Touring the World’s Largest Parliament in Bucharest

As someone who studied history and political science in college, the world’s largest parliament building, ‘The People’s Palace,’ in Bucharest, Romania had been on my bucket list for years. The Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului) measures a staggering 3.7 million square feet (340,000 square meters) and is the second largest administrative building in the world, with only the Pentagon in the United States being larger. There was a lot we enjoyed about our week long stay in Romania, and the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest lived up to its hype as a building that’s both seriously impressive, absurdly lavish and creepy at the same time.

Alex Parliament, Romania
 

While the exterior of the People’s Palace looks somewhat like a classical Greek revival building on steroids, the building’s interior is where you really see the excessive opulence. The building contains 1,100 rooms and is filled with thick marble columns, staircases & crystal chandeliers. There’s so many lights in the People’s Palace that most of the fancy chandeliers aren’t even turned on when not in use because the electricity bill would be too high. Even on our guided tour, most of the lights were turned off, giving a small sense that a giant Frankenstein was the real owner of the place.

Palace of the Parliament, Romania
The People’s Palace was commissioned by long time ‘communist’ dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and building began in 1980. A team of 700 architects was led by Anca Petrescu (who should have been named Time magazines ‘Man of the Year’ just for managing that many architects) in construction of this beauty and the beast monstrosity.

When visiting the Palace of Parliament it’s important to call ahead and make an appointment and you have to bring your passport. Your passport will be held during the tour and returned to you upon completion (nice throwback to communism there). It’s also pretty staggering that the world’s largest administrative building that allows civilians has one of the smallest waiting areas. Expect to be a little crammed before going through security. But while you’re waiting you can buy coffee and snacks from a small stall. Tickets can be purchased with cash only by taking your reservation ticket into the gift shop. There’s a fee for taking photos and visitors are told that those who wander from the tour will be treated as threats and are subject to arrest.

Chandelier Parliament, Romania
There’s an additional 30 lei ($7.50 US) camera fee if you want to take photos, and those who pay the fee are given a separate badge for it. The guide told off a few young Greek guys who were taking photos without a camera badge and told them “you need to delete those photos” but then didn’t check and the guys just smirked about it. They continued to sneak photos and during the second half of the tour, the guide was much more lax about who was taking photos. By the time we were gathered on the large terrace, with a beautiful view overlooking the wide boulevard of Calea Victoriei, everyone was taking photos, whether they paid the fee or not. But each guide and tour may be different, so if you definitely want your own photos, it’s best to pay the camera fee to be safe.

View from balcony
Our group consisted of around 30 people and was led by a knowledgable English speaking Romanian guide. We’d read TripAdvisor reviews where some people complained that their guide ignored communist history and the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, but that wasn’t the case with our guide. He discussed issues like a lack of central air and heat and said there was speculation that Ceausescu didn’t want that as he was fearful that someone could put poison gas in the air vents. Though he said probably the reason was that it was a relatively new and expensive technology in the 1980’s.

Tour, Parliament Bucharest
Our guide spoke extensively about the Ceausescu regime, saying that around 40,000 people were displaced from their homes in order to build ‘The People’s Palace.’ “Some were compensated, but some were not” our guide said. As we took the tour on a week day, we sporadically saw Romanian officials walking the halls but we were not taken into either parliamentary chamber for a viewing. Given how massive the building is, we only saw a fraction of it, but what we did see was both impressive and disturbing in light of the fact that so many Romanians were going hungry in the 1980’s due to the greed of the Ceausescu regime.

Due to expensive, some Romanian officials in the past suggested moving parliament to a smaller building and converting the Palace of Parliament into the world’s largest casino. “There was speculation Donald Trump was interested in buying it” our guide said. Yes, there’s speculation that the man who finished 3rd in the bidding to buy the Buffalo Bills NFL football team (behind the Jon Bon Jovi group) can buy anything and I couldn’t believe that even in the Romanian Parliament we couldn’t escape Donald Trump’s name.

Front of Parliament
When “communism” was falling throughout the ‘Eastern Bloc’ in 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu refused to step down until anarchy filled the streets of Bucharest. Nicolae and his wife Elaina fled via helicopter but were eventually captured by the Romanian military. On Christmas Day, 1989 a very short trial took place, led by the National Salvation Front, Romania’s interim regime, and they were both sentenced to death for genocide and a host of other charges including illegal enriching themselves. They were then immediately escorted outside and shot to death together (worst Christmas present ever). Interestingly, in 1990, Romania abolished capital punishment, making the Ceausescu’s the last Romanians officially executed by the state.

The 1980’s gradually saw a substantial decrease in the quality of life of Romanians due to the poor leadership and priorities of the Ceausescu regime. Aside from ordering the extravagant Palace of Parliament, during the 1970’s, the Ceausescu led government had borrowed heavily from the International Monetary Fund and other western organizations and during the 80’s he decided to repay the debt entirely. Romania gradually re-paid $13 billion in foreign loans through large scale shipments of agricultural and industrial exports, while too many were starving with food shortages and struggling to survive within Romania.

Alex & Bell Front of Parliament
 

Ceausescu did not live to see the Palace of Parliament finished, as construction wasn’t fully completed until 1997. Along with being the world’s largest parliament, it stands as a testament to the greed and poor leadership that mired the end of Ceausescu’s regime, after the former peasant had been admired by so many Western regimes in the 1960’s and 70’s for balancing socialism, liberalism and fostering good relationships with western nations. For fellow political and history buffs, a visit to ‘The People’s Palace’ should be on your bucket list, as well as reading more into the compelling life and regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.

 

Getting there

Metro: Izvor

Entry fee: Standard tour 23 lei ($5.50USD)

Camera fee: 30 lei ($7.50 USD)

14 thoughts on “Touring the World’s Largest Parliament in Bucharest

    1. Just a wee misguided indeed 😉 Though the palace is quite impressive and worth a visit if you’re in Bucharest, which has a fascinating history.

    2. Ahhh there is so much to know, that it is impossible to know everything 🙂 It is quite impressive, and a wee depressing that it must have cost a fortune and all the while poverty is fairly high in Romania. Life certainly isn’t fair.

    1. Hi Karilyn, it is beautiful, the artistry in the work is amazing. Just a shame the circumstances it was built under. Yeah the holding of passports is always a wee uncomfortable, though just before we handed ours over, we watched a big group come out and have their passports returned with no fuss, so that helped.

  1. You only mentioned the fee for taking photos what is the general ticket price?
    I don’t really like all those bans on taking photos when you visit the places when there’re no real reasons for that. And I hate extra fees – sometimes I pay, sometimes I don’t – but I’m sometimes really annoyed when I pay only to find out that it wasn’t really worth it.

    1. Hi Monika, we’ll amend, thank you 🙂 it’s 23 lei, around $5.50USD for the standard tour. I guess it is a difficult balance… this is part of what make this place quite fascinating. Bucharest has a great deal of poverty, yet here is this huge palace, built by Ceaușescu whose reign is infamous for being brutal, and now this landmark, brings revenue to one of the most impoverished EU countries, but a country that also has issues with corruption. So these things are usually fairly complicated to say the least!

    1. Aww thanks, and if you ever get back there it is worth a look inside! I know we’re missed a few cool things in our travels too.

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