Admire Bucharest’s Rich Architecture and Remarkable Buildings
Apr 6, 2018 | Travel guide
Bucharest’s architectural diversity is making the city a playground of contrasts that sees the sensuous curves of 19th century architecture originally blend with the severe lines of Stalinist architecture, a remnant of the country’s communist years. The visitors strolling around the city’s central areas can uncover elegant window and door arches, playful towers and turrets, and many edifices with old charm and elegance. Plan this stroll along with a walk through the Bellu Cemetery, as soon as your cab service drops you off at the hotel.
Start by visiting the Palace of the Parliament, which also hosts the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Known as the “House of the People”, the name given to the 1,100 room colossal structure by the Communist ruler Nicolae Ceaușescu, it was built in just five years, starting in 1984. The chief architect, Anca Petrescu, was only 28 years old when she took on the project, together with a team of 700 architects. At a height of 84 meters and placed on a hill, it dominates Bucharest’s skyline with its presence.
This second-biggest administrative building in the world, it’s also the most expensive. Once you enter it you will discover that the bare look of concrete gives way to luxurious, yet formal, interiors and halls decorated with wood and marble, lit with crystal chandeliers and floors covered in mosaics and carpets.
Leaning over the Dambovita River, this place is a nunnery situated in the city’s party district, lined with loud bars and terraces. Built in Romanian Brancovenesc style in 1724 and featuring beautiful hand painted frescoes, the structure is an original 17th century blend of late Renaissance, Byzantine, Ottoman and Baroque styles. Enjoy the holy atmosphere and rest in its cozy patio. If you step in during choir rehearsals or mass, admire the hypnotizing sound of Neo-Byzantine music, a rarity in Romanian Orthodox churches.
Located on the Stavropoleos Street, Caru’ cu bere (or ‘The Beer Wagon’), is a different type of establishment. Being one of the oldest restaurants in Bucharest in a Gothic revival building designed by Austrian architect Siegfrid Kofczinsky, it was opened in 1899 at the current location. The place is famous for its extensive selection of traditional dishes and its Art Nouveau style interior. Richly decorated, the ground floor features Gothic arches and a display of artworks by painters Wilhelm and Friedrich Hugo, stained glass and sculpted wood panels.
A few streets down you’ll see the Macca-Vilacrosse Passage. Walk the fork-shaped yellow-tinted arcaded street full of restaurants, bars and terraces. Bearing the names of the former Chief Architect of Bucharest, Catalan-born Xavier Vilacrosse and of Mihalache Macca, it hosted the first Stock Exchange House of Bucharest. You can enter it from the Old Town and exit onto Calea Victoriei, one of Bucharest’s main areas.
Head towards Revolution Square and before entering it, see the 300-years-old Kretzulescu Church with its brick exterior on the left side, and then the National Museum of Art of Romania, the formal residence of Romanian monarchs. Take the right side, alongside the Central University Library to see the building that perhaps symbolizes best the city’s architectural contrasts.
The lower part incorporates a 19th century French Renaissance structure, which before World War I hosted the Austro-Hungarian Embassy. Its ruin-state is due to an attack of the Romanian army during the 1989 Revolution, following the tips that this building was hiding instigators. The top of the building, belongs to the present era. The glass-and-steel tower was built in 2003 by architects Dan Marin and Zeno Bogdănescu and now hosts the headquarters of Uniunea Arhitecților din România, the Romanian architect’s union.
This structure is one of the city’s major landmarks. Designed by Albert Galleron, the remarkable circular building resembles a temple. It is topped by a dome, richly decorated on the inside, bordered by a 70-meter-long fresco depicting the most important episodes in Romanian history. Historically important, this is the place which held the conference that led to the unification of Romanian provinces of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina with the Old Kingdom to constitute Greater Romania in 1918.
Being one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Bucharest, this museum charms its visitors with the beautifully adorned façade and oyster-shaped glass entrance. It was designed by Ion D. Berindei, a Paris-educated Romanian architect who left his mark on the architectural heritage of the capital. Further, you’ll see one of the best-preserved buildings of La Belle Époque, and a former residence of Bucharest’s aristocratic families. Inside you can visit the museum of ages, an original anthropological initiative illustrating how one day in the lives of the city’s inhabitants could have looked like throughout the ages.
When you pass via Victoriei Square and Victoria Palace, the seat of the Romanian Government, take Pavel Dimitrievici Kiseleff Street and you’ll see the Antipa Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant and the Museum of Geology, before reaching the iconic Arch of Triumph. Erected in 1936 to commemorate Romania’s participation in WWI, the Romanian twin of France’s Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is a reminder of the days when Bucharest was called ‘Little Paris’. 27 meters tall, it was made with marble from Rușchița, west Romania, and decorated with sculptures by the best sculptors of the interwar period. Today, it’s one of the spots where brides are taken to when they are ‘kidnapped’ during their wedding party, a custom practiced by several countries in the area.
This landmark on the architectural walking tour of Bucharest is another reminder of Romania’s Communist years. Being a typical example of Stalinist architecture, it was modeled after Moscow State University, and for a long time hosted the headquarters of the official newspaper of the Communist Party - Scînteia (or ‘the spark’ in Romanian). An original touch added to the building is represented by the decorative elements, inspired by the Romanian monasteries of Curtea de Arges, Cozia and Horezu.
It is imperative that you plan this stroll and get to know Bucharest’s mesmerizing architecture and its most important buildings before grabbing your airport taxi transfers. We highly recommend you to incorporate this walk with a visit to the top museums in Bucharest and truly take in the city.