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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Bucharest

City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Bucharest

Guide to the beautiful capital of Romania

Positioned on the banks of the Dâmbovița River, roughly 40 miles north of the Danube River; Romania’s vibrant capital, Bucharest, is typified by its elegant architecture, divine culture and the diverse art scene. Having earned the nickname of Little Paris; Bucharest has long attracted visitors with an artistic bent, seeking out inspiration in the beautiful boulevards winding between the neo-classical, Bauhaus and art deco buildings.

Positioned on the banks of the Dâmbovița River, roughly 40 miles north of the Danube River; Romania’s vibrant capital, Bucharest, is typified by its elegant architecture, divine culture and the diverse art scene. Having earned the nickname of Little Paris; Bucharest has long attracted visitors with an artistic bent, seeking out inspiration in the beautiful boulevards winding between the neo-classical, Bauhaus and art deco buildings.

The city is currently riding a wave of prosperity, both financially and culturally, making Bucharest a hugely rewarding place to live and to visit. As Romania’s capital, largest city and economic hub, the locals proudly showcase the beautiful highlights and battle scars of Bucharest – delivering the diverse history of this enigmatic part of the world.

Communist-era displays of strength and unity sit alongside neo-classical landmarks, creating an incredible hotbed of architecture. A stroll through Bucharest introduces jaw-dropping sights and settings as you turn every corner, with every street dotted with charming shops, bars and restaurants.

A relatively young city, Bucharest did not really consolidate its position as Romania’s capital until the late 19th century. This has allowed for a well-considered infrastructure – making it a pleasurable and simple city to navigate by foot.

Bucharest’s origins are incredibly humble, with legend suggesting it was founded for the mysterious Bucur – who was a prince, an outlaw, a fisherman, a shepherd or a hunter, depending on who’s account you believe. And the city really grew in terms of population, culture and significance in the years which followed WWI, with 30,000 new residents moving to Bucharest every year. This was when Bucharest earned the nickname of Little Paris, as the city’s artistic output increased dramatically.

Museums and galleries opened at pace during these years, celebrating the works and achievements of Romanian artists, as well as some of the world’s best known artistic minds. Matisse, Pissarro and Picasso are just a handful of the esteemed artists who would find their works hanging on Bucharest’s walls.  

Must See Sights

With awe-inspiring buildings, landmarks and sites of historical relevance seemingly emerging from every street and avenue in the city, it can be difficult deciding how to spend a day or two in Bucharest. So to help out, we’ve selected just a few of Bucharest’s absolute must see sights.

Palace of the Parliament

The staggeringly large (more about its size in the Fast Facts section) and imposing Palace of the Parliament is as impressive as it is important. Still housing Romania’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies within its amazingly ornate interior alongside three museums and an international conference centre.

The Palace of the Parliament was officially completed in 1997, and now dominates many views in Bucharest. The incredible scale and no-expenses-spared approach to construction harks back to the golden era of renaissance architecture. 

Cotroceni Palace

Bucharest’s Cotroceni Palace is the official residence of the President of Romania. The earliest building on the site was a 17th century monastery, which soon became a dwelling for Romanian rulers. Construction on the current build was started in the late 19th century, and the finished article provides a fitting seat for the head of the nations. 

Cișmigiu Gardens

Living up to Bucharest’s Little Paris nickname, the Cișmigiu Gardens are a public park surrounding a stunning lake, located close to the centre of the city. Dating back to the mid-19th century, the 17-hectare park provides the perfect setting to explore on a sunny Romanian afternoon. Perhaps the highlight of the park is the Writers’ Rotunda – a circular alley which has stone busts of 12 influential Romanian writers.

Romanian Athenaeum

The beautiful concert hall in central Bucharest, the Romanian Athenaeum is a fitting addition to a nation named for their former conquerors, the Romans. Since 1888, the hall’s ornate, domed structure has been a proud landmark of Bucharest, hosting music concerts and events.

Designed by French architect, Albert Galleron, the Romanian Athenaeum exhibits a wonderfully neo-classical architectural style with romantic flourishes. 

Calei Victoriei

The perfect spot for a little retail therapy in the Romanian capital, Calei Victoriei (or Victory Avenue to give its anglicised name) is lined with upmarket fashion shops and boutiques. The must-go street for the fashion-conscious Bucharest locals, is also suitably blessed with a number of restaurants and cafes – perfect after a day of wearing out the credit card.

Calei Victoriei is also home to a number of the city’s cultural hotspots including the Cantacuzino Palace, National Museum of Art of Romania, and the aforementioned Romanian Athenaeum. If you’ve only got a few hours in Bucharest, this is definitely the alley to spend your time.   

Fast Facts

The enigmatic capital city of Romania boasts some truly awe-inspiring titles and honours, here are just a few of our favourite facts about Bucharest.

  • Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is the world’s third largest building, in terms of volume – measuring in at 2,550,000 m3. It was designed by 400 architects, led by 28-year-old Anca Petrescu.
  • The name Romania derives from the Latin word, Romanus, which means ‘citizens of the Roman Empire’ – and in Bucharest old town sits a statue of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome.
  • The world’s first oil refinery opened just south of the capital in 1857.
  • And the city became the first settlement in the world to be lit by lamp oil, just a year later.
  • Bucharest’s earliest existing historical mention was in 1459, when the city was listed as the residence of Vlad III the Impaler.
  • The city was the birthplace of the world’s first lyrical artists to sell one million records, the Soprano Alma Gluck.
  • And the modern jet engine was invented by Bucharest-born inventor, Henri Coanda.
  • Matches between the city’s two biggest football teams, Steaua Bucharest and Dinamo Bucharest, are referred to as The Eternal Derby.
  • Bucharest’s mass transit network is the fourth largest in Europe. 
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