Bucharest, like the whole of Romania and its people, is a strange mix between classic and modern, old and new, ugliness and beauty. It is this contrast that fascinates most of its visitors and adds to its east European charm.
Walking through Bucharest, you will see a lot of grey blocks of flats and communist-looking shops, but this is just part of its history and it’s the worst part. If you dare to wander its narrow old streets mainly in its center, but even in other places that, even not central, were once a part of the old town, you will be amazed by the architecture and the beauty you’ll see. Most old houses, that were once full of madame and monsieur dancing their way into life, are now, just a memory of faded glory. Sometimes it seems that you are walking in a story, maybe you’ll be passing by Mrs. Havisham’s house, because it seems that is a story, a mysterious one, under every stone and corner. Then, on the other hand, there are the shadows of communism that left their print in so many places. There are so many interesting places to see in Bucharest, but here are the 10 most interesting places in Bucharest for you.
1. The Parliament Palace – Casa Poporului
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To the shame of some Romanians and the pride of others, The People’s House, Casa Poporului, has become one of the most known buildings in the world. This prestige is mainly due to its absurd nature and design: it is the second biggest administrative building in the world and the most expensive. It measures a surface of 30,000 square meters and is said by some to be seen from the moon. The construction of this awfully big edifice started in 1984 and it was supposed to last only 2 years. Not even today, the whole building is finished. It has 9 stories above the ground and two tunnels. Ceausescu, the last communist president, was afraid of a nuclear attack, but also of the people fury.
2. Carturesti Carusel
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One of the most gorgeous bookstores in the world, and the most impressive one in Eastern Europe, Carturesti Carusel is the perfect blend of history and innovation. The bookstore is in the Historic Centre of Bucharest, on Lipscani street. This an old renovated building, a historical monument, bought in 1903 by one of the first family of bankers in Romania, Chrissoveloni. It was confiscated by the communists and used as a department store. The current members of the Crissoveloni family have fought the Romanian state for almost 20 years during various trials to get back the family house. Once gained back, they sold it to Carturesti bookstore chain.
3. The Village Museum
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This is one of the biggest open-air museums in the world. It is an ethnographic museum that stretches over 300,000 sq. meters, and it is the second one in length, in the world, after the ethnographic museum in Stockholm. It includes more than 300 buildings, such as houses, various annexes, etc. It was the idea of one of the greatest personalities in Romania, Dimitrie Gusti, that was also the first one to inaugurate a Department of Sociology at the Bucharest University. Probably, one of the best times to visit this fairy-tale land is the spring or summer, when nature comes to life and all is green and beautiful. Furthermore, these two seasons are full of fairs and festivals that will allow you to fully immerse in the ancient, ethnic universe of Romania.
4. The Cretulescu Palace
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This palace has one of the most wonderful locations in Bucharest, near the central park of the capital, Cismigiu Park (right across the street from the city hall). It belonged to a wealthy woman from a long line of nobility, Elena Kretzuelscu. She inherited the house near Cismigiu Gardens (merely some gardens then) and she hired one of the best architects of the moment to redesign the house. The house was rebuilt in the French new renaissance style. Unfortunately, she had to sell the palace at the beginning of 1900 and it became the seat of many governmental institutions over time. Now there are only various offices inside but is still as beautiful.
5. Politehnica Metro Station
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It might seem strange that a subway station is on the list of things to visit in a city. To the unsuspecting eye, this could be just a simple, usual, rather ugly metro station that leads to the Polytechnics University. The floor is made of pink marble that seems to have a strange pattern inside it. The marble was brought from the Apuseni Mountains, and this weird pattern is 80 million years old fossils. These mountains were entirely covered in water and these fossils are marine organisms that lived in the sea during the Jurassic Era. The real surprise is that fact is completely unintentional. Only in recent years, geologists have discovered this interesting fact.
6. Tepes Castle
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Probably those who know a little Romanian history or just love trivia facts now that Vlad Tepes is the inspiration behind the character of Dracula. But most will wonder why his castle is here when everyone knows Dracula lived in Transylvania. This little-known building can be found in Carol Park, and it is an exact replica of the original Castle of Vlad Tepes from Poienari (no, it is not Bran Castle). It was not meant to be a castle. Originally, it was a water tower built to supply water to the General Romanian Expositions in the Liberty Field, to celebrate 40 years of the reign of King Carol 1st. But because this tower was not in harmony with the whole architectural concept, the architect who designed the whole thing had the idea of building this castle replica around it.
7. Chiajna Monastery
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Part of the historical site of Chiajna-Giulesti, this is one of the most mysterious places in Bucharest. The monastery was built during the 18th century, and immediately after was attacked by the Turks mistakenly thought to be a fortress. It was to be one the most important religious places in Bucharest, but in the end, it was never opened or sanctified, and no priest has ever performed any ceremony inside. After it was attacked by the Turks, people who had the plague used it as a refuge, and thus, it was forever deserted. Many legends and local stories surround this place, so you could try a local guide to make your visit more interesting.
8. Bellu Cemetery
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This the biggest cemetery in Bucharest, and it is known amongst locals to be some kind of Pere Lachaise of Bucharest. That is because a great deal of Romanian personalities as writers, poets, scientists, actors are buried right here in this cemetery. Even if you never heard of these people, the cemetery is still very interesting to visit. It holds a lot of beautiful, elaborated monuments and statues. It is also intriguing and full of legends and mystery: two lovers killed by their tragic story, a possible crime of a woman killed by a doctor, and so on.
9. The Island on the Mill Lake
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The Mill Lake (Lacul Morii) is the biggest lake in Bucharest, spread over 2.46 square km. Building this lake brought more sorrow and tragedy to this city. It had to be built in a year because the Dambovita river was about to flood a part of Bucharest, so they needed to build a dam. 400 houses, a cemetery where those who have died of plague were buried, and 2 schools were demolished. People were forced to move and leave all behind. The bodies in the cemetery that were not moved by their families were ran over with bulldozers. This cloud of tragedy and horror left an undeniable mark on this place. An island was built in the middle of the lake to be used for festivals and fun meetings. But since it was built, it was never used, it is now ruined and abandoned, a sad memory signaled by a strange inscription: “be careful not to lose your soul while you are looking for yourself” …
10. The CEC Palace
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The construction of this architectonic jewel, one of the symbols of Bucharest, was started in 1897 at the initiative of King Carol the 1st and Queen Elisabeth. It was designed by a French architect with specific features of the French trend in architecture at the end of the 19th century. Initially, this was a National Savings Bank (CEC), and in part it still is today, but it also hosts a museum: The CEC Museum. It is part of the beautiful scenery of Victoriei Boulevard, once a Champs Elyse for Bucharest.