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After I left Sofia, my Eurail trip sent me to Bucharest on a surprisingly nice overnight train. In my cabin was this skinny Chinese guy who was doing an even crazier European trip than the one I’m currently doing.

He was following the 2012 UEFA Europa League games, and thanks to him, I learned that the final game (with Atletico Madrid against Atletico Bilbao) was to be played today in Bucharest.

This meant, that my short time in Bucharest was going to be anything from the “ordinary” Bucharest. In fact, had I not known this, I could have easily thought that either Spain invaded Romania, or that my train somehow got deviated to some random city in Spain.

I have to be honest about my “extensive” knowledge of Romania.  Dracula…  that pretty much sums it all!

I had my friend and super travel blogger, Earl of Wandering Earl, meet me in the city so he could give me a crash course on Bucharest. Earl is stationed in Bucharest at the moment, so I was sure that his knowledge about the city went way beyond mine.  Er… Dracula.

As we walked around the city center I noticed it is not the usual touristy center you normally find in Europe. Where are the hop-on-hop-off buses? Where are the souvenir shops? Where’s the tourist information office?

Not that I use any of them, but normally those are the things that let you know that you’re in the city center, or in “right spot” among other tourists.

Bucharest, Romania
The Military Club

In my opinion, Bucharest’s city center didn’t feel like such at all. It felt more like a well-developed city rather than a capital city. 

Like Sofia, Bucharest is all about the experimentation of the city and the discovery of the bits and pieces of its history scattered all throughout the city.

But, unlike Sofia, Bucharest has a much shorter, and possibly a more calamitous history, that directly threaded the fabric of the city you see today.

If I could summarize Bucharest history in 250 words, it would read like:

First mentioned as the ‘Citadel of Bucharest’ in 1459 when Wallachian prince Vlad III the Impaler made it his residence. It was burned down by the Ottomans at the beginning of the 17th century but was quickly rebuilt.

Natural disasters destroyed it a few times in the 17th and 18th century,
the Caragea’s plague ravaged its population in 1813-14, and in 1847 a third of the city was completely destroyed by fire (again!).

Despite its “bad luck,” Bucharest became the capital of Romania in 1861. The economy boomed, bringing with it good art and extravagant architecture. Bucharest was called “Little Paris” or Paris of the East.”

Romanian Athenaeum
The Romanian Athenaeum

Prosperity didn’t last long, though. The Germans occupied the city during WWI and the capital was moved to Iasi. After the war, Bucharest became again the capital but sided with Germany during WWII.

The allies bombed it extensively until a royal coup redirected Romania with the Allies. The Germans, pissed, of course, bombed Bucharest as payback!

On November 8, 1945, the Soviet-backed Petru Groza government took over the country.  Bucharest rose again, but in the worst way possible.

Nicolae Ceauşescu’s reign (1965-1989) demolished the most historic parts of the city and replaced them with typical Communist building blocks (ugh, such an aesthetic crime!).

The mess created by Ceauşescu led to the Romanian Revolution in 1989, which ended in the overthrown of the Communism and the execution of Ceauşescu (on national tv!).

Lots of protests happened until 1996 when a centrist government was installed.  The city modernized from that moment on and in 2007 Romania was introduced into the EU.

And voila, there you have today’s Bucharest!

This history, still palpable in the city’s fabric, is what makes Bucharest feel like such an Eastern European city.

At points, I wished I knew more about Romania and Bucharest, but on the other hand, I enjoyed discovering things as I explored the city. As I walked, my first impression of Bucharest was that it is not a walkable city, but it actually is since the “city center” is pretty compact.

The walk was quite enjoyable even though the weather was quite ambivalent between rain and patches of sun.

Beautiful old buildings popped up here and there in between badly designed modern buildings, a few gypsies made their non-subtle appearance, and coffee shop prices screamed, “I’m cheap!” 

Yes, Bucharest is a very affordable city to travel to.

Bucharest, Romania
THE Parliament!

Probably the most memorable sight in the city is the Parliament building. It is the second largest governmental building in the world (after the Pentagon).

It is also the world’s largest civilian building, the most expensive administrative building, and the heaviest building in the world.

Supposedly, the great balcony was designed so that Nicolae Ceaușescu could stand there and give speeches to the public standing on Constitution Square (the biggest in Bucharest) and along Unirii Boulevard (Bucharest version of Paris’s Avenue des Champs-Élysées).

Well, Ceaușescu was killed before the building was finished… and, who’s been the only person to sand up there to give a speech?!! No one other than… Michael Jackson! ha!

I love social commentary!

I also enjoyed a few other buildings in the city (that are well worth seeing too) like the Romanian Savings Bank (the only bank allowed to do business during the communist era), Kretzulescu Church or Biserica Kretzulescu (an Eastern Orthodox church situated in a corner of Revolution Square), the Romanian Athenaeum (a concert hall located at Victoria Square), and the Military Club or Cercul Militar National (built in 1912 to serve the social, cultural, and educational needs of the Romanian army).

The Spanish invasion of Bucharest!!
The Spanish invasion of Bucharest!!

The rest of my afternoon I spent watching the “Spanish invasion” as they all got drunk on the streets and plazas where giant tv screens were to display the final football match. I actually enjoyed it. But now I wonder how the city really feels on a “normal” day.

I would have loved to see more of Bucharest, as it left me wanting for more – especially on the cultural side. Bucharest might be a young city in age, but in “experience”, it can show and tell more than you would expect.

Adventure Awaits


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  1. if you liked Bucharest by day you should visit it by night! It’s almost like a completely different city. Also, the Bucharest surroundings are worth a visit, because you never know what you can discover.

  2. Really thank you for the appreciation of our capital city ! However, there are a lot of towns and places in our country much more worth visiting .

  3. The best way to visit Romania is a Dracula tour on Halloween with at least one Halloween party included. A tour named “Halloween in Transylvania with Vlad the Impaler” was placed by the prestigious Fodor’s Travel Guide in Top Ten Must-Do Adventures.

  4. Bucharest is gorgeous indeed – my favorite place to visit in Romania. Moghioros Park is just amazing, especially at night.