Bucharest, the capital of Romania, abounds with places and things worth seeing and visiting. But anyone who has ever been to Bucharest can tell you one thing about this city: it is huge. Which means that tourists might feel intimidated at times… Where should you start exploring? Where should you go first? Which places really deserve attention? One way to visit Bucharest is by choosing a theme or a main focus. Here are some ideas of tours that could help you visit Bucharest in a more organised manner. A second way is to book some official Bucharest Tours online – I recommend Get Your Guide and Viator Travel.
Self Guided Bucharest Walking Tour – Themed Options
Ideally, spend a day on each of these self guided walking tours and 4-5 days in Bucharest in total if you have the time. Here are the main sites, summed up in themed self guided Bucharest tours.
1. Bucharest Old Town and Cismigiu Park
One of the most important neighbourhoods to visit in Bucharest is the Old Town. This is a mainly pedestrian area filled with 19th century houses, historical buildings, restaurants, shops, pubs, discos and cafes. Walking through Old Town takes you back in time, but also allows you to enjoy modern activities, especially after dark, when the clubs and the discos in the area open.
Some of the main points of attraction here are:
Manuc’s Inn – before being shut down for restoration, this was the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest, and it housed a restaurant, a coffee house and several bars. The inn was built in 1808 and, although it had been through several restorations, it still preserved the air of the old days.
Curtea Veche (The Old Court) – located right across the street from Manuc’s Inn, this was the palace built in 1459 and used by Vlad Tepes (the one who inspired the character Dracula) as his residence during his rule. In time, Curtea Veche became the centre of the administrative and economic life in Bucharest, and the city started to prosper and grow around it.
Macca-Vilacrosse Passage – this charming covered passageway dating back to the 19th century, is lined with restaurants and coffee shops. It is an excellent place to enjoy a nice meal or drink (especially on rainy days).
Stavropoleos Monastery – charming 19th century Orthodox church with beautiful Neo-Romanian architecture (a style rooted in Romanian traditions), and lovely inner court that now serves as a museum.
CEC Palace – admire this beautiful palace that was built in 1900 as the headquarter for the oldest bank in Romania, today known as CEC Bank.
Cismigiu Lake – located in Cismigiu Park, Cismigiu Lake is popular among boating aficionados. Right in its middle, on an island, stands the Monte Carlo restaurant. The lake is surrounded by the beautiful gardens, fountains and statues of Cismigiu Park.
Cretulescu Palace – historic building by the esteemed Romanian architect, Petre Antonescu, now the headquarters for UNESCO’s European Centre for Higher Education
King Michael I Park
Formerly known as Herastrau Park, King Michael I Park was named this way as a tribute to King Michael I of Romania and is one of the largest parks in Bucharest. King Michael I was forced to abdicate and leave Romania in 1947, but he came back into the public and political eye after the Romanian Revolution of December 1989. He died on the 5th of December 2017.
People come to this park to enjoy nature, to take a boat ride on the lake, to have a meal or a drink in one of the many restaurants and coffee shops inside, or while visiting some other attractions in the area.
“Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum – the whole area of 100,000 square meters of this museum is dedicated to Romanian traditions and to the Romanian folklore, by showcasing households and farms specific to the Romanian villages from different areas of the country.
Arcul de Triumf (the Arch of Triumph) – located right outside King Michael I Park, the Arch of Triumph is a 26 meters high monument dedicated to the heroes of World War I. The building of the first arch was made of wood and was finalised in 1936. The glorious army troops marched through it after the end of WWI.
Herastrau Lake – you can rent a boat and sail on the lake, you can have a walk around the lake of on one of the islands on the lake ( the Isle of Roses and the Isle of Children), or you can sit and relax at one of the coffee shops around the lake.
2. Bucharest Palaces Self Guided Tour
If you want to see how the richest representatives of the Romanian nobility used to live in the old days, Bucharest does have some palaces that will make you feel like you traveled back in time.
Royal Palace – built in 1937 and replacing the old Royal Palace that was destroyed by a fire in 1926, the Royal Palace served as official residence for the royal family of Romania until 1947, when King Michael I abdicated. Ever since 1950, the Royal Palace houses the National Museum of Art of Romania.
Cotroceni Palace (www.muzeulcotroceni.ro) – the history of this palace that now serves as headquarters for the Presidential Administration, started all the way back in the 17th century when Prince Serban Cantacuzino built a monastery on the same land where the palace stands today. The building evolved and transformed, its purposes changed and it became the imposing building it is today. Cotroceni Palace is one of the most important historical buildings in Romania. It was here that in 1918, the Treaty of Bucharest was signed, which marked the birth of the unified Romanian state.
