Bucharest travel guide
The nation's capital since 1862, Bucharest is the country's largest and wealthiest metropolis. Tree-lined boulevards, classical buildings and extravagant public structures lie in juxtaposition to untidy, congested streets, unsightly Stalinist apartment blocks and incomplete constructions. It is a city that most people either love or hate at the first encounter.
Once considered the 'Paris of the East' for its long leafy avenues and grand buildings together with its distinguished social scene enjoyed by the extravagant Romanian aristocracy, the city's elegance and beauty soon deteriorated under the harsh era of communism. The notorious redevelopment project by Nicolae Ceausescu, leader of the Communist Party in 1965, was a scandalous affair; in order to create an imitation Champs Elysee, a Civic Centre and 12-storey palace for himself together with a parliament building, he demolished an immense area of historic architecture in the old city, including 26 churches. The parliament building was designed to be the largest building in the world. It is now known as the Palace of Parliament, second in size to the Pentagon, and has become one of the city's prime tourist attractions.
Bucharest offers a number of superb museums, galleries, exquisite Orthodox churches and architectural surprises and its political legacy provides a fascinating selection of sights where visitors can rediscover the events and emotions of its history. It is experiencing renewed vigour; historic buildings have been restored and there is plenty of nightlife and an increasing amount of cultural events. Traditional Romanian cooking can be savoured alongside international cuisine, and in summer festive beer gardens and picturesque parks are filled with cheerful crowds.
Palace of Parliament
Built by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the colossal Palace
of Parliament is the largest civilianadministrative building in the
world. It is an immense structure that took 20,000 workers and 700
architects to build, and cost billions. It has 12 storeys, 1,100
rooms, a 328 foot-long (100m) lobby, and four underground levels
including an enormous nuclear bunker.
Started in 1984, the dictator intended it to be the headquarters of his Communist Government, but it was still unfinished when he was executed in 1989. Today it houses the seat of Romania's Parliament (which occupies only 30 percent of the building) and is an international conference centre. Widely viewed as a personification of his obsession with grandiose things and actions, the construction entailed the demolition of a quarter of Bucharest's historic centre, including 26 churches, and the relocation of 40,000 inhabitants from their 19th century homes to new developments on the outskirts.
Built and furnished exclusively from 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 panelling and marble, gold leaf and stained glass windows, and the floors are covered in rich carpets. The largest room has a sliding roof wide enough for a helicopter to enter. Tour guides delight in recounting tales of the vast amounts of money that went to waste in decorating and re-decorating its rooms.
Address: Bulevardul Unirii
The Village Museum
One of Bucharest's finest sights is the Village Museum, situated
within the Herastrau Park alongside a lake.
It is a fascinating outdoor museum with a collection that spans more than 300 buildings representing the history and design of Romania's rural architecture including peasant homes, barns, wooden churches and Transylvanian houses from all regions of the country to recreate a village setting.
Traditionally dressed peasant workers portray life during the 16th and 17th centuries along with everyday tools and accessories. Traditional crafts are also for sale around the site.
Address: Herãstrãu Park, Kiseleff Road 28-30
Stavropoleos Church and Monastery
The tiny but remarkable Stavropoleos Church was built in 1724,
designed by a Wallachian prince renowned for his religious
architectural accomplishments, and is one of the oldest churches in
Bucharest. Built using a combination of Romanian and Byzantine
architecture it has a beautiful façade and a delicately carved
columned entrance. Surrounded by a peaceful garden, it is an
architectural jewel, with beautiful frescoes and religious
Attached to the church is Stravropoleos Monastery. The Monastery specialises in Byzantine music and has an impressive choir and Romania's largest collection of Byzantine music books. The monastery's library contains more than 8,000 books, including a significant number of old manuscripts and printed works.
Address: Stavropoleos Street
National History Museum
Housed in the former 1900 Post Office building is one of
Bucharest's most important museums, the National History Museum.
Spread throughout 41 rooms the exhibits recount the country's
development from prehistoric times to the 1920s.
The museum is located inside the former Postal Services Palace, which also houses a philatelic museum. Interestingly, the museum had to be closed briefly for reconstruction in 2012 when a late-medieval archaeological site was discovered under the building.
The highlight is the basement National Treasury, which is crammed with a dazzling display of gold, jewellery and valuable Neolithic curios. It is the biggest and best museum in the country and affords an excellent opportunity to get to grips with the exciting history of Romania.
Address: Calea Victoriei 12
Bucharest Street Music Festival
The Bucharest Street Music Festival takes place against the backdrop of the cobbled alleys and winding roads of the medieval old city. The event and the skilled artists involved evoke the music and traditions of the troubadours by performing Romanian folk music and medieval pieces.
This is Romania's main cultural event, attracting performers and festival goers from over 50 countries. The main event is centered around concerts by top classical musicians, jazz, blues and rock acts held at some of Bucharest's finest venues. Over 300 artists are expected to perform live at EuropaFest and there are also competitions, master classes and a prize-winners' gala on the final evening.
Date:14 - 21 May 2016; Website: www.facebook.com/EUROPAfest.Bucharest
Henri Coanda International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 10 miles (16km) north of Bucharest.
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: + 40 (0)21 204 1000, +40 (0)21 201 4000
Transfer between terminals: The two terminal buildings are connected by a corridor; it takes five minutes to walk between the terminals.
Getting to the city: Express bus services, 783 or 780, leave every 15 minutes for the city centre and main railway station respectively. Taxis are also available 24 hours to take passengers anywhere in Bucharest or to any other region in the country. Passengers should avoid cabs that do not display the price and have no meters.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Budget, Europcar and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: Bucharest has two types of taxi. Smaller taxis cost about RON 1.5 per km and the larger taxis charge about RON 3.5 per km. The trip between the airport and Bucharest can take up to an hour in heavy traffic. Visitors are advised to only make use of official taxis with working meters and the prices displayed.
Facilities: There are banks, bars and restaurants at the airport. Other facilities include a bureaux de change, left luggage, a hairdresser, duty-free shops and a post office. Disabled facilities are good; those who need a wheelchair or have other special requirements should contact their airline in advance.
Parking: Long and short-term parking is available.
Departure tax: None.
Public transport in Bucharest is cheap and generally reliable. The metro is the best way to get around the centre as not many bus and tram routes go through the central zone, apart from some express buses on major thoroughfares; these are the quickest way to reach outlying areas, and cost about double the standard bus fare. The metro is fast, and despite some poorly signed stations, easier to navigate than the bus system. Buses, trolley buses and trams are well integrated and tickets are valid on all three networks, but they are usually crowded and pickpockets are a problem. There are also private minibuses that travel along the major thoroughfares and can be hailed anywhere along their route.
Taxis in Bucharest are reasonable, but foreigners are more than likely to be overcharged. Hotels or restaurants should know the approximate fare, which can then be negotiated and a fixed price agreed before getting in. Car hire is targeted at business visitors and is quite expensive; drivers need to be 21 years of age and have a passport, international insurance policy, international driving permit and valid driver's license. Driving in Bucharest can be harrowing as locals drive erratically, and roads are not well signposted.
A continental climate ensures that Bucharest experiences hot, dry summers and cold winters when temperatures often drop well below freezing. The city lies on the Romanian Plain, and this brings chilly winter winds. Summer is the best time to visit, as temperatures are usually pleasantly warm with occasional heat waves, and humidity is low, but there can be occasional rainstorms. In summer (June to August), temperatures average between 57°F (14°C) and 84°F (29°C), and in winter (December to February), temperatures average between 22°F (-5°C) and 39°F (4°C).The rainiest seasons in Bucharest are spring and autumn.
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