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Places

Culture experiences in Bucharest

Artistic gems and historical madness – here is a guide to Bucharest's cultural riches.

The most astonishing thing about Bucharest is that it hasn’t quite etched its way onto the tourist map yet. A dynamic metropolis looking to compete for attention with the rest of Europe, teasing curious travelers with an air of undiscovered mystery that well-trodden sightseeing magnets such as Rome, Madrid or London haven’t been able to offer since charter flights were a novelty. It’s one of those “visit-now” kind of places, a city that offers you bragging rights for having discovered it before everyone else does. Culturally rich in a unique way, this urban sprawl, home to roughly two million people, is a canvas of historical traces. Bucharest’s past in full view everywhere – both its illustrious and less luminous faces. Romania has seen Ottoman rule, wars, communism, dictatorship and serious hardship, but in the midst of all of that upheaval, it was also a sophisticated, prosperous nation – and for a hot moment, a monarchy – with a lively cultural scene that flourished in the 18thcentury and continues to do so, having gifted us with notables such as Tristan Tzara, Eugène Ionesco, Constantin Brâncușiand Nobel Prize winning author Herta Müller. All of this contributes to an electric cultural scene that offers the new and trendy, as well as the old, nostalgic and storied.

Photo: Casa Ceauşescu

In the lap of luxury, a lesson in have- and have-nots

You can’t miss a visit to the Ceauşescu mansion, a staggering monument to the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena’s, thirst for luxury. Without going into political finger-wagging, their villa is a thought-provoking testament to his reign. While most of the population starved, froze and had scant access to medicine, the Ceauşescus enjoyed a plush life in a home that scream their lust for Western comforts and status. With a screening room, an endless walk-in closet filled with Elena’s Chanel-facsimiles, masterful mosaics and a mind-boggling swimming pool, this is a voyeuristic, uncomfortable experience, but a slice of history.

Casa Ceauşescu

Bulevardul Primăverii 50, Bucharest

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Experiencing the Romanian Revolution

You should know more about the Romanian Revolution. What happened on December 22, 1989 when the Ceauşescus tried to flee Bucharest by helicopter? We all know they were apprehended, immediately tried by a military tribunal, sentenced to death and executed two days later as a symbolic Christmas present to the resistance. But, to really understand the turn of events during these turbulent times, take a guided tour with Mircea Constantin of Urban Adventures, who makes history come alive as he retraces the revolution that he witnessed first-hand as a boy, holding his father’s hand while the streets were an enraged chaos.

Urban Adventures

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Bookworms delight

Like a magician’s hat tricks make small children squeal with excitement, Carturesti Carusel, one of the world’s most stunning bookstores will make fans of the printed word jump for joy. Waltz into this carefully renovated Old Town building and you’ll discover a bright space, as white as freshly laundered sheets, with undulating balconies that wrap around a soaring, six story atrium. You’ll find tens of thousands of titles, plenty of spaces to plop down and browse away a quiet moment and a bistro on the top floor, should you need to fuel more than just your intellect.

Carturesti Carusel

Strada Lipscani 55, Bucharest

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Wow-inducing grandeur

Breaking all kinds of records, The House of the People, aka The Palace of the Parliament, is a mind-boggling feat of megalomaniacal braggadocio-building ordered by – who else –Ceauşescu. Designed by Anca Petrescu, with a team of 700 architects, it took 13 years to complete. The world’s second largest administrative building after The Pentagon measures 365,000sq m, it’s the globe’s most expensive government structure as well as its heaviest. Book a guided tour in advance and let yourself be swallowed by the giant front doors.

The Palace of the Parliament

Strada Izvor 2-4, Bucharest

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Photo: Museum of Contemporary Arts

Contemporary art in Ceauşescu’s corridors

Don’t just run off when you’ve visited The Palace of the Parliament. Stick around for a moment and check out the Museum of Contemporary Arts, housed in Wing E4 of the same building – after all, they clearly had space to spare. One of the most important contemporary art museums in Eastern Europe, it hosts temporary exhibits and displays some of Romania’s finest artists. MNAC also owns a vast digital archive of over three million images of modern and contemporary Romanian art. While you’re there, take the elevator to the top floor café and outdoor terrace for some sweeping city views.

Museum of Contemporary Arts

Strada Izvor 2-4, Bucharest

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If things could talk

If you’ve got an anthropological streak, this is the place for you. The Romanian Peasant Museum’s roughly 90,000 objects tell engaging stories, bringing patrimony, history and humanity alive, via everyday items that the country’s peasants used, and continue to use. Nothing was merely decorative, everything had a function and was lovingly made, zealously worn, often patched and sometimes treasured for generations. Ceramics, folk costumes, furniture and artifacts are on display in this handsome, neo-Romanian structure from 1941. Look out for weekend flea markets and fairs with local producers in the adjacent garden.

The Romanian Peasant Museum

Soseaua Kiseleff 3, Bucharest

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Pomp and circumstance

Built in 1888 and celebrating its 130th anniversary throughout the 2019 season, the exquisite and pompously domed Atheneum is the heart of Romania’s classical music tradition. It hosted the debut of musical genius George Enescu’s masterpiece, Romanian Rhapsody in 1903 and has been a treasured cultural institution ever since. Home to the Philharmonic Orchestra that bears Enescu’s name, it offers a wide array of classical music concerts from September to May, as well as one-off musical shows throughout the year. Bonus tip – Spatiul M60 is a delightful garden eatery with food trucks, craft beers, lounge chairs and fairy lights just behind the Atheneum.

The Romanian Atheneum

Strada Franklin 1-3, Bucharest

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Last edited: March 7, 2019

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