Much of Romania slags it and Europe in general doesn’t always speak favourably of Romania’s capital. They’re all wrong. Its perplexing mismatch of eras – grey housing blocks from Ceauşescu’s brutal rebuilding phase, deliberately French palaces with baroque clam-shaped canopies, (limited) remains of medieval churches and courts, 21st-century office buildings –means that even a short walk around blurs time. Bucharest is home to Romania’s best museums – lots of them – some of which defy limited budgets by illustrating the rural side of Romanian life. Others, like the communist bon voyage Palace of Parliament (the world’s second-biggest building), show off another era.
More importantly, like any great city, Bucharest believes in itself: a lively student base takes over the historic centre’s open-air bar scene, all-age couples attend theatre or opera or foreign-language films kept in their original tongue, and families seeking weekend quiet lounge all day in Bucharest’s (often) well-kept parks. Not what one might expect, considering revolution tore the city apart less than two decades ago.
Alas, Bucharest has its problems – taxi scams, glue-sniffing beggars, packs of stray dogs, loud traffic – but it has a heart too. Stick around more than a day – as some visitors flee at first sight – and you start to get it. Bucharest has something going on.
Best places to stay in Bucharest
Romania & Bulgaria - Bucharest (Chapter)
Romania’s capital is dynamic, energetic and more than a little bit funky. Take in the museums, stroll the parks, hang out at trendy cafes, and visit the gargantuan Palace of Parliament, the craziest tribute to dictatorial megalomania you’ll ever see.
Edifice Complex: Bucharest's Palace of Parliament
This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's guide to Romania. Controversy still rages around this massive edifice. More than a symbol of Ceauşescu’s communist vision, it stands today as a reminder of the price Romania paid to satisfy the egotistical whims of Nicolae and Elena.
Bucharest destination guides
Travel literature review: Along the Enchanted Way
Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Reviewed by Will Gourlay 'Enchanting' isn’t a word usually associated with Romania. Think 'Romania' and most people will conjure images of Communist-era architecture in Bucharest or hair-raising tales of Dracula.
Explore Eastern Europe
Travel across romantic Eastern Europe from Hungary to Turkey and experience the diverse range of cultures and landscapes in between.
Halloween in Transylvania
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Robbed in Romania: a fast train to Skintsville
Silver bullets and crucifixes may ward off Romanian vampires, but more conventional tools are needed to deter the predators prowling the platforms of Bucharest's main train station, Gara de Nord. As my friend Mick discovered too late, a finely tuned rip-off radar and a massive dose of street smarts are crucial.