You might be forgiven if you confuse Bucharest, Romania and Budapest, Hungary. But probably not by the locals. It’s not that they’re not used to it. It’s more that their pride runs deep and they’re looking forward to their beloved Romanian capital of culture and finance finding its place in the Eastern European sun. Well, we think the time is now. Here are just a few things about this fascinating city that make it stand out.
- The 15th-century Old Princely Court (Curtea Veche) served as the residence of Romania’s rulers, including Vlad the Impaler, the notorious Wallachian prince whose treacherous ways were the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
- Today’s Bucharest offers a rich and varied arts scene, from art-house cinemas and folklore performances to ballet and the philharmonic.
- Get a true taste of Bucharest’s culinary culture when you sample sarmale (cabbage rolls) or papanasi (curd cheese on donuts), perhaps followed by the beloved local digestif tuica, a fruit brandy.
- Architecture in this stately capital runs the gamut: Neoclassical facades rub elbows with stone-faced structures from the city’s communist past and Romanian Orthodox churches sidle up alongside Parisian-like parks. But the true darlings of Bucharest are its many belle époque mansions.
- Between the two world wars, the elegance and sophistication of Bucharest earned it the nickname “the Paris of the East.”
- In the center of the city, the artificial Lake Cismigiu is surrounded by its namesake gardens, inspiration to poets and writers since their opening in 1847. In the northern part of the city, the Botanical Gardens—once the pleasure park of the royal family—boast 10,000 species of plants.
- The Palace of the Parliament, the megalomaniacal product of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s mind, is the second largest administrative building in the world, after The Pentagon. It 480 chandeliers, 1,409 ceiling lights and its mirrors were made from 3,500 tons of crystal. More than 2 million square feet of wool, velvet and brocade went into the carpeting and curtains, some of them woven inside the building because they would have been too large to fit through entrance ways. More than 35 million cubic feet of marble and about the same amount of local wood were also used.
- Other palaces are more measured and refined. The Palace of the Patriarchate evokes the façade of the Roman Athenaeum with its six Ionic columns. The Palace of Justice on the Dambovita River hosts the Court of Appeal. And in the Royal Palace, you can browse the National Museum of Art of Romania, a splendid collection of medieval and modern work.
- The shops and cafes of Lipscani Street date from the medieval age to the early 19th century. Back then, every trade was concentrated here, from goldsmiths to saddlemakers. Today, it is decidedly more modern, but every bit as bustling with commerce.
Bucharest deserves a closer look. And there’s no better way to experience it than in a Discovery Tours small group.