Mogosoaia Palace – located 15 km outside Bucharest, the palace was built in 1702 by the Romanian ruler Constantin Brancoveanu, and stayed in the Brancoveanu family until 1826, when Bibescu family became the owners of the palace. The whole complex of Mogosoaia Palace contains not only the palace, but also a church, a restaurant, an outdoor kitchen, and the chapel where the members of the Bibescu family are buried.
Cretulescu Palace – now housing the headquarters of UNESCO’s European Centre for High Education, Kretzulescu Palace was built at the beginning of the 20th century for the Cretulescu family. The palace is located right next to Cismigiu Park.
3. Communist Legacy Self Guided Tour
Romania was a Communist country for 42 years, a period that influenced the country and its people deeply. If you are someone who is interested in the Communist era, here are some of the locations that can take you back on this memory lane.
Palace of Parliament – Nicolae Ceausescu, who had a dictatorship of 24 years, had this palace built as his greatest legacy, a representation of his power and grandeur as well as of his infinite ego. The whole complex covers an area of 365,000 square meters, making the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest the largest administrative building in Europe and the second largest building of this type in the world, after the Pentagon. The Palace of Parliament is also housing the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Revolution Square – during the anti-communist revolution in 1989, this was the scene of some decisive and historical events. This is where the revolutionaries gathered in December that year, chanting slogans that requested the fall of the Communist regime. It was from this square that revolutionaries listened to Ceausescu’s last, desperate speech. A lot of blood was shed in this square, and the ‘Memorial of Rebirth’ (Memorialul Renasterii) that stands in the middle of the square is dedicated to the Romanian Revolution of December 1989, and to all those who gave their life fighting.
Royal Palace – it was on the balcony of this palace that Ceausescu appeared in front of the revolutionaries during the revolution of 1989, asking them to calm down and go back to their homes. The imposing structure of the palace (known during the Communist era as the Palace of the Republic), was completed in 1937, featuring Baroque style architecture. The palace houses the National Museum of Art of Romania.
Casa Presei Libere (the House of the Free Press) – a true representation of the Communist era, the building of the House of Free Press features Stalinist architecture and was the tallest building in Bucharest between 1957 and 2007. This is where the headquarters of several newspapers are located.
Primaverii Palace – although not as large as a proper ‘palace’, Palatul Primaverii (in translation, the Palace of Spring) was the grandiose and luxury filled mansion that served as residence to the Ceausescu family. It is now operating as a museum and it is open for visitors.
4. Churches and Religious Monuments of Bucharest Self Guided Tour
Romanians are very proud of their Orthodox heritage and religion is well represented in every city’s landscape. While in Bucharest, you can take the time and visit some of the most important and historically representative religious buildings.
Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral – the cathedral is part of a complex that also houses the residence of the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The cathedral was built in the middle of the 17th century at the instructions of Romanian ruler Constantin Serban Basarab.
Kretzulescu Church – located in the centre of Bucharest, very close to the Royal Palace, Kretzulescu church was built in the 18th century. The works were commissioned by Iordache Cretulescu, an esteemed member of the Romanian nobility at that time. The church, built in the Brancovenesc style, was supposed to be demolished by the Communist regime, but was eventually saved thanks to the efforts of several people.
Antim Monastery – built between 1713 and 1716, Antim Monastery carries the name of its founder, Antim Ivireanul, who was, at the time, bishop of the Romanian Country (the south part of today’s Romania)
Stavropoleos Monastery – tucked away on the streets of Old Town, Stavropoleos church is a charming building dating back to the end of the 19th century. The church is a masterpiece of the Neo-Romanian architectural style, also called “Brancovenesc” style (after Prince Constantin Brancoveanu (1688-1714), during whose reign the style emerged).
Templul Coral (The Choral Temple) – between the two World Wars, Bucharest had one of the most important Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. The Choral Temple is one of the remaining Jewish heritage buildings in Bucharest, completed in the middle of the 19th century as a copy of the Tempelgasse Synagogue in Wien, that was destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War.
Bellu Cemetery – if you don’t find a visit to the cemetery to be too morbid, you can try walking through Bellu Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Bucharest. The cemetery has a surface of 54 acres and has been used since 1858. Some of the biggest and important names in the Romanian arts and politics are buried there, and the cemetery is a real open air museum, with beautiful statues and memorials.
There are so many more parks, buildings and monuments to see while in Bucharest! One very important building that was not included in any of the tours but that deserves a lot of attention is the Romanian Athenaeum. Built in 1888, this beautiful Neo-Classical concert hall is the host of the annual “George Enescu” International Classical Music Festival.
So feel free to make your own Bucharest tours and visit the places that interest you. Alternatively, you might prefer to book a guided tour…
Book a Bucharest Walking Tour on Get Your Guide
Bucharest tours bookable online can give you inside information on the historical and religious aspects of Bucharest. Here are some of the best Bucharest Tours on Get Your Guide: