Arriving in Bucharest (Bucureşti), most tourists want to leave as quickly as possible, but to do so would mean missing the heart of Romania. Bucharest does have its charm and elegance – it just needs digging for. Among the ruptured roads and disintegrating buildings you’ll find leafy squares, beautiful, if crumbling, eclectic architecture and dressed-up young Romanians adding a touch of glamour to the surroundings. What’s more, it’s a dynamic city, changing faster than any other in Romania as new office-towers sprout and shops and bars appear all over.
Head south of the centre into the Centru Civic and you’ll come across myriad unfinished projects from Ceauşescu’s reign – seeing the true scale of what a dictatorship can do is something you won’t forget, and reason enough to spend a day or two in the capital.
The heart of the city lies to the north of the Dâmbovița River, between two north–south avenues; it’s a jumble of modern hotels, ancient Orthodox churches, and decaying apartment blocks, relieved by the buzzing historic quarter and some attractive parks. Beyond here lies Ceauşescu’s monstrously compelling Centru Civic, centred on the extraordinary Palace of Parliament. Freezing in winter and hot and dusty in the summer, the northern outskirts are cooled by woodlands and a girdle of lakes.