Known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Époque buildings and a reputation for the high life (which in the 1900s earned its nickname of “Little Paris”), Bucharest, Romania’s largest city and capital, is today a bustling metropolis.

Romanian legend has it that the city of Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, whose name literarily means “joy.” His flute playing reportedly dazzled the people and his hearty wine from nearby vineyards endeared him to the local traders, who gave his name to the place.

 

 Address: Piata Presei Libere 1

An impressive edifice standing in the northern part of the city, since 1956, Casa Scanteii (as it is still universally known) was designed by architect Horia Maicu. There is no doubt that the building is a smaller replica of the Lomonosov University in Moskow (inaugurated in 1953). Between 1956 and 1989, the House of the Free Press housed almost all of Romania’s capital printing presses and headquarters of print media companies. Today, it carries out much the same function but the southern wing is now the home of the Bucharest Stock Exchange.

 Address: Piata Arcul de Triumf

Initially built of wood in 1922 to honor the bravery of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I, Bucharest’s very own Arc de Triomphe was finished in Deva granite in 1936. Designed by the architect, Petre Antonescu, the Arc stands 85 feet high. An interior staircase allows visitors to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city. The sculptures decorating the structure were created by leading Romanian artists, including Ion Jalea, Constantin Medrea and Constantin Baraschi.

 Address: Str. Benjamin Franklin 1

The work of French architect Albert Galleron, who also designed the National Bank of Romania, the Athenaeum was completed in 1888, financed almost entirely with money donated by the general public. One of the preeminent public fundraising campaigns ever in Romania, the “Give a penny for the Athenaeum” campaign saved the project after the original patrons ran out of funds. With its high dome and Doric columns, the Athenaeum resembles an ancient temple.

The lobby has a beautifully painted ceiling decorated in gold leaf, while curved balconies cascade in ringlets off a spiral staircase. A ring of pink marble columns is linked by flowing arches where elaborate brass lanterns hang like gems from a necklace. Inside the concert hall, voluptuous frescoes cover the ceiling and walls. Renowned worldwide for its outstanding acoustics, it is Bucharest’s most prestigious concert hall and home of the Romanian George Enescu Philharmonic.

 Address: Calea 13 Septembrie 1, Intrarea A3

Built by Communist Party leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, the colossal Parliament Palace (formerly known as the People’s Palace) is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. It took 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build. The palace boasts 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 328-ft-long lobby and four underground levels, including an enormous nuclear bunker.

The Palace of Parliament it is the world’s second-largest office building in surface (after the Pentagon) and the third largest in volume (after Cape Canaveral in the U.S. and the Great Pyramid in Egypt). The crystal chandelier in the Human Rights Hall (Sala Drepturilor Omului) weighs 2.5 tons. Some of the chandeliers have as many as 7,000 light bulbs.

When construction started in 1984, the dictator intended it to be the headquarters of his government. Today, it houses Romania’s Parliament and serves as an international conference centre. Built and furnished exclusively with Romanian materials, the building reflects the work of the country’s best artisans.
A guided tour takes visitors through a small section of dazzling rooms, huge halls and quarters used by the Senate (when not in session). The interior is a luxurious display of crystal chandeliers, mosaics, oak paneling, marble, gold leaf, stained-glass windows and floors covered in rich carpets.

Address: B-dul Kogalniceanu 70-72

The Romanian National Opera was built in the early 1950s, opening in 1954 with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades (political interests at the time insisting that a Russian composer have the honour). Vaguely neoclassical in design the building is elegant if rather plain – on the outside at least. The interior is a different story. The main auditorium is richly decorated and a superb place to see either opera or ballet (the building hosts both).
 Address: Calea Victoriei 141

The museum, housed in the Cantacuzino Palace, displays documents and various objects that belonged to the great Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu (1881-1955), including a Bach music collection he received as a gift from Queen Elisabeta of Romania. A world-class violinist, Enescu studied at the Vienna Conservatory, where he met German composer Johannes Brahms and where he also gave his first concerts. In Paris, Enescu graduated from the French Conservatory in 1899. His best-known works, theRomanian Rhapsodies, earned him national and international fame. In 1936, his Oedipe tragic opera premiered in Paris and Enescu was awarded the French Legion of Honor award for the composition. A member of the Romanian Academy and corresponding member of the Institute of France, George Enescu was the teacher of renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Every two years, the Romanian Athenaeum celebrates the maestro by hosting the George Enescu International Festival.

