Experience Bucharest – Top 5 Sights and Attractions
What to see in Bucharest? – A Bucharest Bucket List
Bucharest – An Introduction
Bucharest – the capital city of Romania and also the largest, usually acts as the entry point into Romania and as a gateway to the historic region of Transylvania comprising cities like Sighisoara, Brasov, Cluj – Napoca, Sibiu among others. Dating back to 1459 (as per some documents), the legend has it that the city of Bucharest on the banks of Dambovita River was founded by Bucor, a shepherd – the name literally meaning ‘joy’. His flute playing apparently dazzled the people and his hearty wine from nearby vineyards endeared him to the local traders, who gave his name to the place.
I visited Bucharest for the first time back in May 2018, as a part of the Experience Bucharest and Experience Romania initiative. After a year, I got the chance of visiting Romania again in July 2019, and this time I experienced a yet a different shade of Bucharest. While Communism changed the face of Bucharest forever, Bucharest has grown into a promising metropolitan European capital city, and the Bucharest of today – which is without a doubt, one of the best destinations in the World for Solo Travellers, has become a very interesting mix of old and new that has little to do with its former reputation.
With so much of history associated with a lot of buildings and neighbourhoods, to get a good understanding of what Bucharest is all about and what it has to offer, I highly recommend you spend a minimum of 3 days in this capital city, which is home to three big parks, a lot of churches and also the second largest administrative building in the world (after Pentagon) – the Palace of Parliament.
If you’re wondering what to do in Bucharest? Or What are the top things to do in Bucharest? I highly recommend that YOU check out these 5 Sights in Bucharest that should definitely be there on your bucket list, irrespective of the days you decide to stay.
Also if you are not aware, three of these places – Bucharest Old Town, the Romanian Athenaeum and the Palace of Parliament, Bucharest have a Bollywood connection. These are 3 of the 5 Iconic Gems in Romania where the bollywood movie Singh is Bliing was shot.
Palace of Parliament
The Palace of Parliament is the world’s second-largest authoritative structure (after the Pentagon) and will presumably be the first spot you visit in Bucharest, as it is without a doubt, one of the most iconic landmarks in Bucharest. However, please note that the entry is by guided visit only, so please book ahead. Entry to the palace is from B-dul Naţiunile Unite on the structure’s northern side (to discover it, face the front of the palace from B-dul Unirii and stroll around the structure to the right).
A guided tour of the Palace of Parliament takes visitors through a small selection of dazzling rooms, huge halls and quarters used by the Senate (when not in session).
It was commissioned under the communist dictatorship of Ceausescu, who employed 700 architects, and around 20,000 odd workers for this venture and, you too can visit this 12 storied fortress and see the grandeur for yourself.
This 270 m by 240 m Neoclassical structure exists as much underground as it is visible over the ground, and on the off chance that the measurements don’t give you a legitimate picture, at that point simply note that the structure has more than 1,100 rooms!
While the Palace of Parliament is visible from most parts of Bucharest, its real impact needs to be experienced and grandeur to be admired, up close at Strada Izvor.
Arcul de Triumf
The next iconic attraction in Bucharest that you need to visit is the iconic Arcul de Triumf (Arch of Triumph). Raised in 1922, to commemorate the fallen soldiers in World War 1, the original Arc was made of wood. It was then replaced by the concrete version that we see today, standing at 27 m high, and inaugurated in September 1936.
It was designed by architect Petre Antonescu and decorated by famous Romanian sculptors, including Ion Jalea and Dimitrie Paciurea.
Today, the Arcul de Triumf stands as a monument of Independence, honouring the martyrs of both the War of Independence (1878) and World War 1 (1922); and is visited by tourists around the year. Every year on 1st December, a military parade is held under Arcul de Triumf on the occasion of Romania’s National Day.
There is a staircase leading all the way up, however it’s open only on special occasions. The view from the top, is indeed a panoramic one overlooking one of the busiest roundabouts in Bucharest.
It’s not everyday that you get the chance to view the city from the top of Arcul de Triumf, and I’ve been lucky to have done this twice, thanks to Experience Bucharest.
Bucharest Old Town
Any trip to Bucharest is incomplete without spending some time in the vibrant Bucharest Old Town, sometimes referred to as Little Paris, or as Centru Vechi (the old centre) by the locals.
After decades of neglect, major infrastructure renovation works have breathed new life into Bucharest’s Old Town, and made this vibrant city centre a hub of activities. A walk through the cobbled stone streets, lined with historic buildings, is definitely one of the best things to do in Bucharest, and warrants a blog post of its own as well 😝
Some of the best experiences to have in Old Town Bucharest are, to visit the churches, go pub crawling, trying out yummy Romanian dishes, visiting one of World’s most beautiful bookstores – Carturesti Carousel among others.
