Bucharest's Top Attractions and Landmarks

This content was last updated on 25.08.2023 00:21

Bucharest is a city with a rich history and a blend of architectural styles, from neoclassical buildings to post-Stalinist apartment blocks. Despite its initial appearance, the city has hidden gems that reveal its fascinating past and potential for the future.

One of Bucharest's iconic landmarks is the Atheneum, a magnificent concert hall built in the 1880s. It has hosted lectures, performances by orchestras and musicians from around the world, and exhibitions of fine art.

Exploring further, you'll discover remnants of the city's history, including Byzantine-style chapels and bell-towered mansions. The historic center is home to charming antique shops, characterful bars, and eateries serving diverse cuisines.

The 15th-century remains of the Old Princely Court in Bucharest, hold a fascinating historical connection to Vlad the Impaler, the figure who inspired the legends of Count Dracula. Local folklore suggests that Vlad the Impaler's treatment of his enemies, including prisoners held in the dungeons of this court, contributed to the creation of the enduring Dracula myth. This historical site provides a tangible link to the folklore and legends associated with Vlad the Impaler and the vampire Dracula.

Piata Revolutiei, located in the heart of Bucharest, Romania, is a significant historical site that played a pivotal role in the 1989 revolution that led to the downfall of the notorious dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. This square holds deep historical and symbolic importance as a site of resistance against Ceausescu's oppressive regime.

In contrast to this historical significance, the ritzy northern part of Bucharest features Herastrau Park, a sprawling and picturesque park. Here, visitors can enjoy boat rides on the lake and explore an open-air museum that showcases traditional Romanian homes. This park provides a serene escape from the urban hustle and bustle, offering a glimpse into Romania's cultural heritage through its traditional architecture and beautiful natural surroundings.

In recent years, Bucharest has experienced a revitalization, with a younger population breathing new life into old buildings and bringing vibrancy to the city since Romania's EU membership.

Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest History

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, has a rich and complex history that spans centuries. From its early settlement by the Geto-Dacian peoples in 70 BC to its transformation into a modern European city, Bucharest has undergone significant changes and historical events.

One of Bucharest's most famous historical figures is Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. In the 15th century, Vlad Tepes ruled Wallachia and became notorious for his brutal methods, including impaling his enemies and Ottoman troops on spikes.

Bucharest's history was marked by ongoing battles and conflicts, particularly with the Imperial forces of Istanbul. By the 17th century, the city had fallen under Ottoman rule. However, the end of fighting brought prosperity and trade to Bucharest, making it one of the wealthiest cities in Europe by the 19th century.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bucharest flourished with elegant parks and stately palaces, earning it the nickname "Little Paris." However, World War II and Romania's involvement on the Axis side, as well as a devastating earthquake in 1940, caused significant damage to the city.

Under Communist rule, Bucharest saw a different kind of transformation, marked by Stalinist-style architecture and urban planning. Despite some destruction caused by another earthquake in 1977, the city continued to grow with Communist-inspired structures.

The end of Soviet rule in 1989 marked a new chapter for Bucharest, symbolized by the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife. Since then, the city has undergone further changes, embracing modernization while preserving its historical legacy.

Interesting facts about Bucharest include its early public transportation system, with the introduction of the first bus in 1840, and the construction of the Romanian Parliament building, which is the second-largest of its kind globally. Bucharest's history reflects the resilience and adaptability of the city and its people in the face of significant challenges and transformations.

