Check out our guide to the top 10 Bucharest attractions to help you plan your trip. Visit vast Communist buildings, serene parks, and Dracula’s burial site.
Straddling both the eastern outreaches of the European Union and the western fringe of the old Soviet Union, Bucharest is, like most of Romania, a city of culture clashes. Wander the streets and you’ll see beautiful Art Deco, Art Nouveau and even older buildings. But alongside them you’ll find grand building projects of the Communist era.
It’s this mix of old, recent and brand new in a place where 20th-century history is writ large, that gives the city its edge. At the start of the last century, people called Bucharest ‘Little Paris’, such was its prettiness. And, while much of that has been swallowed up, there’s still plenty of charm to be found here. With our top 10 things to do in Bucharest, you’ll be able to see the best of this fascinating city.
Palace of Parliament
One of Bucharest’s biggest visitor attractions has perhaps one of its most checkered histories. The brainchild of the fallen Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the Palace of Parliament is a vast homage to administration and one of the biggest buildings of its type in the world.
Despite boasting more than 1,000 rooms and upwards of 20,000 workers toiling away at it, the palace was never completed. There are eight underground floors – with hidden tunnels meant to provide an escape route. However, for many Romanians, it was a sign of megalomania and they lobbied hard for it to be torn down after the Ceausescus were overthrown in 1989. Now known as the People’s House, it’s well worth signing up for a guided tour to see it.
The Stavropoleos Church, better known as the Stavropoleos Monastery, was built in the Brancovan style by a Greek monk in 1724. This highly decorated but quaint place of worship sits in the thriving old town and is full of frescoes amid its mixture of aesthetic styles. It also boasts a well-known choir. The courtyard is a beautiful place to while away some time, and to reflect on how the monastery survived Bucharest’s great fire of 1847. Inside, there’s a rare collection of Byzantine music books and religious manuscripts.
Open all year round, but especially beautiful in the summer months, Cismigiu Gardens is where the residents of Bucharest go to relax. The gardens first opened in 1847 and ooze tranquility. Hundreds of benches provide places for you to sit, relax, people-watch and picnic. The trees, paths, lake and blooming flowers soothe the soul, while the many cafes provide ample opportunity to grab a coffee or some lunch.
Another place that escaped being razed to the ground after the 1989 revolution, the Primaverii Palace is where the Ceausescu family lived in Bucharest. While the rest of the country struggled, they lived in luxury, with a gold-plated bathroom, swimming pool, exotic greenhouse and a basement cinema. Inside, it’s all garish extravagance, restored as a living museum to those who plundered Romania. Reserve spots on a tour in advance to glimpse how the country’s rulers once lived.
Built on the grounds of a 17th-century monastery, this became a palace for King Carol I in the late 19th century. It expanded and was regularly renovated but, when the Communist regime took over after the end of World War II, there was no longer a royal family to occupy it. It underwent quite a transformation, and many old elements of the building were destroyed – damage that was exacerbated by an earthquake. It was later restored and has, since 1991, been the residence of the president of Romania. An old wing has been transformed into the Cotroceni National Museum, with plenty of impressive rooms, paintings and more, plus insight into the country’s tumultuous past.
Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
The real story of Romania isn’t about city life, it’s wrapped up in the lives of those who populate its more rural areas. The Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum tells their story with a huge collection of clothing, folk costumes, religious icons, rugs and objects, alongside some restored buildings. There’s an 18th-century church here, as well as a cafe which is perfect for trying Romanian food. The venue also hosts film screenings and concerts.
Rumors persist that the infamous Vlad the Impaler is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the grounds of the Snagov Monastery. It’s outside Bucharest, an extraordinarily pretty church on Snagov Island. Some even call it Vlad Tepes Monastery, but the details surrounding his death in a battle here in 1476 are disputed. What can’t be denied is his connection to the place, as he once built a prison here, the remains of which can still be seen. This was long before he became one of the origins of the Dracula myth.
Just outside the city, Mogosoaia Palace is one of Romania’s architectural highlights. Completed in 1702, it was built by an aristocrat but later damaged and plundered. An even worse fate was to befall the man himself, Constantin Brancoveanu, who was executed by the invading Ottomans. It was later renovated by a royal family who lived here and became a popular meeting place for politicians. They fled, however, when the Communists took over. Now it hosts an art gallery and museum, while its wonderful grounds are perfect for spotting some more remains of the Brancovenesc design style.
There are those who claim that Herastrau Park, in the northern part of Bucharest, is even prettier than Cismigiu Gardens. And it’s easy to see why, given the beauty of its near 500 acres of greenery that enclose a shimmering lake. In the grounds you’ll find the outdoor Village Museum, statues of Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Charles de Gaulle and even a memorial to Michael Jackson. Rent a boat on the lake, take the kids to the adventure park or watch a show at the open-air summer theater. Chances are it’ll be in Romanian, but the atmosphere will still be amazing.
Art Collection Museum
While you may spot a drawing by Van Gogh at the Art Collection Museum (or Museum of Art Collections, depending on who you ask), the focus is on Romanian art. You’ll find the museum on Calea Victoriei, in the Romanit Palace, which was built in 1812. It hosts numerous private collections, plus examples of folk art. It’s the perfect place to get an insight into the bold traditions of Romanian artistry.
Have you been to beautiful Bucharest and have some other can’t-miss spots in the city? Let us know where you went on Twitter.