What to do in Bucharest
Known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Époque buildings and a reputation for the high life (which in the 1900s earned its nickname of "Little Paris"), Bucharest, Romania's largest city and capital, is today a bustling metropolis. Romanian legend has it that the city of Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, whose name literarily means "joy." His flute playing reportedly dazzled the people and his hearty wine from nearby vineyards endeared him to the local traders, who gave his name to the place.
#1 - Bucharest Old Town. For any newcomer to Bucharest, the Old Town is a must-see. A hub of restaurants, club and bars, it is The Place for nightlife. Besides entertainment, you may admire the National Bank of Romania Palace and the majestic CEC Palace, home to an old bank. At the entry from the University Square in the Old Town, you may find the Museum of Bucharest, housing an interesting exhibition on The Times and Histories of the City, carrying you from the early days of the Romanian capital through the communist era and to nowadays. On the other side of the Old Town is the National Museum of Historyhoused in a historical building, named “Palatul Poştelor” (The Post-Office Palace) raised between1894-1899 and having as a source of inspiration the Palace of the Federal Post-Office of Geneva.
#2 – The “Dimitrie Gusti” Village Museum. Covering some 15 hectares on the shores of Lake Herăstrău, Muzeul Satului is one of the greatest outdoor museums in the Balkans. There are more than 60 original houses, farmsteads, windmills, watermills and churches from all of Romania's historic regions.
Other interesting sights
Next to the Old Town is the Cismigiu Gardens– the oldest Park in Bucharest and the Palace of Parliament, the largest non-military administrative building in the world (unfortunately, the Palace is closed for visitors these days due to its use for the various meetings and workshops occasioned by Romania’s EU Presidency). Apart from the Romanian Parliament, it also houses the National Museum of Contemporary Art, a vast gallery that displays the work of Romania's finest contemporary artists.
If you are interested in art, check out the National Museum of Art, located in the former Royal Palace in Bucharest. The museum includes the National Gallery (Romanian medieval and modern art) and the European Art Gallery. Apart from numerous temporary exhibitions, visitors can also join guided tours of the former Throne Hall and other spaces of historical relevance.
Across the street from the museum is the Romanian Athenaeum, an architectural jewel the uniqueness and merits of have been acknowledged by its classification as part of the European patrimony in 2007. It is home to one of the oldest and most important cultural institutions in Bucharest, the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra.
Calea Victoriei is Bucharest's oldest and arguably, most charming street. Designed in 1692 to connect the Old Princely Court to Mogosoaia Palace, the street was originally paved with oak beams. The street became Calea Victoriei in 1878, after the Romanian War of Independence victory. Between the two world wars, Calea Victoriei developed into one of the most fashionable streets in the city. Stroll along this street from Piata Victoriei to Piata Natiunilor Unite to discover some of the most stunning buildings in the city, including the Cantacuzino Palace, the Revolution Square, the Military Club, National Savings Bank Palace and the National History Museum.
Cotroceni is perhaps the most authentic district in Bucharest, an area which - like Bucharest itself - is rediscovering its pre-World War II elegance. The streets are lined with linden trees and provide welcome respite from the summer heat. To explore Cotroceni is to explore a Bucharest which has all but ceased to exist. Home to Romania’s president, the city’s Botanical Gardensand a mix of architecture as eclectic as you could hope for, from the starkly modernist to Art Deco, cubist to neo-Romanian, many with well-tended gardens and courtyards, Cotroceni is often overlooked by visitors to the Romanian capital but we advise you to give it a look.
If you are interested in Orthodox architecture, in the Old Town, you should also visit the Stavropoleos Church, one of the oldest in Bucharest and definitely a place to see, even if you are of a different religion or an atheist. Also, the Kretzulescu Church, built between 1720 and 1722, is one of the best preserved and most representative orthodox places of worship in Bucharest.
A convenient way to explore the city is the Bucharest Sightseeing Bus. Now in its sixth successful year of operation the Bucharest City Tour open-top sightseeing bus is more popular than ever and is without question one of the best ways to see the city. Tickets for the buses are valid for 24 hours, allowing you to hop-on and hop-off as many times as you like throughout the day. You do, however, need to validate the tickets each time you board a bus. Tickets are priced at 25 lei (around 5 euros) for adults, 10 lei (around 2 euros) for children, and can be bought either on board, at STB ticket kiosks or at selected hotels. Headphones offer (very) basic recorded commentary in a number of languages. There are 14 stops along the route (all are well signposted) and everyone is directly outside or very close to a major sight.
“There is no such place as Budapest. Perhaps you are thinking of Bucharest, and there is no such place as Bucharest, either.” (Robert Benchley)