Last year, I had the unique opportunity to escort a group of Warwick Travelers on an Eastern Mediterranean River Cruise on the lower Danube River, disembarking in Bucharest, a part of the world I had never visited.
Located in southern Romania, Bucharest is the country’s capital and by far the most visited city in Romania, located in Eastern Europe. It has a vibrant and crowded Old Town, with plenty of historical attractions, restaurants, small shops and bars.
The Old Town area is historic; it is where Bucharest was founded in the 1300s. According to legend, Bucar, the Shepherd, founded the city when he built a church on the eastern bank of the Dambovita River. In the 1400s, a palace and court (Palatul Curtea Veche) was built in the area now called Old Town, and the city grew around the palace.
We began our city tour with our local guides, stopping for lunch at the Caru cu Bere Restaurant in Old Town. With its history of more than 130 years, it continues to be a favorite meeting spot for locals as well as tourists. The Neo-Gothic style architecture on the vaulted ground floor displays richly decorated stained glass windows, mosaics and beautiful carved paneling. The ambience was overwhelming and the Romanian food was quite delicious.
Old Town was and continues to be one of the most animated and full of life places in Bucharest. With its cobblestone streets, antique shops, galleries and cafes, it is a mix of history, local culture and life style, a trendy entertainment district and a favorite hangout for locals, especially on weekends. Near the center of the city, there is an area with small streets and a big variety of interwar buildings where you find many pubs, clubs and terraces.
The area was more or less all that was left of pre-World War II Bucharest. What the war didn’t destroy during the allied bombings in early 1944, Communism did. Bucharest was occupied by Soviet troops in 1944 and became a satellite of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1948. The country was under Communist rule until 1989, when the regime of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown.
After decades of neglect, major infrastructure renovation works have breathed new life into Bucharest’s Old Town. Many of its superb period buildings have been refurbished or restored, while others, whose beauty contrasts sharply with its state of degradation, are still waiting for their time. Nevertheless, the historic architecture, the old churches, the outdoor terraces and cafes make Old Town a most enticing area of the city.
That evening, our group visited and toured the Palace of Parliament, the second largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), also known as the People’s House. The construction began in 1983, when Romania was under Communist reign, and by the time of the Romanian Revolution in 1989, the building was yet to be completed. Today, the building has only 400 chambers and two large halls that can be used out of its total of 1,100 rooms. Most of the rooms are used for administrative purposes.
Modern Bucharest is an easily walkable city. You will find Communist-style architecture most everywhere. The Old Town district is easily accessible from anywhere in central Bucharest.
Visit Romania. Spend a long weekend in Bucharest, but don’t limit yourself just to the capital. The country has so much more to offer. Transylvania is a historical region, located in central Romania where you will find the famous Bran Castle near Brasov, a Transylvania top tourist attraction—all within driving distance of Bucharest.
Our group had an amazing time visiting the city as well as traveling outside of the city. Add the Eastern European countries to your bucket list.
Now is a good time to travel. See the world, immerse in other cultures, make new friends, enjoy and build memories that will last a lifetime. I certainly am!