The historic architecture, the old churches, the outdoor terraces and cafés and the romantic feel make the Old Town, one of the most enticing areas of the city, and something that you don’t want to miss out on for sure.
Two of the best restaurants and bars in Bucharest Old Town that I recommend you to experience are the Pura Vida Sky Bar and NOMAD Skybar. Sundowners at Pura Vida Sky Bar is an experience in itself. 😎
One of the best ways to explore Bucharest Old Town is to join one of the Free Walking Tours by BTrip Bucharest. This way not only will you get to know your way around, but also learn about the history associated with multiple sights.
Another one of the striking attractions of Bucharest within walking distance of Bucharest Old Town, on Victory Avenue, is the Romanian Athenaeum. Built between 1886 and 1888, Romanian Athenaeum, dubbed as the Romanian Temple of Arts, is essentially a grand concert hall. It is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and normally only opens during concerts.
One of the finest buildings in Bucharest, The façade of the Romanian Athenaeum is guarded, so to say, by 6 monumental 12 meters high columns, and the entire structure is overtopped by a monumental dome which rises to 41 meters above the ground level.
The Romanian Athenaeum is without a doubt one of the most Instagrammable locations in Bucharest.
The inside of the athenaeum has a capacity of almost 800 seats, and its highlights refer to the 12 Carrara marble hallway columns and to the four monumental Gothic stairs which make the connection between sundry sections of the venue.
The Romanian Athenaeum is one such landmark in Bucharest, that will definitely not go unnoticed, as you explore Bucharest on foot, primarily because of the majestic facade. Almost all the walking tours in Bucharest, cover this Bucharest attraction as well.
Seeing the grandeur of the Romanian Athenaeum from inside was definitely one of the highlights of my first trip to Bucharest in May 2018.
Piața Unirii / Unirii Square
Piața Unirii or Union Square / Unification Square in english, is one of the largest squares in Bucharest. Originally built during the Communist era as the Boulevard of the Victory of Socialism, it was renamed after the Romanian Revolution.
Today Piața Unirii is home to 44 synchronised musical fountains, however before the 1980’s, this area was home to houses and food markets, and was pretty small, compared to what it is today.
While the fountains have been there for quite a while, it was only in late 2018, when a major refurbishment took place, making it one of the major Bucharest attractions. It is now designed as per latest technologies, and is a spectacle to admire. Every weekend from May to October in the evening at 8:30, for a duration of 45 minutes, the Unirii square in Bucharest is filled with spectators, who come to witness the Symphony of Water – A synchronized fountain spectacle accompanied with colourful lights music, leaves everyone in awe.
PS – It gets crowded, so make sure to reach there before time – giving you plenty of time to choose a good vantage point, to enjoy this spectacle without anyone obstructing your view.
Also note that this is also walking distance from Bucharest Old Town (opposite direction of the Romanian Athenaeum), so you can plan your route accordingly.
Bucharest One Day Travel Itinerary
All of these 5 Sights and Attractions in Bucharest can be covered in a day. A suggested Bucharest One Day Itinerary can be as follows :
Start the day by strolling around the cobbled stone streets of Bucharest Old Town, understanding the history of the different structures, then head towards the Palace of Parliament for a guided tour (check the timings and tickets here).
While exploring Bucharest, if you want to grab a quick bite, look out for Langos – which is one of the Best Street Food in Europe.
Thereafter head back towards Bucharest Old Town, covering both Arcul de Triumf and Romanian Athenaeum. If time permits, do spend some time surrounded by greenery by visiting one of the three major parks in Bucharest such as the Herăstrău Park. Come evening, make your way to Pura Vida Sky Bar for a couple of drinks, whilst enjoying the sunset.
And finally around 8ish, start making your way on foot towards Piața Unirii, to witness the musical fountains. Post this, you can go on a Pub Crawl in Bucharest Old Town, have a hearty traditional meal, such as the sumptuous Gulas, and call it a day.
Where to Stay in Bucharest?
If you are wondering Where to stay in Bucharest? Here’s my recommendations :
Hope you guys enjoyed reading about these Top 5 Sights and Attractions in Bucharest. If you want to read more of my Romania travel articles published here on the Eat | Travel | Live | Repeat blog, check these out :
Don’t forget to Pin this Bucharest Travel Bucket List featuring 5 Unmissable Sights and Attractions in Bucharest and if you have any queries, or need any help in planning a trip to Romania, please feel free to drop in a mail to arnav@theETLRblog.com
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