Everyone who visits Bucharest gazes with amazement at the infamous Communist monolith Ceausescu's Palace, but locals see their city as a fast-emerging European capital. Upon a closer look, it's easy to see why. World-class museums showcase everything from medieval icons at the National Museum of Art to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant's rural culture. Walk down the graceful boulevards to encounter the glorious mix of neoclassical palaces and fresco-filled churches. The past and present coexist, as glass-fronted offices sit side-by-side with high-ceilinged coffee shops still exuding their decades-old Parisian air.
Things to Do
Take a tour of Ceausescu's behemoth Parliamentary Palace to hear hard-hitting stories of its 1,000 rooms crammed with smooth marble and tinkling chandeliers. The landmark granite Arcul de Triumf looks down over the 19th-century Calea Victoriei; join locals promenading along this historic boulevard dotted with Belle Epoque buildings. Bucharest, however, is not just about larger-than-life monuments. Peek inside darkened monasteries, like tucked-away, Byzantine-style Biserica Stavropoleos church with delicate wooden carvings in Lipscani, where choirs sing haunting harmonies at Sunday Mass.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Bucharestis are proud of their musical culture and love to dress up for it. Join them for an evening of ballet or opera at the lavish 1950s Opera Româna, or the Philharmonic Orchestra's concerts under the huge gold-leaf dome of the Romanian Athenaeum music hall. Tables spill out onto the spruced-up cobbles of Strada Lipscani, where locals sip cold Ursus beer and head to sleek jazz clubs.
Restaurants and Dining
As light glints through the early 20th-century stained-glass windows of Caru' cu bere, share a platter of spicy sausage washed down with their own house beer, while live Roma music vies for attention. Meat -- especially pork -- is the omnipresent part of local cuisine; feast on sour ciorba soup, or fresh fish from the Danube delta. Find your favorite high-ceilinged Bucharest cafe around Strada Smardan in the Old Town, or lunch and people-watch on the neoclassical Military Club's summer terrace.
Wind down in busy Bucharest at its oldest park, the landscaped Cismigiu Gardens. Here, you can row on the boating lake -- or skate on it in winter -- or try and outplay locals at the rows of outdoor chess sets. Locals wander the Botanical Garden, which crams in over 5,000 varieties of plants, and don't miss its museum housing manuscripts about the garden's century-long history.