5-minute guide to Bucharest: monumental opulence meets buzzing artistic vibes in Romania’s capital

5-minute guide to Bucharest: monumental opulence meets buzzing artistic vibes in Romania’s capital

17 September 2019
Header Image: Garrett Ziegler

The best building in the city is probably: Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament, a 700,000 tonne testament to totalitarian kitsch and ego. Aided by thousands of soldiers and other “volunteers”, more than 700 architects constructed the building to the exacting specifications of Romania’s former communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Today, it’s the second largest administrative building in the world, and a sprawling home to thousands of breathtakingly lavish rooms. Take one of the daily tours to learn more about the Palace’s history, or head way, way back across the road to try and fit it all in one shot.

The best view over the city is: the Arcul de Triumf. Rising 27 metres over the Bucharest skyline, it celebrates Romania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire, achieved in 1878. The current monument is the third version of the arch to stand on this spot, the first being made of wood. The more modern building, meanwhile, now hosts a small museum inside the arch itself. The gallery usually shows photos of the arch’s changing architecture, but other displays also pop up from time to time, paying homage to everyone from Romanian legends to reclusive street artist Bansky.

The best green space is: King Michael I Park (also known as Parcul Herăstrău). Hugging around a large lake, the park features adventure playgrounds, half-pipes for skateboarding, hiking trails, and plenty of paths to escape the city. Orderly rows of flowers echo those found in Paris: an apt reminder of Bucharest’s former moniker as “Little Paris” and “the Paris of the East.” The huge park also encompasses Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum, an open-air museum that preserves rustic cottages and other traditional wooden structures from the Romanian countryside.

Cărturești Carusel. Image: Garrett Ziegler

The must-have Instagram snap is: Bucharest’s literary jewel, Cărturești Carusel. Widely considered to be among the most beautiful bookstores in the world, the shop is located in the historic Centru Vechi district, with grand, overarching skylights bathing the 19th-century interior in a delicious light. Downstairs you can stock up on novelty clocks and vinyl, but, for the coveted shot, you’ll want to stand just inside the entrance and shoot up. Caption the result “that bookstore in Bucharest”, and everyone will know exactly which one you mean.

Peleș Castle. Image: Garrett Ziegler

The best day-trip is: Peleș Castle: a building that could have fallen out of a fairytale. Romania has no shortage of jaw-dropping castles, including Bran Castle, thought to have served as Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula’s lair. Peleș Castle, meanwhile, is the more romantic choice. Construction began at a picture-perfect spot beneath the Carpathian Mountains in 1873 at the request of the Romanian royal family. The result, finished in 1914, oozes luxury. A guided tour takes you from gilded room to great hall, each brimming with priceless statues, without a fang in sight.

The best coffee is: BOB Coffee Lab. True to its name, this coffee shop and roastery uses scientific techniques to ensure its high-quality brew. For a real kick, sample the cold brew and ginger ale concoction known as the Pug Mug (although confusingly served in a beaker). But “best” definitely doesn’t mean “pretentious”. Locals lounge by the entrance, making the most of the relaxed vibe with plenty of pet dogs allowed to wander off-leash.

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