Bucharest might be off the beaten path for some travelers, but it shouldn’t be. Many tourists choose the likes of Paris and Rome when they travel to Europe, but the mysterious cities of Eastern Europe have a lot for visitors to enjoy.
Romania’s lovely capital city has battled its way through revolution and is experiencing rapid growth. While it’s occasionally been given titles “Paris of the East” or the “New Berlin,” Bucharest is a force to be reckoned with on its own without the need for comparison.
To help you out on your trip through the city, here are the top five Bucharest attractions to see as you explore.
5.) Arcul de Triumf (Arch of Triumph)
If you think this arch looks familiar, you aren’t wrong.
If you’re coming to Bucharest to compare it to cities like Paris, you’re already doing it wrong. Romania has its a unique culture, history, and architecture that gives it an entirely different energy. You can feel it when you walk down the street.
That said, Bucharest has the “Paris of the East” nickname for a reason. The Bucharest Arch strongly resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but it’s not a carbon copy.
For one thing, the Bucharest arch is about a century younger than its Parisian sister. For another thing, it doesn’t have the same number of entrances. It does have an observation deck, so you can climb to the top and peer out over Bucharest.
You can find this beautiful monument in Northern Bucharest on the Kiselef Road. At first, it started as a wooden statue that rose after Romania gained its independence in 1878. After a few modifications, the final statue made its debut in 1936.
4.) Piata Unirii, Bulevardul Unirii
The highlights of the Piata Unirii are the huge pools that form a concentric circle around the traffic roundabout and the fountain in the middle. If you walk through the plaza at the right time, it seems as though you’re going straight through the water.
The neon signs and billboards on the plaza might call to mind Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, but the adjacent, gargantuan Unirea shopping center is a reminder of Bucharest’s past.
During the communist era, Unirea was the largest department store in Romania. The names have changed throughout history and after the Romanian Revolution.
We highly recommend doing some reading up on the communist era and the history of Romania. Without it, you’ll lack some of the context and energy in the streets. Romania’s history tells a lot about it’s past and present culture. You’ll still find businesses and departments selling all sorts of goods, but it’s no longer the only game in town.
3.) Muzeul National al Satului Dimitrie Gusti (Village Museum)
For a true glimpse into Romania’s culture and history, the Village Museum is a must.
Upon first glance, you may not think this layout looks like a typical museum. That’s because it isn’t. The Village Museum is a repository for houses, churches, and other buildings that have been rescued from various regions of Romania and Moldova.
The structures are scattered around the grounds in natural settings, and wandering around the tree-lined paths to peek in on them is a treat. On the museum grounds, you can find over 272 farming grounds and authentic houses from the Romanian countryside.
You might not get out to the Romanian countryside to see these sorts of houses. Because they’ve come to you, take advantage of the opportunity.
2.) Palatul Curtea Veche (Old Princely Court)
The Old Princely Court is now in ruins. It’s all gaping holes, stairways to nowhere, and missing walls. There isn’t much in the way of palatial splendor here.
It’s significant, though. In the 15th century, it was home to a prince of Wallachia by the name of Vlad. Vlad is the Romanian word for “spike” or “impaler,” so it’s a little more polite to call him Vlad III Dracula.
The proprietors might try to send a guide through the ruins with you and expect a gratuity. In truth, you don’t need one. If you ask politely, you might be allowed to explore on your own. Right next door is the 16th-century Biserica Sf. Anton (St. Anthony’s Church), which is also worth checking out while you wander the area.
Unfortunately, the Old Princely Court is currently closed for renovations and restorations. However, it doesn’t hurt to stop by and take a peek at the architecture of one of the oldest medieval monument in Bucharest.
1.) Palace of the Parliament
Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know: the largest administrative building in Europe isn’t in London, Paris, or Rome.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to miss this hulking white structure. It’s the largest building in Europe and the second-largest in the world after the U.S. Pentagon. It’s so large that you can see it from the moon.
Here’s another fun fact: the design of the building was headed by a 28-year-old woman who oversaw 400 architects.
During the 1980s, this was the seat of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s government. Now it holds both the Romanian legislative offices and several museums.
To get here, you’ll need to go to the neighborhood named Dealul Arsenalului. You can’t explore the whole place, but you can get a reasonably satisfying glimpse into major sections.
Guards outside the Parliament building are sometimes edgy about photography, so try to get your photos from a distance.
As you can see, there is plenty to explore in Bucharest. You can see evidence of Bucharest’s history through its architecture, museums, and people. Bucharest is also filled with evidence of its communist past and the Romanian revolution. If you have the chance to visit Romania, don’t miss these must-see destinations.