Bucharest’s impressive architecture and desirable location on the wide, leafy banks of the Dâmboviţa River have earned it the nickname ‘Little Paris of the East.’ To visit Romania without seeing its capital would be to miss out on one the most vibrant cities in Europe, where contemporary design merges sympathetically with centuries of history. If you’re thinking of travelling east in the near future, make sure you take in these spectacular sights.
Since joining the European Union in 2007, Romania’s capital has received investments intended to modernise and renovate the city. The result is a charming patchwork of architectural styles, with Soviet-inspired uniformity now broken up by innovative renovations. The historic Gabroveni Inn has received an €8.3 million makeover, allowing it to reopen in September 2014 as a cultural centre and performance space, while the City Hall, National Opera and National Theatre have also recently been refurbished. The vast, imposing palace of ex-President Nicolae Ceausescu remains a major tourist draw. The eerily echoing acoustics are deliberate; clapping was Ceausescu’s way of summoning his servants, so he wanted the sound to travel as far as possible.
Beautiful old city
The most notable change to Bucharest has occurred in the old city. After nearly ten years of reconstruction work it has been re-imagined as a bright, open jumble of cobbled boulevards and outdoor cafés, packed with intriguing antiques, bookshops, small theatres and art galleries. It’s a great place to try some classic Romanian cuisine, like sarmale and mamaliga; cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat, rice and savoury herbs, served with velvety polenta, hot peppers and sour cream.
To the west of the old city you’ll find Calea Victoriei, or Victory Avenue, Bucharest’s most impressive street. Thought of as the city’s backbone, the avenue is bordered by palaces, cultural institutions and luxury hotels, and has been likened to the Champs Élysées. Most of the city’s museums can be found along the Calea Victoriei, including the National Art Museum, housed in the former Royal Palace. Two years after King Michael I’s abdication, the building opened to the public as the new home of renowned artworks including Rubens’ visceral oil of Hercules fighting the Nemean lion.
Visit the National Museum!
The National Museum of Romanian History is a 15-minute walk north from the Royal Palace. You’ll know the building when you see it, thanks to the bronze statue of a naked Emperor Trajan carrying a she-wolf, which towers two metres over the museum steps. The statue celebrates the fusion of Roman culture with the ancient tribes of Dacia, and also holds the dubious honour of being the most Instagrammed icon in Bucharest. The museum itself is a treasure trove of fascinating relics; particularly its basement vault, which safeguards the gold casket that holds the last Queen of Romania’s heart.
Recent tourism initiatives have helped to boost annual visitor numbers, with the most recent project aiming to make Romania a world-leading winter destination. Domestic tourism is also on the rise, following the introduction of a tax-free voucher scheme for tourism-related expenses. These trends coupled with the city’s stable economic growth make purchasing an investment property in Bucharest an appealing and practical option. For expert advice or to begin your search for properties in the city, visit Engel & Völkers’ online.