Paris of the East

Bucharest is a city for fantasists, with a wealth of history. The Greek Viceroys ruled the city in the name of the imperial government in Istanbul until 1821. Dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’ for its cosmopolitan social scene and architecture, the city’s grand avenues recall its pre-World War II heyday when the Romanian aristocracy was among the richest in Europe. Today, the city is an eccentric cocktail of faded elegance, failed megalomania and flashy glamour.

What to see:


Bucharest is one of Europe’s great museum cities. Originally occupied by Dacians, colonised by Greeks and Romans, invaded by Turks, it has a turbulent past; yet one which has left a remarkable ark of treasures, notably the National Art Museum and the Natural History Museum.

The former Royal Palace is the most imposing of the buildings surrounding the Piata Revolutiei. Since 1950 the Palace has housed the National Art Museum in its southern wing. Open Wed to Sun, 10am-6pm October to April, 11am-5pm May to September.
South-east of the square stands the former Communist Party Headquarters, a Stalinist building that now houses government offices.

This has been Bucharest’s most fashionable address, with marked contrasts; elegant and sleepy at its northern end, and an eclectic jumble of old apartment buildings, shops selling cakes and Western couture at the southern end.

Calea Victoriei 12. This museum houses plaster casts from Trajan’s Column covered with depictions of his Dacian campaigns, as well as Greek, Roman and medieval tombstones and carvings. A basement vault displays Romania’s national treasures: a dazzling display of gold and jewellery, from prehistoric finds to Queen Marie’s crown and the casket said to hold her heart, to the sceptres of Ferdinand I and Carol II.

This colossal palace is the third-biggest building in the world, after the Pentagon and Potala. It epitomises the megalomania that overtook Ceausescu in the 1980s. Here he intended to house ministries, Communist Party offices and the apartments of high functionaries. The interiors are lavishly decorated with marble and gold leaf and there are 4,500 chandeliers. The decoration was never finished due to Ceausescus’ ever-changing whims.

NB Opening hours in Romania are notoriously unreliable and over weekends a surprising number of restaurants and cinemas can close mid-afternoon, or not open at all. Shops may also close for several hours during the middle of the day.