romania however, we seem to have visited all of the other small towns (6 in total) before finally coming to Bucharest. Despite being the capital of Romania, Bucharest is a rather laid-back city without any of the large crowds to be found. But then again, Bucharest isn’t like any other capital anyway. This pulsating city has some rough edges here and there and still bears clear marks of the communist era. However, something good came from that era, too, like the Parliament building, which is a jaw-dropping, gigantic building construction initiated by their former ruler Nicolai Ceausescu, and the private residence of the former, which is nothing less than equally staggering, except from being at a smaller scale than the Parliament. The city got its nickname “Little Paris” for a reason. The city has an abundance of elegant early 20th century Belle Epoque buildings, showing clear French influences. However, it is a pity, that the city hosts more of these beautiful buildings than the maintenance can keep up with, resulting in many of these historical buildings falling for decay. Nonetheless, our time in Bucharest was magnificent and with the rapid development of the city, I am looking quite forward returning to Bucharest one day.

The Palace of Parliament is the world’s second largest administrative building

1. Palace of Parliament

The Palace of Parliament is an absolute must see and should be the first attraction on your top-10-things-to-to-in-Bucharest-list. This building is fascinating in so many ways; the facts, the history, the interior, really everything about it. Firstly, it’s the world’s second largest administrative building, only the Pentagon is larger. The building was created during the rule of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and is therefore one of the newer additions to the city. The construction of the 365,000 m2building began in 1984 and lasted until 1997, at a time when Romania had already ended its communist era and Nicolae Ceausescu wasn’t even the ruler anymore. However, the construction had already progressed quite well and the building with its 3000 rooms was finished in 1997. The methods to implement a building of such immense size had its prize. With an unbelievable size accounting for 1/5th part of the entire city, 40.000 citizens had to be relocated, some with a mere 14 days’ notice.

The second most interesting building in Bucharest is the former presidents Nicolae Ceausescu’s home

2. Primaverii Palace (House of Ceausescu)

The second most interesting building in Bucharest and equally astonishing is the former presidents Nicolae Ceausescu’s home located in one of the richest and most exclusive districts of Bucharest in the northern part of the city. Don’t be fooled by the simple appearance of the classical exterior though, because what is hiding inside is an opulent interior unlike any home I have ever seen. Nicolae Ceausescu lived in this luxurious building with his family, his wife Elena and his three children between 1965 and 1989. The palace, also known as the Spring Palace, was built between 1964 and 1965 with an additional enlargement between 1970 and 1971. The spatial qualities and the use of high value materials to create a Neo-Classical style, enhances the striking appearance of the interior. While it doesn’t look that massive from the outside, the palace hosts nothing less but 80 rooms, decorated with silk wallpaper, wood panelling and in fact many gifts from foreign dignitaries.

One of the most beautiful religious monuments in Bucharest - the Stavropoleos Monastery

3. Stavropoleos Monastery

On a small corner in Bucharest’s Old Town, tightly tucked away in between other tall, historical buildings, lies one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Bucharest, the Stavropoleos Monastery. The name of the church, which doesn’t exactly sound Romanian, derives from its founder who was a Greek monk and who later became Metropolitan of Stavropolis. Before the monastery was built, the monk kept an inn in thatvery same precinct to which he added the church and a monastery in 1724. Back in the old days it was a common situation for an inn and a church to coexist. The income from the innwouldthencontribute to sustain the monastery. Fast forward to the end of the 19th century, both the inn and the monastery’sannexesweredemolished with only the church to remain. Over time, the churchwassuffering, too, from earthquakes and inefficient administration. However, with a restoration of the church at the beginning of the 20th century and a rebuilt of the monastery, the charm of the beautifulplacecame back to life.

The Romanian Athenaeum is a majestic building and a landmark in the heart of Bucharest

4. Romanian Athenaeum

The Romanian Athenaeum is a majestic building and a landmark in the heart of Bucharest which is a must-see architectural gem. Stunning on the outside with its elegant architecture, the Athenaeum hosts an impressive 800-seat concert hall on the inside, renowned for its impeccable acoustics. Built between 1886 and 1888, the building is today home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, but usually visitors can take a peek inside the concert hall outside of musical performances. It was at a most unlucky point of time we came to visit the concert hall. There had been an accident not far away from the building which had caused a power failure with no prospect of a return of the power. But oh, how I would have loved to see the interior of it. When you come to Bucharest, make sure to visit this place and check out the interior as well and let me know how it was.

