Let’s take a look beyond the stereotypes…
I’m sure you’ve all heard about Romania – The Land of Dracula. But it’s more to this country than some legends with vampires written by English authors.
The capital of Romania, Bucharest, has been named one of the coolest cities in Europe by a French website. It might sound surprising to you, as Romania has escaped communism only 22 years ago, but “Little Paris” can be one of the best places to party till dawn, take long walks across the river Dambovita, meet beautiful women or wander the streets in the Old Centre.
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The French website Slate stated that Bucharest is the second coolest city in Europe, after Vienna. They reached this conclusion based on the night life, beer prices and the number of students located there.
The legends say that the city has been named after a shepherd called Dambovita Bucur, which literarily means joy. And let’s face it – that’s a good explanation for the Romanians’ good spirit and love for life.
What to visit
In 1900, Bucharest earned the nickname of “Little Paris” because of its glorious Belle Époque buildings, tree-lined boulevards and the high life. At that time, Bucharest was a beautiful place to be in – the streets were packed with elegant people, artists, musicians, painters and writers.
Nowadays the city is a bustling metropolis, very urban and modern, although you can still see the scars left by the communist era and its leader – Nicolae Ceausescu.
But if you ever get the chance to visit this contradictory city bursting with history and diversity, don’t miss:
– House of the Free Press – The building was completed in 1956, one year after the strikingly similar Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, Poland.
– The Arch of Triumph – This objective was initially built of wood, in 1922, to honour the bravery of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I. Only in 1936 the granite Arch de Triumph was finished. An interior staircase allows visitors to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city.
– Victory Avenue – The oldest and most charming street in Bucharest was built in 1692 to link the Old Princely Court to Mogosoaia Palace. After the Romanian War of Independence victory, it became known as Calea Victoriei.
At this time, it was one of the most fashionable streets in the city and if you strolled along, you could discover some of the most stunning buildings in the city – the Cantacuzino Palace, the historical Revolution Square, the Military Club, the CEC Headquarters and the National History Museum.
– Revolution Square – This is the place were communism in Romania came to an end. The square became known around the globe when TV stations broadcasted Nicolae Ceausescu final moments, on December 21, 1989.
However, you should know that the square’s importance goes back long before the dramatic events of the 1989 Revolution.
On the light side of the square stands the former Royal Palace, now home to the National Art Museum, the stunning Romanian Athenaeum and the historic Athenee Palace Hotel. At the south end of the square, you can visit the small, but beautiful, Kretzulescu Church.
Moreover, like you all imagined, Bucharest has an important communist legacy - Parliament House and Civic Center.
– Formerly known as the People’s Palace, the Parliament Palace is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon.
The building boasts 12 stories, 1100 rooms, a 328-ft-long lobby and four underground levels, including an enormous nuclear bunker.
A guided tour takes visitors through dazzling rooms, huge halls and they get to see the work of the country’s best Artisans.
Today, the building serves as an International Conference Centre and it houses Romania’s Parliament.
Some interesting facts about this magnificent construction are that the Crystal Chandelier in the Human Rights Hall weights 2.5 tons and some of the other chandeliers have 7000 bulbs.
If you are not into historical buildings, Bucharest has some wonderful parks and gardens where you can walk, relax and enjoy the nature.
For example, Cismigiu Garden, oldest park in Bucharest, was opened to the public in 1860, after it was designed in 1845 by the German landscape architect Carl Meyer.
Here you will have the opportunity to see more than 30,000 trees and plants, which were brought from the Romanian mountains, while exotic plants were imported from the botanical gardens in Vienna.
Another great attraction is the Botanical Garden, opened in 1891. This amazing place features over 5,000 varieties of plants from Romania and around the world.
Also people from Bucharest can be proud of another wonderful place – Herastrau Park. Spread over 400 acres, the park hosts numerous attractions, including a boat rental complex, tennis courts and a variety of restaurants on the lake.
Where to have fun
As I said in the beginning, Bucharest was voted one of the coolest cities in Europe. And that’s because people here know how to have fun and they don’t need much money to do so.
Beer is very cheap, less than £1, and the food is amazing. Romanians are known worldwide for their great and tasty food and if you visit Bucharest you should definitely try some traditional courses. We recommend you the Beer Cart Restaurant, opened since 1879.
If you want to party you should definitely go to Lipscani District. In this area you will discover the city’s unique charm – pubs, restaurants, clubs and a diversity of young people. This part of the city is always alive, both nights and days.
Back in the day, Lipscani was a residential area and a place where you could find all kinds of artists and writers. Today, the old city center is very modern, but if you look carefully, you can still find Antiques shops and a mix of cultures in the architectural styles, from baroque and neoclassical to art nouveau.
In Bucharest you can experience amazing parties and clubs – from Drum&Bass to rock, disco or commercial. If you want to start your journey to party land, you should begin at University Square – one of the most popular meeting places in Bucharest.
This is also known as the Ground Zero, the place where you’ll find a monument built in the honour of those who lost their lives in December ‘89.
The tube and the buses should take you anywhere you want and if you ever find yourself lost, don’t be shy to ask for directions, people in Bucharest are pretty sociable and nice.
If you want to learn more about Romania and Bucharest, there is a large variety of museums you can visit: Art Collections Museum, Bucharest History & Art Museum, Cotroceni Palace & Museum, George Enescu Museum, Gregory Antipa Natural History Museum, Museum of the Romanian Peasant, National Art Museum National, Geological Museum, National Museum of Contemporary or the Art Village Museum.
Like any other city in the world, Bucharest is not only milk and honey. First of all, you should be careful with taxi drivers, who can easily fool you, especially if you don’t know the city.
Then, there are a lot of stray dogs on the streets – most of them are innocent, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look out for yourself. And keep your eyes wide open for one of the most insane car traffic in Europe.
Bucharest is indeed very cool and colourful, but it lacks the tidiness and the discipline of the Western German cities, as people still choose to remain indifferent to the bins on the streets, the beggars on every corner or the antique buildings on the edge of collapse.
In this city you will find a mixture of good and bad, colour and noir, old and new, high class and poverty, that will amaze you, especially when you see all of these extremes combing so awkwardly well.
There’s a say that Bucharest has grown into a city of contrasts, that is probably why you only have two choices when it comes to it – love it or not.
Photo courtesy of Bucuresti Optimist
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