Bucharest located between Transylvania's Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea, in southeastern Romania, is an often misunderstood city.
Its lovely neoclassical buildings and wide tree-lined boulevards inspired the nickname 'Paris of the Balkans' a century ago, but many gems are obscured by post-Stalinist, North Korean-style grey housing blocks built, intentionally, to hide finer architectural moments.
To spot Byzantine-style chapels and bell-towered mansions visitors have to work a little. Impressions depend on how deep a sightseer goes. On the side streets of the historic centre are bars, eateries (French, Italian, Transylvanian), antique shops, a 15th-century court attributed to Vlad Dracul, and Piata Revolutiei, the heart of the 1989 protests that ended communism here in a sudden, bloody swoop (culminating with the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife). In the ritzy north lies the sprawling Herastrau Park, with boat rides and an open-air Village Museum displaying traditional homes.
Romania joined the EU in 2007, and the sense of a new dynamism all over town is evident in construction projects. Bucharest enjoys a temperate climate, but mid-summer is not a good time to visit, as temperatures soar, air conditioning is rare and many of the locals leave for the coast.