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Bucharest is the capital of Romania, a sprawling urban powerhouse that encapsulates the best and worst of the nation. Home to at least two million inhabitants, it suffers the usual problems associated with rapid development, but by the same token, it is the most prosperous and energised place in the country – the cultural, financial and industrial dynamo driving Romania’s transformation.
During the interwar years, Bucharest was nicknamed ‘Paris of the East’ for its buzzing art scene and store of fine architecture. Today, much of its heritage has been lost in episodes of war, natural disasters, or overzealous urban planning, but there’s still plenty to see. Today, Bucharest’s mix of historical and Soviet-era buildings tends to leave most visitors alternately delighted and aghast.Read more
Bucharest’s surviving historic core is encompassed by Lipscani district, formerly home to migrant merchants and craftsmen and a once lively quarter buzzing with markets and workshops. Today, it is rapidly gentrifying and replete with trendy cafés, bars, restaurants and art galleries.
Architecturally, its buildings fuse baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau styles. At its heart, you’ll find the now ruined Old Princely Court, built by Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century. He is said to have been a fair, if merciless governor, given to executing petty criminals or anyone else he mistrusted. Nearby, the beautifully restored 19th century Manuc’s Inn was once a meeting place for traders and travellers. Built by an Armenian merchant, Emanual Marzaian, it is now home to a restaurant and wine cellar.
For better or worse, Communist rule under the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had a profound impact on the city and its appearance. Inspired by the grand designs of North Korea and China, the autocrat notoriously levelled Bucharest’s most historic neighbourhood to make way for a new civic centre, complete with stark Soviet ministries and a re-directed river running through its heart. Some 40,000 people were displaced in the scheme and untold valuable architecture was lost.
At the heart of Ceausescu’s civic centre lies one of the most grotesque and intriguing buildings ever conceived. The Parliament building, formerly the People’s Palace, is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. Rising with 12 stories and a sprawling Soviet façade, its interior is a staggering labyrinth of sumptuous state rooms, glittering chandeliers and endless red carpets. Ceausescu, who was summarily executed after a popular uprising in 1989, never got to see its completion.