On the Communist trail
It’s hard to escape the fact that Bucharest is comprised of lots of concrete, a legacy of Ceauşescu’s brutal redevelopment project in the 1980s – but that’s not to say it isn’t fascinating. First port of call is the gargantuan, twelve-storey Palace of Parliament, but don’t worry, you only get to see around a dozen or so of its 1100 rooms on a guided tour. The Palace of Parliament lies on the fringes of the Centru Civic, which, although hardly a thing of beauty, is simply mesmerising in its scale.
Otherwise, take a stroll around Piaţa Revoluţiei, which is where the drama unfolded in December 1989 as Ceauşescu’s command began to crumble; the centre of the action was the former Communist Party Headquarters, a Stalinesque behemoth.
Bucharest’s premier cultural institution is the Village Museum, one of the finest open-air museums in the Balkans, the highlight of which are the iconic wooden churches from Maramureş. Whilst here, take the chance to escape the ferocious summer heat with a stroll around Lake Herăstrău.
Second only to the Village Museum is the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, whose displays of colourful peasant artefacts offers a wonderful insight into Romanian rural life.
Art fans won’t want to miss the National Art Museum, whose collection of Romanian Medieval art is truly outstanding, as is the modern art section, featuring national heavyweights Brancuşi and Grigorescu, among others. Close by, the lush Cişmigiu Gardens are the perfect spot for lazing away an hour or two.
Home-cooked dishes and inventive eats
Bucharest’s culinary scene is finally on the move. Top dog at the minute is The Artist, a super-smooth establishment that can rate marvellously inventive dishes like marinated octopus with salted lemon sorbet and black garlic. Fabulous homestyle cooking is the order of the day at Beca’s Kitchen, whose genial proprietor, Beca, delights in chatting with customers. There’s much fun to be had at Caru’ cu bere, a rousing, German-style beer-hall where you can chow down on mititei (grilled sausages) and tochitură (pork stew).
While it can’t boast the grand coffee houses of, say, Budapest or Vienna, coffee culture has hit Bucharest big-time in recent months. Your first stop should be Origo, whose baristas really do know their beans, as do the folk at Tucano, a bohemian-style hangout occupying a grand old villa just north of the centre; their cheesecake is the best in the city. For a bit of outdoor coffee action, head to Café Verona, a sprawling, tree-shaded garden attached to the brilliant Carturesti bookshop.