The Little Paris of the East: why you’ll love Bucharest

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During the interwar period, Bucharest was known as the Little Paris of the East. These days, it’s slowly regaining that title – not just through the beautiful examples of French-inspired architecture, but through its fashion-conscious sensibilities and the feeling that anything goes. You might say Bucharest is enjoying its own Belle Epoque. The locals of Bucharest come across as friendly and good-natured, obviously delighted to be part of the EU and welcome their fellow Europeans. Just about everybody has a strong handle on English, so it’s easy for foreigners to get by, with touristy places offering signs and guides in English too. Let’s have a look at some perceived similarities between Paris and Bucharest and why you’re going to want to check out Romania’s capital as soon as possible.

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Art Noveau style in Bucharest. Photo: Bart van Poll
Art Noveau style in Bucharest. Photo: Bart van Poll

 

Architecture

In the 19th century, many architects from Romania went to study their craft in France, and it left indelible marks on their resultant style. Apparently, they even spoke Romanian with French accents.

The Arcul de Triumf:

#bucharest #bucuresti #romania #arcultriumf

A photo posted by Mehmet Tolga (@mehmettolga1) on

The most obvious Paris-comparable sight even has the same name. The Arcul de Triumf sits in the middle of a roundabout where a bunch of massive boulevards meet, commemorating military triumphs. Yep, just like the Arc de Triomphe. The Arcul always has the Romanian flag draped upon it, another example of France’s influence – all European countries that have a tricolour flag were influenced by the French Revolution’s republican values.  

 The Romanian Athenaeum, the city’s famous concert hall. Photo: Panoramas
The Romanian Athenaeum, the city’s famous concert hall. Photo: Panoramas

Bicicleta, one of the countless bars of Lipsani:

Bar-cycle (sorry) A photo posted by Waiel Al-Nour (@waielalnour) on

A fork street in Lipscani

 

Lipscani, AKA the Old Town

The old town of Lipscani in central Bucharest reminds visitors of Montmartre with its cobbled streets and cafes. Some might say Lipscani is arguably better though because it’s not as hilly and mostly pedestrianised! The Old Town has cramped cobbled streets filled with revellers, where parties and after-parties are always happening. But instead of 7 euro a pint, you’re paying between 5 and 10 lei. It contains many of the most beautiful buildings in Bucharest since it was the least affected by the socialist period, while many important civic and financial buildings can also be found within.    

The Vilacrosse Arcade. Photo: Ştefan Jurcă
The Vilacrosse Arcade. Photo: Ştefan Jurcă

Art and culture

Bucharest’s art and fashion scenes are flourishing. They may not have a museum the size of the Louvre, but then who does, and, let’s face it, that place is too big anyway. Romania’s capital offers a range of galleries to suit all tastes, so you won’t go lacking.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art or the National History Museum show off the country’s impressive collections, while if you’re looking something more out-there and surprising, the city is home to one of the world’s only digital art galleries, 115 Digital Art Gallery, and Galateca, a recently-opened large design showcase that specialises in form and function.

The really odd statue of Emperor Trajan and the She-Wolf outside the National History Museum. Photo: Jorge Láscar
The really odd statue of Emperor Trajan and the She-Wolf outside the National History Museum. Photo: Jorge Láscar

To get a better sense of Bucharest culture, there are all sorts of excellent tours available that will guide you through the city’s history and constant evolution. For example, Guided Bucharest offers fun and informative free walking tours twice a day all year round.

Lipscani street,corner Calea Victoriei,Bucharest

A photo posted by Adriano (@ciaobucarest) on

The Palace of Parliament

December 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the ousting of Nicolae Ceausescu, a man who led Romania for four decades, becoming more and more oppressive with each passing year until a revolution in which he was executed. One of his unmistakable marks on the city was the Palace of Parliament. A huge section of Bucharest’s old town was destroyed and thousands of people displaced to make way for it, but, for better or worse, it’s often seen as a symbol of the city now, much like The Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Palace of Culture in Warsaw. Both the latter were initially reviled by locals, and time will only tell if people’s attitude to the Palace of Parliament will also soften over the coming decades. Today, there are three different tours you can take of the place. If you go for all three, expect to be in there a loooooooong time. The palace was recently used for a dazzling imap light display to commemorate Bucharest’s 555th birthday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjJYgjSq_8w

Food and drink

Bucharest’s cuisine choices may not be up to scratch with the culinary reputation of Paris, but there are definitely many highlights. Generally you’ll find a lot of restaurants serving traditional Romanian specialities and plenty of Turkish menus too, and you’re often spoilt for choice when looking for an affordable lunch. You won’t find most other cuisines on every corner though so it’s worth doing a bit of research beforehand if that’s what you’re peckish for. If you want to sample a top notch Romanian menu, head to Caru’ cu Bere (translated as The Beer Wagon) in Lipscani. It was purportedly the first place in the country to serve beer, way back in 1879. Not only is the food excellent, but the lavish interior is astonishing while outside there are plenty of tables during warm weather.  

A beer in a popular area for tourists costs about 8 lei, currently around 1.75euro – a price unthinkable pretty much anywhere in Paris. But hey, it’s all about the wine in Paris, right? Well, the Romanians do a mean red too so winelovers won’t miss out in Bucharest either. It’s unsurprising as the warm climate encourages grapevines to grow all over the place.

 

Parks

Bucharest has a bounty of beautiful parks that would make most cities green with envy. Investment in recent years has made these natural retreats some of the best attractions for both visitors and locals alike. A short stroll from the centre is Cismigiu Park, an ultra-charming area so feature-laden with little pathways, hills, recreational areas and statues that it can’t help but remind of Central Park. A little further north is the massive Herastrau Park – enveloping a huge lake, it’s easy to get lost in the place.  

Money and getting around

A metro ticket that covers two journeys will set you back an inconsequential 4 lei. It’s a bargain for what you get – the metro, having been built in the late 70s, was intelligently designed to be as wide as a barn and is certainly the roomiest underground system in Europe. To get into the city, a bus from the airport costs about 10 lei.

We wouldn’t recommend bothering with the train – it’s about the same price but involves waiting for a minibus to take you to the rail station and the journey ends up taking much longer. If you’re set on getting to Bucharest’s central station, Gara de Nord, take the 780 bus instead to get there faster. Otherwise, the 783 will take you into the heart of the city, stopping at major points and ending in the massive square of Piata Unirii.

 Current predictions about Romania joining the eurozone tentatively place the date for 1 January 2019, so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the leu and bani. Paris has been grudgingly stuck with the euro for years, which, as we all know, is a notoriously annoying currency that insists upon itself with its banal name and ubiquitous presence in shopping trolley slots around the continent. The next few years before the euro’s introduction are Bucharest’s time to shine.

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(Feature image: Nicu Buculei)

The Little Paris of the East: why you’ll love Bucharest was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Adam Zulawski