Best Time to Visit Bucharest

Bucharest experiences a temperate continental climate with four distinct seasons, each offering a different experience for visitors:

  • Spring (April to May): Spring in Bucharest is short but delightful. It typically begins in April, and May sees mild temperatures averaging around 17°C (63°F). Spring is a great time to visit as the weather is pleasant, and the city hosts various festivals and events, such as the Rokolectiv electronic music festival and EUROPAfest music festival.
  • Summer (June to August): Summer is the peak tourist season in Bucharest. Days are warm, with temperatures often reaching around 30°C (86°F) in August. However, summer also brings a significant amount of rainfall, so it's advisable to carry an umbrella. If you're sensitive to heat, check if your accommodation has air conditioning.
  • Autumn (September to November): Autumn in Bucharest is pleasant, with comfortable temperatures. September sees an average high of 25°C (77°F), and October is the driest month of the season. However, temperatures drop notably in November, with evening lows often around 1°C (34°F).
  • Winter (December to March): Bucharest experiences a long and snowy winter. January is the coldest month, with an average high of 2°C (36°F) and nighttime temperatures frequently dropping to -5°C (23°F) or lower. Snowfall is common during this season, creating a winter wonderland.

The choice of when to visit Bucharest depends on your weather preferences and the type of activities you plan to enjoy. Spring and autumn offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds, making them ideal for sightseeing and cultural events. Summer is perfect for outdoor activities but can be crowded. Winter is ideal for those who enjoy winter sports and the festive atmosphere of the holiday season but be prepared for cold temperatures and snow.

Things to See in Bucharest

Palace of the Parliament

Palace of the Parliament

The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is renowned as the world's second-largest administrative building, following the Pentagon. Completed in 1984, it stands as a monumental structure known for its opulent interior featuring 23 sections, which house various functions including the Senate and Romania's National Museum of Contemporary Art. Exploring this architectural marvel through a guided tour offers intriguing insights into the era's perspective. Note that entry is permitted exclusively through guided tours and visitors are required to bring their passports for identification checks.

To book a guided tour, you can call at +40 733 558 102 / 103.

The Old Town (Centru Vechi)

The Old Town (Centru Vechi)

Bucharest's Old Town, also known as the Old Centre, is nestled within the narrow cobblestone streets between Calea Victoriei and Bulevardul Hristo Botev. This historic area was fortunate enough to escape the demolition carried out by Nicolae Ceauşescu. Today, much of this district has been beautifully renovated and is brimming with fashionable coffee houses and restaurants. The atmosphere becomes particularly vibrant during the summer months when these establishments often extend their seating to the cobbled streets or open lots.

At the heart of this district is the 15th-century Curtea Veche, often attributed to Vlad Tepes, and it features preserved elements like walls, arches, tombstones, and a restored Corinthian column. Nearby stands the charming Stavropoleos Church, adorned with painted frescoes and an intricately carved iconostasis. These historic treasures contribute to the district's unique charm and cultural significance.

Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei)

Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei)

Just north of the Old Town, there is a historically significant site where a pivotal moment in Romanian history unfolded. In 1989, approximately 100,000 men and women gathered here, initially to support their then-leader Nicolae Ceaușescu. However, as the crowd's sentiments shifted, cheers turned to taunts, and eventually, a riot erupted. Now, the site is marked by the Memorial of Rebirth, a towering 25-meter-high obelisk.

The Memorial of Rebirth serves as a commemoration of the victims of the Romanian Revolution. However, its design has been a subject of controversy, and it has not gained widespread popularity. This area is also home to several notable buildings, including the ornate Atheneum concert hall and the National Museum of Art of Romania. In the vicinity, you can explore various galleries and smaller museums, adding depth to your cultural experience.

Palatul Primaverii (Spring Palace)

Palatul Primaverii (Spring Palace)

Nestled along an unassuming boulevard within the affluent Dorobanti district of Bucharest, you'll find Palatul Primaverii, also known as the Spring Palace. This opulent residence once belonged to the infamous communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena. The couple resided here during the last 25 years of their lives, right up until their execution in 1989.

Palatul Primaverii opened its doors to the public in March 2016, offering visitors a unique glimpse into the extravagant lifestyle enjoyed by the Ceausescu couple while much of the country endured rationing and hardship. Inside, you'll find lavish furnishings, including carpets gifted by the last Shah of Iran and paintings sourced from the country's former royal palaces. Some rooms are even designed in the opulent style of Versailles.