Adding a bookstore to your bucket list might sound like a rather unconventional attraction

5. Carturesti Carusel

Adding a bookstore to your bucket list might sound like a rather unconventional attraction. At least, that’s how I felt about it when I read about the Carturesti Carusel Bookstore over and over again and ended up putting it on my list, too. On the other hand, it’s not really the books you’re here for anyway. It’s this wonderful building built in 1903 by a wealthy family of Greek bankers. With the progression of the Communist regime, the building was eventually confiscated by the regime in the 1950’s and after the collapse of the Communism left abandoned for decay. After a long struggle in court of having the building returned to its original owner, the grandson of the banker, eventually achieved success in 2007 and finally took possession of the decaying building to restore it and transform it into the current bookstore as it stands today.

The National Village Museum is an open-air museum

6. National Village Museum

In a bustling metropolis like Bucharest, you wouldn’t expect to find an oasis of this size nestled right in the heart of the city. An oasis, containing so much history that it fits an entire settlement with all the appropriate buildings and surroundings in the middle of Bucharest. Wandering around the Village Museum, which lies attached to the Herastrau Park and Lake, you will truly feel like wandering around the countryside. The National Village Museum is an open-air museum containing ethnographic collections like farmsteads, barns, churches and rural homes to give you an insight to the traditional Romanian village life from the 17th century to the early 20th century. On more than 100.000 m2 are old, traditional houses gathered from all the regions of the country - Moldova, Wallachia, Transylvania, Maramues and Dobrodja – providing you with a better understanding of the diversity of Romania from centuries ago.

The Cismigiu Park is the oldest and simultaneously largest park in the Bucharest’s centre

7. Cismigiu Gardens

At times when traveling, the longing for a good rest after a day or a half of exploring the city inside out can be rather tempting. When we first entered the Cismigiu Gardens, I wouldn’t want to leave again, so we ended up spending hours there both wandering around and resting our weary bodies while listening to beautiful music being played in the background; the atmosphere was just too good to leave. The Cismigiu Park is the oldest and simultaneously largest park in the Bucharest’s centre with a total of 17 hectares. It’s a peaceful oasis with trees, flowers and lakes. The history of the park dates back to the 19th century when the area passed into public ownership in 1845 and after years of designing and arranging the gardens, they finally opened their doors in 1860.

Bucharest has earned the nickname of “Little Paris” due to the abundance of French influenced architecture

8. Arcul de Triumf

Bucharest has earned the nickname of “Little Paris” due to the abundance of French influenced architecture. The city lives even more up to its title by having their very own “Arc de Triomphe”, too, which comes in the same style and form. The history of this arch began with the first, wooden, triumphal arch being rapidly built in 1878 after Romania had gained its independence for the victorious troops to march under it. In 1922, following WWI, the old, wooden arch was replaced by a new one whose exterior of plaster was seriously decayed, that it had to be replaced in 1935 with the current arch made in stone. Unfortunately, the arch is closed most of the times even though it is possible to climb to the platform at the top. Therefore, don’t make the effort visiting only the arch, but rather take it as a sight along the way to a bigger attraction like the National Village Museum.

The Romanian National Opera was built as late as in the early 1950’s

9. National Opera

The neoclassical architecture of the National Opera in Bucharest might have one believe it was much older than it really is. The Romanian National Opera was built as late as in the early 1950’s with its completion in 1954 opening the doors to the public. The building has a relatively simple, yet elegant exterior, the inside however is decorated richly. Admittedly, I visit way too few performances when traveling in a foreign country, and really wished for having seen either an opera or ballet performance here.

The establishment of this museum goes all the way back to year 1834

10. Museum of Natural History

With a mutually big interest in animals and the related history to the former and its evolution, we had no doubt when choosing a museum to visit in Bucharest, that it would be the National Museum of Natural History. The establishment of this museum goes all the way back to year 1834 which simultaneously makes it one of the oldest research institutions in the field of biodiversity and public education. The building which houses the museum itself is note-worthy, too. Built in 1908 on the behest of Grigor Antipa, a Romanian biologist, he ran and administered the museum for 51 years until his death in 1944. The museum was then renamed to Grigor Antipa National Museum of Natural History – what a name! With over 2 million objects, the museum is considered as one of the most prestigious natural history museums in the world, and without a doubt the largest museum of its kind in Romania.


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