Since the end of the Cold War, Eastern Europe has opened its doors to growing numbers of tourists. Beautiful cities like Prague have been flooded to the point where travelers often ask the question, “where’s the next Prague?” There’s several candidates, and in terms of nightlife, sights and food, Bucharest is an eastern European city on the rise. Here’s why Bucharest, Romania is worth visiting!
The World’s Biggest Parliament Building
The Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului) in Bucharest is the world’s largest parliament building. Otherwise known as The People’s Palace, it measures a staggering 3.7 million square feet (340,000 square meters) and is the second largest administrative building in the world, only surpassed by the Pentagon in the United States. Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu commissioned the People’s Palace and construction began in 1980. A team of 700 architects worked to create an impressive monstrosity that epitomizes greed and power.
While the exterior of the People’s Palace looks somewhat like a classical Greek revival building on steroids, the building’s interior is where the excessive opulence really shines. The Palatul Parlamentului contains 1,100 rooms and is loaded with thick marble columns, staircases & crystal chandeliers. There’s so many lights in the Romanian parliament that most of the ornate chandeliers aren’t even turned on during tours, otherwise the electricity bill would be too high.
The Old Town of Bucharest is Seriously Happening
There’s a lot to love about the oldest part of Bucharest. Historic buildings house great restaurants, pubs and shops, and by night, this area becomes one of the liveliest in all of Europe. Bucharest is becoming a hot spot for bachelor parties, but it’s also great fun for a group of friends or couples who like to enjoy drinks out.
We especially enjoyed the festive atmosphere at Caru cu Bere (The Beer Cart), which is an opulent 135 year old restaurant. Oktoberfest is an aptly named fun place to enjoy Romanian and even neighboring Moldavian beers. And the atmosphere at Bordello’s is couples friendly risqué- it’s basically a Romania version of Coyote Ugly. This is just scratching the surface, walk around the old town and there’s a cool hangout to suit everyone.
Delicious Food Makes Bucharest, Romania Worth Visiting
Romanian food is hearty and flavourful. A couple Romanian dishes competed for the best meal of a trip that also included France and Belgium. A beef stew called Tocana de Vita with Mamaliga (polenta with cheese), which we ate at Hanu Lui Manuc in the old town of Bucharest was phenomenal. The dish had been marinating for 12 hours, and rivalled the best stews we’ve eaten in France, Belgium or elsewhere.
We also loved some of the Romanian desserts. We found wonderfully fresh and delicious pastries from a couple middle eastern patisseries, and some of the Romanian patisseries were also very good. Sweet pretzels (covrigi) are one of the most common Romanian desserts, with honey and walnut and chocolate being two of the most prevalent flavors.
Vegetarian travelers often complain that Romanian food is too meaty. While this is generally the case, most restaurants in Bucharest and Brasov, Transylvania had nice salad choices on their menus. To balance our meals, we often shared a hearty meat dish and a salad main, often comparable to a Greek salad. This is a good idea for couples trying to stay relatively healthy while traveling around Romania.
Bucharest Makes Beautiful Transylvania Easily Accessible
The legend of Dracula stems from the work of Irish writer Bram Stoker. Stoker never actually visited Transylvania, but based on his readings, images, and creativity, he penned a brilliant tale of a menacing vampire who feasted from atop Bran Castle. The character of Dracula was inspired by Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes), who ruthlessly ruled areas of Transylvania during the mid 1400’s.
Hungarian King, Louis the Great, commisioned the construction of Bran Castle in 1388. Doubling as a fortress, it was meant to assist Transylvania in defending itself from Ottoman expansion. Vlad the Impaler arrived in Bran in 1459 to attack nearby Brasov, killing hundreds of Saxons and burning its suburbs. The history of Vlad’s occupancy of Bran Castle is ambiguous, but he supposedly was a prisoner there for two months.
Bran Castle is entertaining to visit. It’s massive, and combines elegant furniture with spooky stairways and great views of Bran below. The courtyard is also lovely and the castle is filled with centuries of varying history.
Nearby Peles Castle is one of the most opulent in Europe. If you enjoy overly lavish, that’s the castle you should visit if you have very limited time. For us, we chose Bran Castle because we were intrigued with its ties to Dracula. You can do both in a day through an organized tour or even setting a fixed price with a taxi driver in Transylvania.
The Transylvanian town of Brasov is a fantastic place to spend a few days. We enjoyed strolling through pretty, centuries old streets and unwinding over delicious food and drinks. The food at Sergiana was especially delicious and so filling that every seating comes with a complimentary side of fried pork! Brasov is a 2 and 1/2 hour train ride from Bucharest and makes for an excellent base to do day trips to nearby Bran Castle and Peles Castle.
Since Romania is part of the European Union it’s easy for most international travellers to fly into the country without worrying about a visa. It’s also not that difficult to travel around Romania independently just speaking English, as over 50% of Romanians speak at least moderate English. Read about 5 common myths that we busted during our travels in Romania.
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