Remarkably, the palace remains largely unchanged since the 1989 revolution, preserving even the couple's wardrobes and pyjamas left on their bed. This untouched state allows visitors to gain a genuine understanding of the lives led by the former first couple.

Village Museum (Muzeul Satului)

Village Museum (Muzeul Satului)

The open-air museum in Bucharest, located on the west side of Herastrau Lake in the northern part of the city, is a fascinating place that showcases the rich rural heritage of Romania. This museum is home to over a hundred traditional peasant homes, barns, churches, and mills, which have been carefully transported from various regions across Romania.

The purpose of this museum is to celebrate the pride of Romanian peasants in their work and homes. Visitors can explore a diverse range of architectural styles and structures that represent vernacular rural architecture from different parts of the country. Notable highlights include a wooden church from the Maramureş region in northern Transylvania and the charming thatch-roofed house of Dumitra.

What makes this museum particularly interesting is that these buildings aren't just empty structures; many of them contain everyday items and accessories such as tools, butter-churns, hay forks, beer kegs, and clothing. It's a fascinating opportunity to step back in time and get a glimpse of rural life in Romania.

Additionally, the museum occasionally hosts folkloric events and traditional crafts festivals, providing visitors with an immersive experience into Romania's cultural heritage. It's a must-visit for anyone interested in the country's history and traditions.

Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral (Patriarhia Romana)

Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral (Patriarhia Romana)

The 17th-century cathedral you're describing in Bucharest, Romania, is a significant religious and historical landmark known as the Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest. This cathedral holds great importance as it serves as the headquarters of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Despite being somewhat obscured by the surrounding 1970s housing blocks, the cathedral is an architectural and artistic gem. It's situated on a small hill, providing a vantage point overlooking Piata Unirii, a central square in Bucharest.

One of the striking features of the cathedral is its ornate facade. Above the entrance, there's a fabulous fresco depicting the blessed and the damned, symbolizing the ascent to heaven or the descent into hell. Additionally, the oldest icon on the site, dating back to 1665, features the patron saints of Constantin and Helen.

Inside the cathedral, visitors are greeted by a wealth of expressive and beautifully painted icons, many of which are embedded in an exquisite gilded altarpiece. The intricate and dazzling artwork contrasts with the somber lighting inside the cathedral.

Of particular note is the shrine of St. Dumitru, Bucharest's patron saint, which is located in the left-hand corner of the cathedral. This area is a place of devotion and pilgrimage for worshippers who climb a small staircase to pay their respects to the saint.

The Patriarchal Cathedral is not only a place of religious significance but also a cultural and historical treasure in Bucharest, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich spiritual heritage of Romania.

Zambaccian Museum

Zambaccian Museum

The Krikor Zambaccian Museum, located in Bucharest, Romania, is a cultural gem that holds an intimate collection of primarily Impressionist paintings, along with one of Constantin Brancusi's early sculptures. This unique museum came into being thanks to the generous bequest of Armenian collector Krikor Zambaccian to the Romanian state in 1946.

Zambaccian not only left behind his impressive art collection but also his beautiful residence, which has become the backdrop for this museum. The collection itself may be small but is carefully curated, featuring exceptional works by some of Romania's most renowned artists. As you explore the museum, the names of artists such as Nicolae Grigorescu and Stefan Luchian will become more familiar, and their contributions to Romanian art will become apparent.

In addition to its Romanian treasures, the museum houses a small but impressive collection of works by internationally celebrated artists such as Picasso, Cezanne, Bonnard, and Renoir. These masterpieces are located on the museum's top floor, offering visitors a chance to appreciate a broader spectrum of art history.

Over time, the Krikor Zambaccian Museum has become part of the National Art Museum, contributing to Romania's cultural heritage and showcasing the country's artistic achievements, as well as providing a glimpse into the broader world of art through its international collection.

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