 Address: Sos. Kiseleff 1

Recently renovated, this museum is the largest natural history museum in Romania, housing collections of reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. More than 300,000 artifacts and specimens are on display, including a dinosaur fossil. A whole floor is dedicated to sea life and features examples of whales, dolphins and seals. The museum also contains a beautiful butterfly collection.

Address: Sos. Kiseleff 3

Opened in 1906, the museum features the richest folk art collection in Romania, with over 90,000 artifacts that trace the colorful and diverse cultural life of the Romanian people. The Pottery Collection includes some 18,000 items, representative of the most important pottery centres in the country. The oldest ceramic item found in the museum bears the inscription 1746. Equally impressive, the Costume Collection comprises almost 20,000 traditional folk costumes, some dating from the beginning of the 19th century, giving visitors insight into the styles and traditions of the Romanian peasants.

The displays dip into all aspects of life in the Romanian countryside. Exhibits of agricultural tools, carpets, icons, furniture, photographs and films build up a complete picture of Romanian folk culture. In one of the galleries, you can see a wooden church and in another, a wooden peasant house. Four more wooden churches stand in the outdoor museum area. In 1996, the museum was named European Museum of the Year. Visitors can buy regional handcrafts and textiles in the museum’s extensive gift shop.

 Address: Calea Victoriei 49-53

Romania’s leading art museum was founded in 1948 to house the former Royal Collection, which included Romanian and European art dating from the 15th to the 20th century. Located in the neoclassical former Royal Palace, set amid a wealth of historic buildings such as the Romanian Athenaeum, Kretzulescu Church and the Hotel Athenee Palace-Hilton, the museum currently exhibits over 100,000 works divided into two major sections. Its National Gallery features the works of major Romanian artists, including Grigorescu, Aman and Andreescu. There is also a roomful of early Brancusi sculpture, such as you won’t find anywhere else, demonstrating how he left his master, Rodin, behind in a more advanced form of expression. The European Gallery, comprising some 15 rooms, displays little-known art gems from the likes of El Greco, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Breughels (father and son) Cezanne and Rubens. If you only have time to visit one gallery, make it the Romanian one. It is the most complete collection of Romanian works of art in the country and quite possibly, the world.
 Address: Calea Victoriei 12

Housed in a 1900s neoclassical building that once served as the city’s main post office, the museum offers a great introduction to the exciting history of Romania. Spread throughout 41 rooms, the exhibits recount the country’s development from prehistoric times to the 20th century. The highlight is the National Treasury Hall where visitors can enjoy a dazzling display of some 3,000 gold items, including jewelry and valuable Neolithic artifacts.

Among the displays are the 12 pieces of the 4th century Pietroasele Treasure Collection. First presented at the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris, it was considered the most valuable treasure collection in the world (the tomb of Tutankamon had not yet been discovered). One year later, the collection was displayed at the Second Annual International Exhibition in London and in 1872, at the International Exhibition in Vienna.

 Address: Sos. Kiseleff 28-30

Founded by royal decree in 1936, this fascinating outdoor museum, the largest in Europe, covers some 30 acres on the shores of Lake Herastrau in Herestrau Park. It features a collection of 50 buildings representing the history and design of Romania’s rural architecture. Steep-roofed peasant homes, thatched barns, log cabins, churches and watermills from all regions of the country were carefully taken apart, shipped to the museum and rebuilt in order to recreate the village setting. Throughout the year, the Village Museum hosts special events where you will have a chance to witness folk artisans demonstrating traditional skills in weaving, pottery and other crafts. Folk arts and crafts are available at the museum gift shop.