Romania is a hot destination in eastern Europe and the capital city of Romania, Bucharest, is a fascinating city to explore, especially for its history. If you have never visited, here are the best things to do in Bucharest that will give you some background about Romania’s fascinating past.
Admire the architecture in Bucharest
In the early 20th century, Bucharest’s architects drew inspiration from France. It’s not immediately apparent that the capital city of Romania is a Paris of the East.
You might catch glimpses of beautiful Parisian architecture between ugly communist-era apartment blocks. But look at the grey concrete and you’ll find stylish French-influenced Baroque buildings.
There’s the Romanian Athenaeum and the George Enescu Museum. Bucharest’s Triumphal Arch was modelled after the one in Paris too.
Note: While exploring Bucharest you’ll see many familiar fast food signs, including McDonald’s! However, don’t despair, there are plenty of local restaurants that dish up delicious and inexpensive meals. The country’s cuisine is skewed heavily towards meat dishes but if you’re a vegan here’s a handy list of vegan restaurants in Bucharest.
Palace of Parliament
The most impressive building is the Palace of Parliament, which can only be described as extravagant in the extreme.
In 1984, one-sixth of Bucharest (neighbourhoods with churches, synagogues, Jewish temples and over 30,000 homes) was bulldozed to the ground to build this monument of excess.
The 12-storey building is almost as big as the Pentagon. It has 3100 rooms and is spread over 330,000 square metres. There are 64 reception halls and a nuclear bunker 20m underground.
Romanian Communist Party leader of the day, Nicolae Ceausescu, was responsible for draining the country’s coffers to build this communist hall of worship.
It was built to house the Central Committee of the Communist Party but it was never completed.
National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest
The Palace of Parliament is now home to the Romanian Parliament and also doubles up as the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
The museum has four floors of contemporary art and lots of video installations by European artists who exhibit thought-provoking and controversial works.
Historic InterContinental Hotel
The InterContinental Hotel is another remnant of the communist era when the hotel was revered as a symbol of freedom.
The Communist Party allowed the hotel to operate because it made money for the government from visiting businessmen and politicians!
Luna Bar was a hub for secret agents and spies. Some of the hotel’s rooms have balconies facing Piata Universitat where television crews filmed tanks rolling over Romanian freedom fighters and soldiers shooting into crowds during the 1989 revolution which overthrew the communist regime.
National Village Museum in Bucharest
There are a few good museums in Bucharest including the outdoor National Village Museum.
The museum is a showcase of Romanian rural architecture, with a collection of peasant homes, barns, wooden churches and Transylvanian houses from all over Romania.
In summer, locals dressed in colourful traditional costumes demonstrate painting, weaving and pottery.
Museum of the Romanian Peasant
The Museum of the Romanian Peasant won the title European Museum of the Year in 1996.
The aim of this museum is to exhibit the culture and history of Romanian peasants and displays more than 100,000 clothing items, ceramics, textiles, furniture and crafts.
Jewish History Museum
Then there’s the Jewish History Museum dedicated to the Jewish community who suffered during the Holocaust.
800,000 Jews lived in Romania and around 50% of the Jewish population were casualties of the war in the 1940s.
Check out the Holocaust Room for thought-provoking photographs of concentration camps in Moldova and Auschwitz in Poland.
National Art Museum
This was where the kings of Romania resided. The last Romanian royal, Michael I, abdicated in 1947.
The museum has displays of lovely oil paintings, wooden altars from historic churches and carvings. There’s a European art section with Italian, Dutch and French masters (think Rubens and Rodin).
More history in Bucharest
Many historic buildings in Bucharest were destroyed by the communists so the ones that remain are precious.
One such building is the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral on Patriarchy Hill, which was completed in 1658 and is the historic heart of the Romanian Orthodox faith.
Most of the frescoes inside the church were painted in 1923.
There’s a chapel linking the cathedral to the Patriarchal Palace, which is the home of the church’s Patriarch (leader of the Roman Orthodox Church).
More about Romania
Romania is a member of the European Union (they were accepted on January 1, 2007) and Bucharest is a centre for culture and entertainment. The streets are alive with people and activity.
There are theatres, concert halls and museums and a vibrant restaurant scene. Bucharest is the ‘new Berlin’ and one of the highlights is the Rokolectiv Festival for electronic music.
Legend of Dracula
Bram Stoker’s vampire character “Dracula” was modelled after Vlad Tepes (Vlad II the Impaler), the Prince of Wallachia. His headless body lies in a grave on the island of Snagov, 30km north of Bucharest.