5 Arcul de Triumf (Arch of Triumph)
Wait, what’s that you said? The Arch of Triumph looks familiar? Remember that part about Bucharest being “Paris of the East?” Right. The Bucharest Arch very strongly resembles the one 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.
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. You’ll still find businesses and departments selling all sorts of goods, although 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. The 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. You might not get out to the Romanian countryside to see these sorts of houses: since 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 ?epe?. Yes, that Vlad. ?epe? is just 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 said guide might expect a gratuity; in truth, you don’t really 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 worth checking out.
1 Palace of the Parliament
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to miss this hulking white structure. No surprise: it’s the largest building in Europe and the second-largest in the world, after the U.S. Pentagon. During the 1980s this was the seat of dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu’s government; now it holds both the Romanian legislative offices and several museums. Obviously, you can’t explore the whole place, but you can get a reasonably satisfying glimpse into major sections. One warning: guards outside the Parliament building are sometimes edgy about photography, so try to get your photos from a distance.