Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is often an overnight stay at the start or end of a Danube River cruise. This city of two million inhabitants has gone through many stages of influence and rule — by Greeks, Ottomans, Austrian Hapsburgs, Imperial Russians, Germans, and Communists. But the most profound changes by far were brought about by Nicolae Ceauşescu, the notorious Communist dictator who ruled Romania with an iron fist from 1965 until his execution in 1989.
What We Love
Its Architectural History: During the first half of the 20th century, Bucharest was known as "Little Paris" or "Paris of the East" because of the wheel-and-spoke layout of its boulevards and its neoclassical, art deco, and Bauhaus architecture, including the Arch of Triumph, dating from 1935. However, during Ceauşescu’s 24-year reign, much of its architectural heritage was demolished, including whole neighborhoods and many churches, and replaced by Communist-style buildings. Among the significant buildings spared: the Romanian Athenaeum, a belle epoque concert hall completed in 1888.
Best Known For
Palace of the Parliament: The largest example of Ceauşescu's legacy is this 1,100-room monstrosity, more or less completed by 1980. While vast areas remain empty, today the government, National Museum of Contemporary Art, and a convention center have taken up residence. It faces a grand boulevard that is just slightly longer (on purpose) than the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Curtea Veche: This 15th-century palace is a favorite of visitors, and for good reason: Prince Vlad III — The Impaler, aka Dracula — lived here, so prepare hear both true stories and tall tales.
The National Museum of Art of Romania: Housed in a 19th-century royal palace on Revolution Square, it exhibits a fine collection of classical and contemporary art.
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Who It's Best For
Those Seeking Something Different: Bucharest is a fascinating capital changed through the centuries by foreign influences, wars, earthquakes, and tyrannical rule. Today, as the city is experiences one of its best periods, visitors can retrace it all before sitting down over a coffee and taking in the sophisticated urban scene along its boulevards.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Watch Your Step: Traffic can be a bit hairy, especially on the city's ultrawide boulevards, so take your cues from the locals while crossing.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.