Things to see in Bucharest

Tourist information

Bucharest Tourist Information Office
Piata Universitatii underpass
Tel: (021) 305 5574.
Website: en.seebucharest.ro

Herastrau Park

In the early 19th century, the high society of Bucharest made their promenades along the willowed embankments of Herestrau Lake . A few decades later, the entire surrounds were designated a city park. Pink, yellow and red roses greet visitors to this park and, in a small conservatory, freshly picked flowers are arranged daily in the Romanian style. Arched bridges lead to an island and the other side of the park, where there is a bar, restaurant, sports complex and rowing boats for hire. There is also a ferry across the lake and, next to the Village Museum, a fun-park with rollercoasters and carousels. However, the area surrounding the park holds even greater treasures.

The streets between Bulevardul Mircea Eliade and Soseaua Kisileff contain extraordinarily beautiful houses (from 19th-century neoclassical to 20th-century art nouveau) and modern luxury villas with ivy-covered balconies and exquisite stone carving. This is where Bucharest's elite once lived - and still do today.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piata Charles de Gaulle Metro Station, Romania
Historic Centre

The cobblestone streets between Calea Victoriei, Bulevardul Bratianu, Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta and the River Dîmbovita still comprise Bucharest's most atmospheric area and increasingly are home to an alternative culture of clubs, bars, trendy coffee houses and restaurants - most lively when they spill onto the cobbled streets (or overtake empty lots) during summer. At its heart is the 15th-century Curtea Veche (Old Court), attributed to Vlad Tepes, which contains a few walls, arches, tombstones and one restored Corinthian column. Next door is Bucharest's oldest church, the 16th-century Biserica Curtea Veche. Just east of here is the oldest inn, Hanul lui Manuc, Strada Franceza 62-64, which is still an inexpensive hotel with a basement restaurant and courtyard cafe-bar.

North of here is Strada Lipscani, an old merchant street where everything from bridal gowns and handmade hats to cheap jeans are sold. Near its east end is a small alley called Hanul cu Tei, filled with antique shops. A block south of Strada Lipscani to the west is Strada Stavropoleos where the remarkable Biserica Stavropoleos can be visited. This church, completed in 1724, could easily qualify as the city's most beautiful, not least because its frescoes and icons have recently been restored and it is surrounded by a peaceful cloister garden filled with various antiquities and 19th-century tombstones. The church was designed by Constantin Brancoveanu (1688-1714), a Wallachian prince known for his religious architectural achievements.

Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Strada Franceza 60, Bucharest, Romania
Palatul Parlamentului (Parliament Palace)

Ceausescu's greatest folly, begun in 1984, initially taking 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build. But by the time the dictator was executed in 1989, only the exterior and three rooms had been finished. What is seen from street level on Bulevardul Unirii is a 12-storey monolith rising 84m (276ft) above ground level but it is nearly as deep under ground. It is rumoured to hold a nuclear bunker big enough to contain the entire government, although its actual functions have not been revealed. Inspired by North Korean Communist architecture, which reflected Ceausescu's political leanings, it is 330,000 sq m (3,552,090 sq ft) in area and the second-largest administration building in the world (after the Pentagon). Intended to house Communist Party offices, ministries and state rooms, it is now the seat of Romania's Parliament, headquarters of the International Conference Centre and home to a surprisingly edgy National Museum of Contemporary Art.

Regular 45-minute guided tours (in English), from Bulevardul Natiunile Unite focus on 10 rooms, including the 16m (52.5ft) Sala Unirii, built with a sliding ceiling, wide enough for a helicopter to enter. After a tour, consider visiting the National Museum of Contemporary Art, reached by a long clockwise walk to the entrance on the north side of the building and a ride up in the external glass lift.

Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Bulevardul Natiunili Unite, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 316 0300.
Piata Revolutiei (Revolution Square)

On 21 December 1989, 80,000 people thronged the square, supposedly in support of the president after riots in the town of Timisoara, when the Securitate arrested an outspoken priest. But when Ceausescu appeared on the balcony of what was then the Central Committee building (now part of the Romanian senate) people began to chant 'Ti-mi-soa-ra, Ti-mi-soa-ra' and the shock on Ceausescu's face pinpointed the true moment of his downfall - a moment televised all over Romania and, later, the world.

However, this heroic 'people's revolution' is also thought to have been an inside job. Ceausescu and his wife tried to escape in a helicopter from the roof but, being told they were low on fuel, were dropped within the Romanian border, after which they were hastily tried and shot on Christmas day.

A white, marble plaque on the Senate building points to the balcony, inscribed with 'Glorie martirilor nostiri' ('Glory to our Martyrs'), in remembrance of those killed in the fighting. In the middle of the square is a recent addition, the rather ugly Rebirth Memorial (Momorialul Renasterii), built to signal Romania's hopeful future. Just behind the library, a block west of Calea Victoriei, the facade of the building that housed the Securitate (Ceausescu's secret police), has been left in its ruined state, and now frames the glittering offices of the Romanian Architecture Union.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Piata Revolutiei , Bucharest, Romania
Arch of Triumph

Initially made of wood and built iin 1922 in tribute to Romanian soldiers who fought in WWI, Bucharest's very own Arc de Triomphe was finished granite in 1936. At 26m high (85ft), it offers fantastic city views for those who have the stamina to climb the interior staircase.

Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: iata Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest, Romania
Ghencea Civil Cemetery

Reached by bus 384 from Piata Unirii, about 3km (1.8 miles) west of the Palace of Parliament, this spread-out, rather unimpressive cemetery is worth a look to see its two most famous residents: Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, who were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day 1989 after the communist government was toppled. The pair don't lie next to each other (Nicolae is at row I-35 to the left, Elena at H-25 to the right).

Admission Fees: No.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Calea 13 Septembrie , Romania
Jewish History Museum

Romania's once-thriving Jewish community (numbering over 750,000 at the outset of WWII) has dwindled to about 10,000. There are a few interesting sites to see in the old Jewish quarter Vacaresti, just east of the historic centre and northeast of Piata Unirii. The most interesting is the Jewish History Museum, Mamulari 3, housed in a mid 19th-century synagogue. Here exhibits cover Jewish contributions to Romanian history and the 350,000 Romanian Jews who died in concentration camps during WWII. The Sephardic Jewish Cemetery is in south Bucharest near the Eroii Revolutieie metro station.

Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Mamulari 3, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 311 0870.
Muzeul National de Arta (National Art Museum)

Although tragically vandalised and looted during the 1989 uprising, the museum (inside the one-time Royal Palace, built in 1812) has now been lovingly restored. The best of three separate collections, the Gallery of European Art is an absolute treasure, containing many rarely seen masterworks. Highlights include Von Eyck's Crucifixion and a Rembrandt, 16th and 17th-century Spanish works, including several El Grecos, Flemish art including a Rubens and four more rooms contain French sculpture and art up to the 20th century. Of the two other collections, the best is the Gallery of Romanian Art , which features works by the country's most famous painters, including Nicolae Grigorescu who often depicted Romanian peasants. The small third collection is the Treasures of Roman Art .

Opening Times: Wed-Sun 1100-1900 (May - Sept); Wed-Sun 1000-1800 (Oct-Aprl).
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Calea Victoriei 49-53, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 313 3030.
Muzeul Satului (Village Museum)

A few dozen peasant homes, barns, churches and mills, representing vernacular rural architecture, were transported from all over Romania, to a park on the west side of Herastrau Lake in north Bucharest. Built to show the pride of Romanian peasants in their work and homes, the open-air museum is recovering from past fires, with newly relocated homes and pieces - many from the 19th century - replacing fire-damaged ones. Among them are rustic wooden churches and tall-roofed Transylvanian houses with beautifully crafted shingles containing everyday accessories such as tools, butter-churns, hay forks, beer kegs and clothes.

Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Soseaua Kiseleff 28-30, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 317 9103.
Muzeul Taranului Roman (Romanian Peasant Museum)

Housed in a giant 1912 palace made of red brick, this eclectic collection of peasant relics is a juxtaposition of religious and traditional crafts and is so ingeniously displayed (with excellent English texts relating rural functional items to contemporary sculpture) that the exhibition is a work of art in itself. Handmade rugs, pottery, tools and painted eggs rub shoulders with rosaries, icons and woodcuts, while the intimate style of a fairly recent peasant kitchen and school room celebrates the aesthetics of simplicity. Upstairs, a group of mannequins in peasant costumes looks like they are about to wake up at any moment and march across the room. This museum is a gem for lovers of both folk and contemporary art and also has an excellent gift shop, which sells antique clothing and fabrics.

Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Soseaua Kiseleff 3, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 317 9660.
Patriarhia Romana (Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral)

Nearly obscured by 1970s housing blocks, this stunning 17th-century cathedral, situated on a small hill overlooking the grey communist-built Piata Unirii, is the Romanian Orthodox Church headquarters. A fabulous fresco of the blessed and the damned, ascending to heaven or tumbling into hell, adorns the entrance, as well as the oldest icon on the site, depicting patron saints Constantin and Helen (1665). Inside, expressive and beautifully painted icons, embedded in an exquisite gilded altarpiece, dazzle the eye in the sombre darkness. St Dumitru, Bucharest's patron saint, lies entombed in the left-hand corner and worshippers constantly climb the staircase to his shrine to pay their respects.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Strada Dealul Mitropoliei, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 337 0830.
The Military Club

This magnificent neoclassical masterpiece was originally built in 1912 to serve the social, cultural and educational needs of the Romanian army. Banquets and official events are still hosted in the ballrooms today. The main part of the building is not open to the public but the sumptuous restaurant and summer terrace is and architectural buffs can admire its exteriors.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Boulevard Regina Elisabeta 21, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 313 8680.
Zambaccian Museum

The Armenian collector, Krikor Zambaccian, bequeathed his intimate collection of mostly impressionist paintings (including one of Constantin Brancusi's earliest sculptures) to the state, in 1946, along with his beautiful residence. The Romanian collection is small, but selective, with great works by some of the country's best-known masters. By the time you leave, names like Nicolae Grigorescu and Stefan Luchian seem slightly less foreign. The small collection of works by Picasso, Cezanne, Bonnard and Renoir is situated on the top floor. The museum is now part of the National Art Museum.

Opening Times: Wed-Sun 1100-1900 (May-Sept); Wed-Sun 1000-1800 (Oct-Apr).
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Strada Muzeul Zambaccian 21A, Bucharest, Romania
Telephone: (021) 230 1920.
Edited by Tina Banerjee
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