I don’t think I’ve heard many good things about visiting Bucharest (at least not until recently). The capital of Romania was always known as a grey, overwhelming city with a tragic recent history and not many things to see in Bucharest (except second biggest administration building in the world, after Pentagon).
But for the past few years, for the reason I cannot even name, it’s been on top of my bucket list. I just felt there must be something interesting, the city that used to be one of the greatest in this part of Europe just couldn’t lose its whole charm! I was asking myself “is Bucharest worth visiting?” and I’ve decided to see myself as soon as possible.
I’ve decided to visit Bucharest during my recent Interrail trip and it turned out to be a great idea. I enjoyed my Bucharest visit a lot!
When my train was approaching the capital of Romania my head was full of all the bad rumors about the city, I kept wondering what is Bucharest like. I tried to stay positive, I just didn’t believe it’s that bad (my travels around the Balkans or Caucasus have taught me there is nothing to worry about).
The first surprise was when I stepped into metro – clean and modern one (and so what it doesn’t really fit to some of the stations). When I arrived at Piata Unirii – the heart of the city – I was expecting a concrete jungle yet I was welcomed with a nice, even if huge, park surrounded by a great example of interesting socialist-realist architecture. I already loved it and was excited about all the places to visit in Bucharest that were waiting for me.
Table of contents
From Little Paris to tragic events – short history of Bucharest
The 20th century was really troublesome and tragic for Bucharest. The city used to be known as the Little Paris, mostly due to the strikingly similar grand architecture, the lifestyle and the vibe. The war has changed everything and made Romania one of the satellite states of USSR.
When in 1965 Nicolae Ceausescu came to power he ordered to demolish the majority of the old town, making the space for his idea of the modern city that Bucharest was supposed to be. The center got its neoclassicist, Soviet-style architecture with boulevards that were meant to surpass Champs-Elysees.
But the most spectacular of all was the Palace of the Parliament that until now is the largest civilian building in the world. Ceausescu was a very strict ruler and so his end was cruel too – he and his wife Elena (a pure evil) were executed by soldiers on the Christmas Day in 1989.
But before that a bloody and intense revolution took over the city, the army was shooting the civilians and Bucharest got really destroyed. Events of December 1989 were just the beginning of the chaos in the country hence the capital was slowly decaying too.
Fortunately recently Bucharest has seen big changes and investments that eventually made it such an interesting and cool city to visit!
Visit Bucharest Old Town – a surprising part of the city
When deciding where to stay in Bucharest during my Bucharest trip I opted for the Old Town and it was a perfect choice. My hostel, Little Bucharest, was located in the middle of the Old Town and I couldn’t have asked for a better location.
Being based in the center of everything I could have explored the city on foot and in the 2 days in Bucharest I really walked like crazy. I’ve crossed every street in the Old Town couple of times and every minute I was falling for the Old Town in Bucharest more and more.
Everyone I met told me that this part of the city started changing and was improved some 5 years ago, until then it was a no-go-to zone. I had a hard time trying to imagine those not so old times as this now is the most lively part of the city, where the cafes and restaurants are countless (some hidden up high in the buildings), the streets are packed with people and the noise of happy chats hovers around until late night hours.
Everything seemed just perfect there but when looked closer you can notice that Bucharest has become another party destination for Europeans (the number of strip clubs is disturbing). Still, the Old Town is a wonderfully enjoyable place and the amazing architecture just adds up to the experience.
I just couldn’t stop looking outside of the window of the hostel, especially at sunset. It really looked like I was in Paris, not in Romania!
Overwhelming Palace of the Parliament
The Old Town, no matter how great, is really tiny. I was really concerned about the rest of the city and I was wondering what are other Bucharest attractions and things to do in Bucharest. But I enjoyed every corner of beautiful Bucharest I’ve seen.
The magnificent Palace of the Parliament really blows you away. This is probably the number one Bucharest sightseeing spot. You don’t need to be a fan of socialist-realist architecture to appreciate its greatness (I am, so that helped). The building is really enormous, when you go towards it you think you’re a few steps away but you keep walking and walking and it doesn’t get any closer!
It’s possible to visit the Parliament inside and I can definitely recommend it. Just be sure to secure the ticket earlier. It’s not always possible to do it at the official website or on the spot so I recommend you getting this tour that will take you inside the Palace of Parliament. Click here for details!
The streets leading to the Palace of the Parliament are a great example of the neoclassicist 20th century architecture, kind of intimidating but still incredible. Too bad this impressive area was built at such a high cost…
But Bucharest is more than just the Old Town and Palace of the Parliament. It’s full of parks where lots of people hang out, hiding from the heat. The random streets around are home to some beautiful houses, dating back to the 19th century.
Those mix with some interesting modernist architecture and a Soviet-style building that together give a great combination (or at least it was great for me). Every now and then I stumbled across a beautiful old church, surrounded by the more recent face of the city. This incredible mix, seen at every step, just showed how complex Bucharest is, how rich past it has and altogether it makes a really interesting destination, proving that Bucharest is worth a visit.
Is Bucharest worth visiting?
If you’re still wondering if Bucharest is a good place to visit my advice is – GO! The city really is great, even if sometimes it takes some effort to find its beauty.
I wasn’t sure how long to spend in Bucharest, at first I thought 2 full days is too much. But when I was leaving for Bulgaria I found myself regretting not giving more time to the city to enjoy it even more, check more Bucharest places to see or go for a day trip to Busteni or other places around.
So don’t listen to people telling you it’s not worth to visit Bucharest or who don’t know what to see in Bucharest, they just don’t know what they’re talking about! Travel to Bucharest yourself and see how great it is!
Oh, and the best time to visit Bucharest in either spring or autumn, when it’s not too hot but warm enough to enjoy Bucharest.
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