Most people start a trip to Romania in Bucharest, we ended our two weeks in Romania in the capital. Searching for information on the web we noticed that Bucharest isn’t a very beloved city. We thought the city wasn’t as bad as most people make it out to be, not all is communist era grey concrete. Bucharest was actually nicer than expected, but it didn’t leave a lasting memory either.
Palace of Parliament
Our main reason to make a stop in Bucharest despite all the negative reviews was to see and visit one of the most megalomaniac building projects ever realized in the history of mankind; the Palace of Parliament. It’s the brainchild of former Romanian president/dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who ruled the country from 1965 to 1989. Ceausescu was a kind of a mad brute who not only wreaked havoc on the Romanian people but also on the historic center of Bucharest.
He had the city center redeveloped in the 80’s, tearing down one-third of the city that was once dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’ – moving 40.000 inhabitants in the process – to replace it with wide boulevards and pompous facades that should show the people the greatness of the Utopian communist state he envisioned. Behind the facades though, poverty and repression ruled.
His most outrageous project was the Palace of the Parliament, euphemistically named the ‘House of the People’. Construction started in 1984 and was nog finished when Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in 1989. Strangely enough construction work continued after Ceausescu was out of the picture and a democratic government came into power. The reason: 70 percent of the palace had already been completed and the biggest expenses had already been paid – an estimated 3,3 billion euro – so why not finish it?
Today it is the second largest government building in the world, only the Pentagon in Washington being even bigger, and the third largest building in the world overall. Some figures: It took over 100.000 laborers to build the Palace of Parliament, it covers about 365.000 square meters, is 12 storeys high, has eight underground levels and 1.100 rooms. It takes about 45 minutes to walk the complete circumference of the building.
Several guided tours of building are available, each lasting 45-60 minutes. During the tour you really get a scope of how huge the building is, with wide hallways and grand halls and rooms, and of the luxury Ceausescu surrounded himself with while his people had to survive in dire circumstances. Impressive and alienating at the same time.
Tips for visiting the Palace of Parliament: Coming from the city center the entrance is at the right side of the building. At busy times advance reservation is recommended if you want to be sure to be on a tour on the desired date and time. And don’t forget your passport! We saw people who had forgotten to bring their passport and being refused entry.
Other sights in Bucharest
But there’s more to Bucharest than just the Palace of Parliament to keep you busy for a day. Besides admiring the communist era facades along B-dul Unirii and around Piata Unirii there are some historic buildings that escaped Ceausescu’s building craze in the part of the city center just to the north of Unirii. Wandering around the old town (Lipscani) you get a little hint of what Bucharest used to look like. This is also a good place to eat or have a drink.
We found the 19th-century Romanian Athenaeum (a concert hall), the small but lovely Stavropoleos Church from 1724 and the Central University Library the most interesting buildings. A historically significant sight is the Central Committee of the Communist Party building at Piata Revolutiei where Ceausescu made his last speech in front of a protesting crowd shouting ‘down with Ceausescu’ before escaping with a helicopter from the building’s roof. On the square in front of the building the Rebirth Memorial was erected in 2005.
We visited Bucharest in July 2013
Travel tips Bucharest
Stay – We stayed two nights at the Hotel Ibis Bucuresti Palatul Parlamentului, which as the name suggests is close to the Palace of Parliament and a 15 minute walk to the city center. Because we booked in summer we could book it cheap. Or double room had all the modern amenities one would expect of a hotel chain like Ibis. For us as backpackers it felt like luxury staying here.
Transport – We arrived by train from Brasov. Trains go regularly and take about 2,5 hours. We used the metro to get to our hotel. Metro and tram are also the easiest way to get to one of the many, many bus stations or to outlying sights in Bucharest, like the National Village Museum. Sights inside the small old city, however, are all within easy walking distance of each other.