Bucharest’s attractions might not be immediately apparent, as is the case perhaps with other European capitals. But for the curious eye, the city holds many treasures. Start your treasure hunt with our 20 suggestions, listed below.
The Old Centre
Bucharest’s Old Centre, Centrul vechi to the locals, is Bucharest’s legendary birthplace as well as its unrivaled party district. Restaurants, cafés, bars, terraces, and the occasional roof top bar are hosted by old buildings dating from the 17th century, many boasting beautiful facades and decorations.
Opened in 1847 and the city’s oldest public gardens, Grădina Cișmigiu covers around 16 hectares right in the city center. Its romantic winding paths shaded by lush green trees are perfect for a stroll, making it an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the bustling capital.
A picturesque Art Nouveau building, the George Enescu Museum immediately catches the eye of the passers-by with its richly adorned façade and oyster-shaped glass entrance. It features beautiful ceiling frescoes depicting cherubs holding musical instruments and elegant antique furniture, as well as personal objects pertaining to composer George Enescu.
Bucharest is undoubtedly a city of contrasts. Nearby the quaint Old Centre and over the Dâmbovița river rises the Palace of the Parliament, the world’s heaviest and its second largest administrative building, after the Pentagon.
The colossal 1,100-room edifice, today’s headquarters of the Romanian Parliament, was built by former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. Designed by 28-year-old architect Anca Petrescuw—who worked with a team of 700 architects and 20,000 workers who did three shifts per day—it is still unfinished.
Located in the Old Center, Stavropoleos Monastery was built in 1724 in Brâncovenesc style—a mix of Byzantine, Renaissance, Ottoman, and Baroque architecture. Famed for its choir, this Christian Orthodox nunnery, whose welcoming patio is bordered by red geraniums, also has a great collection of over 8,000 religious and music books.
Located within walking distance from the George Enescu Museum, the Museum of Collections has on display some of the finest art and decorative objects collections in the country. The objects displayed, from Biedermeier chairs to weapons, glassware, and Persian rugs, were brought to the country by some of the richest aristocratic families in the capital from their foreign travels.
If Paris has Père Lachaise, Bucharest has Bellu Cemetery. This historic graveyard is the final resting place of many famous Romanian artists, actors, scientists, sportsmen, and women. But the most interesting graves are often those of the members of aristocratic families. Often hinting to dramatic events, they are accompanied by beautiful marble statues of madonnas and angels, or large scale monuments and memorials.
Romanian villages are treasures of ancient traditions and customs and have their own architectural styles. If on a city break, the best way to discover the diversity of Romanian villages is to head to the open-air Dimitrie Gusti Village Museum. Located in Herăstrău Park and opened in 1936, the museum is, in fact, a large collection of houses, windmills, and churches from all over the country.
With its ornate dome and iconic columns, the Romanian Atheneum is one of the major landmarks of Bucharest. The concert hall, which hosts most concerts during the world-famous classical music festival, George Enescu, features 75 square meters long and 3 meters wide fresco depicting the history of the Romanian people.
As dictators’ stories go, while elsewhere in Bucharest people were suffering from electricity and heat shortages, in one particular villa in the north of Bucharest there was always plenty of water to fill a mosaic-decorated swimming pool and heat for the exotic plant greenhouse. Additionally, Primăverii Palace, the home of former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his family, even had gold plated faucets in its master bathroom as well as a private spa. Today a museum, the residence can be visited as part of group and private tours.
What sets apart this 19th century church apart—whose interior lends from Western architectural tradition—are the stained glass windows made in Germany, as well as the marble statues that are remote from the Christian Orthodox tradition. Moreover, the church is well known for its exceptional acoustics and oil paintings by Viennese artists. In the courtyard a statue of Princess Bălașa herself is one of the finest works by Romanian sculptor Frederic Storck.
With many of its walls and ceilings covered in large murals depicting forest nymphs, trees, and flower motifs, the memorial house of Frederic and Cecilia Cuțescu-Storck is a work of art in itself. Two of the most remarkable artists to have emerged on Bucharest’s art scene of the past century, they left a mark on the cultural life of the city and a consistent legacy. The house, designed by Cecilia, a painter, hosts a well-curated collection of oil paintings, sculptures, old furniture, icons, and pottery.
Both the gothic revival exterior and the art nouveau interior of Caru’ cu Bere, one of Bucharest’s most famous restaurants, are equally striking. Located in the Old Centre on Stavropoleos Street, the building was designed by Austrian architect Siegfrid Kofczinsky and became the home of Bucharest’s oldest beer house in 1899.
This is perhaps the best place to start your initiation into the Romanian cuisine, so dive right in with a plate of sarmaleor mititei, or start slowly, with a soup. Whatever you choose, do not forget to make a reservation, as the place is popular with tourists and locals alike.
Since 1991 the residence of the President of Romania, Cotroceni Palace, has shared in the city’s tumultuous history. A former royal residence of King Carol I, as soon as the Communist regime was established in the country in 1947, it was seized and turned it into the headquarters of the Communist party. The part that is open to the public, the Cotroceni Museum, has on display a large and valuable collection of books, paintings, sculptures, and icons.
Bucharest’s Botanical Gardens are among the city’s most beautiful green spaces. Less crowded than your regular parks, they offer 18 hectares covered in more than 10,000 native and exotic species of plants.
In the summer, the rose garden is not to be missed, while in winter, the tropical forest housed in the old greenhouse—a copy of that of that in Liège—offers a great contrast with the snowy landscape.
Built in 1847 by the Polish community of Bucharest, the Great Synagogue is one of the few surviving such monuments in the capital. The highlight of the richly decorated interior are the 1936 paintings by Gershon Horowitz and the majestic chandelier. Since 1992, the synagogue hosts the Holocaust memorial, which features a permanent exhibition.
The museum owns the biggest and most valuable collection of folk costumes in the country, as well as traditional ceramics, carpets and rugs, and household objects, totaling almost 100,000 items. The museum’s café sells traditional Romanian food and beverages and the fairs the museum holds regularly attract the city’s hippest crowd, as do the art house cinema screenings and concerts.
Located just outside of Bucharest, Snagov Monastery is also known as Vlad Țepeș Monastery, due to its connection to the former Prince of Walachia, Vlad the Impaler. Supposedly, after he was killed in the battle of 1476 by the Ottoman Turks, Vlad the Impaler was buried by monks somewhere on the site of the monastery.
This museum has on display the most outstanding collection of gold artifacts in the country, including jewelry and votive objects. The highlight are the solid gold Dacian bracelets, with a complex role, serving as high rank insignia, votive offerings, and ornaments which were unearthed at Sarmizegetusa Regia.
Covering 250,000 square meters, Therme Bucharest is the largest water park in Europe that uses thermal waters.
An oasis of palm trees, orchids, and other exotic plants, this is where thermometers get stuck at about 30 degrees celsius for air and 33 degrees celsius when it comes to water. Due to its large water slides, it is perhaps the most child friendly attraction on the list.