Are you for the first time in Bucharest, and curious to visit some interesting places in this east-European city called “little Paris”? But don’t have sufficient time to explore the city from one end to the other? In this article I’ll detail on a short list of 3 places you should see as short time visitor to Bucharest city. Using it, you’ll have the opportunity of getting the most flavor from being in Bucharest, even for the shortest period of time.
For start, just a few things about Bucharest:
The capital of Romania, Bucharest, is the largest city in the country by far, surpassing Cluj-Napoca (the second largest city in Romania) by more than 2.3 million in population. The total estimated population of Bucharest is supposed to be around 2.7 million today.
Being also the cultural, economic, and financial center of Romania, Bucharest is indeed a catching city for visitors searching to experience something authentic and different in Europe. And a growing attraction for photographers looking for wonderful urban pics.
So, here’s a list of 3 places you should see:
1. Explore the Old Town when for the first time in Bucharest
The first part of your Bucharest exploration trip should be the Old Town (in Romanian: “Centrul Vechi”). As its name suggests, this is basically the oldest part of Bucharest which is still standing today. Some of the buildings in this area are dating from the Middle Ages (built around 1,400), while most of them were built during the 18th and 19th centuries, before the World War I.
The Old Town is limited by Dâmbovița river at the south, calea Victoriei (Victory avenue) to the west, boulevard I.C. Brătianu to the east, and boulevard Regina Elisabeta to the north. It is very close to University and Unirii Squares (in Romanian: Piața Universității and Piața Unirii). So, very easy to reach by any means of public transport. Of course, given the crowded traffic in Bucharest, we recommend taking the subway, and you can get off in any of the two stations: Unirii or Universitate.
Being continuously restored during the last 10 years, the Old Town of Bucharest has completely transformed the city, being a real success story. Preserving some of the oldest monuments and buildings, but also having lively streets filled with bars, restaurants and clubs, this part of the city represents one of most vibrant areas of Bucharest. It is continuously full of tourists, thus, making it a must-see for your first visit to Bucharest.
Things you can visit in the Old Town:
The Old Town is both impressing during daylight and night time, that’s why we recommend you have a walk around the Old Town during the afternoon until night. During the day you can visit the Old Court (or Voievodal Court), the beautiful Stavropoleos Church, and all similar attractions in the area. While in the evening you can have a tasty dinner in any of the restaurants around, and then have a drink or two in a fancy bar or club.
In the last few years, hundreds of restaurants, bars and trendy cafes have opened in the Old Town. For sure, this amazing lively atmosphere will make you instantly fall in love with this place and you’ll end up coming here every day of your stay in Bucharest.
During the hot season, the narrow streets of the Old Town are almost fully occupied by outdoor terraces. So, if you want a less crowded experience, winter time is a perfect choice to have a relaxing and quiet tour.
Among the main attractions of this area I love the most are:
- the 18th century Stavropoleos Church
- the 19th century Manuc Inn (in Romanian: “Hanul lui Manuc)
- the Old Court (first Voievodal court in Bucharest, from where Vlad Țepeș – known as Dracula – ruled over the country of Wallachia), together with the oldest church in the city
- old merchant streets and the old CEC bank’s building.
2. Visit the Palace of the Parliament
Of course, if you’re for the first time in Bucharest, you can’t miss the Palace of the Parliament, the symbol of the communist age in Romania. According to the World Record Academy, this building is the heaviest, the largest and the most expensive civil building with administrative function, on the whole planet. Built under the command of the former Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, during the final years of his ruling, and finished 7 years after his death, the construction is truly monumental.
The Palace extends on 370,000 square meters, is 86 meters high and it seems it cost an astonishing €3 billion to build. The building count more than 1,100 rooms decorated with 480 chandeliers, 3,500 tons of crystal, 1,409 ceiling lights. Specialists estimate that for the monumental windows and doors builders used approximately 700,000 tons of steel and bronze.
The impressive numbers do not stop here: approximately 100,000 people worked on the site, the building has 8 underground levels, a nuclear bunker and 20 kilometers of tunnels under the ground. If you choose to visit the building, I would highly recommend taking a guided tour.
A very interesting thing is that the building resources used to raise this communist symbol are all from Romania. It seems the communists were totally against importing any resources. And something even more interesting is that an entire neighborhood was completely destroyed to make room for this building. Approximately 57,000 families needed to relocate, and their houses were destroyed. This is really incredible I know, but it’s one of the cruel truths of communism.
If you choose to visit the building, I would recommend taking also the tour of the underground. The ticket should be approximately 45 lei per person. For a first time in Bucharest, this will be very helpful for you to understand the history of Romania. And of course, the hardships Romanians endured during the communist period. Visiting the Palace of Parliament must be for sure on your list of the best things to do for your first time in Bucharest!
3. Go to the Village Museum
Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum represents an open-air exhibition, presenting traditional Romanian village life as it was in the past. It is considered the most visited museum in our country, attracting almost 500,000 visitors annually, both Romanians or foreign tourists. Here you can see entire villages, together with monuments and artifacts, dating from the 17th to 20th centuries.
The permanent exhibition covers an area of 14 ha, with a number of 380 monuments, 60,000 objects in heritage collections and over 250,000 documents displaying wonderful Romanian village architecture. The Village Museum includes wooden houses, hundreds of years old wooden churches, water mills, or cabins, which were translocated from different corners of the country.
Those visiting the museum together with children may have the surprise of a few kids dedicated workshops. Here, the kids may learn to create pottery from clay, paint on canvas, or different other creative activities. You may also have the opportunity of tasting Romanian dishes and local Romanian delicious wine.The museum is located in Bucharest’s largest park, Herăstrău, so, as a tip, you can combine your visit with a walk in Herăstrău Park, of which I will detail a few things below.
Bonus: have a walk in Herăstrău park
There’s no better way to spend some relaxing time in Bucharest and escape the city’s crowded streets than walking in the local parks. Maybe Bucharest can’t be called the greenest capital in Europe, but its parks are a genuine oasis in the urban jungle.
One of the biggest park in Bucharest, which is absolutely worth a visit if you’re for the first time in Bucharest is Herăstrău Park. The park has an area of about 180 ha and is placed around Lake Herăstrău. It is locatedin the northern part of the city.
The park is so huge, that it’s difficult to cover it entirely by walking within the same day. There are lots of activities you can do here: you can rent a bike or an electric scooter, you can do tree climbing, or in the sunny days you can go on a splendid boat ride. The park is ideal for families with kids as well, because there is a lot of space to run around, many playgrounds, and kids will love exploring the entire park.
If you’re lazy and just want to hang around, in the northern part of the park you will find some fancy restaurants, or cozy cafes. Food is diverse and delicious, and the atmosphere is very pleasant. People are friendly and cool.
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