Executive summary by darmansjah
Best For Architecture – The infamous Palace of Parliament was built in 1984 by order of President Ceausescu, Romania’s former dictator. Its 12 storeys and 1,100 rooms cover 330,000 sq metres. The opulent rooms can be viewed by guided tour only, which must be booked a day in advance (00 40 21 311 3611; B-dul Natiunile Unite; 10am-3.30pm; US$5.50).
Best For Culture – Bucharest’s hear – often called the Lipscani quarter after one of its main street – is the centerpiece of efforts to revitalize the city’s historic core. At its western end, Str Lipscani crosses Calea Victoriei, one of Bucharest’s oldest streets, built in 1692.
Best For History – In 1941, 800,000 Jewish people lived in Romania, but around half were killed in the war. Housed in the beautiful Tailors’ synagogue, the Museum of Jewish History highlights Jewish contributions to the country (00 40 21 311 0870; Mamulari 3; 9am-1pm sun-wed and Fri, 4pm Thu; donation).
Best For Day Trips – Lake Snagov is a weekend retreat for city residents. A monastery said to be the resting place of Vald Tepes, the prince who inspired Dracula, sits on an island in the lake. Tours from Bucharest finish at the monatery (deltatravel.ro; US$225 for two people minimum).
Best For Art – The National Museum of Art houses Romanian icons and carved altars from pre-communist era churches. The European wing features Rubens, Rodin and Monet (00 40 21 313 3030; mnar.arts.ro; Calea Victoriei 49-53; 10am-6pm Wed-Sun Oct-Apr, 11am-7pm Wed-sun May-Sep; us$5).
Why Go – On the Wallachian plains, between the Carpathian Mountains and the banks of the Dambovita River, Bucharest was once a grand neo-classical City. Much damaged in WWII, it now combines a mismatch of architectural eras, from President Ceausescu’s 19970s, communist era housing blocks to medieval churches.
When to Go – the city suffers cold winters and stifling summers. Visit in May and June, and catch the Fete de la Musique, a free music festival to celebrate the summer solstice. Or go in autumn, when the climate cools.
How to Go – Henri Coanda is the city’s main international airport. From Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, fly thre with Lufthansa (Lufthansa.com), Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) or Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com). A shuttle train serves Henri Coanda (US$2.40), taxis are from US$16
Bistro Vilacrosse is a café-cum-restaurant, with sepia photographs, wooden floors and gingham tablecloths. The service is friendly and quick. The food’s good too, and includes wine-soakes Transylvania pork fillet on a bed of fries and cabbage (00 40 21 315 4562; Pasajul Macca/Vilacrosse; lunch and dinner; mains from US$3).
Fine clay-oven-baked pies-thin and crispy, with fresh ingredients – are served at Casa Veche. Enjoy them in a trellised courtyard or the wood-beamed dining room (00 40 21 312 5816; casaveche.ro; Str George Enescu 15-17; lunch and dinner; mains from US$6).
Despite a touristy atmoshphere, with peasant-girl waitresses and Roma song and dance, beer house Caru’cu Bere draws a strong local crowd. The interior dazzles with its stained-glass windows and the food is a treat, especially the mixed sausage paltter (00 40 21 313 7560; carucubere.ro; str Stavropoleos 3-5; lunch and dinner; mains from US$6).
The cuisine at St George tends toward the heavy, with lots of stews and pork dishes, but you can wash it all down with hard to-find wines. Dine out on the terrace in fine weather (00 40 21 317 1087; Str Franceza 44; lunch and dinner; mains from US48).
Balthazar is one of the city’s most upmarket restaurants, filling the ground floor and courtyard of a superbly maintained old villa. Locals and business lunchers come for the Thai/French blend and seafood (00 40 21 212 1460; Balthazar.ro; Str Dumbrava Ros, ie-2; lunch and dinner; mains from US$14).
Getting Around – Bucharest is served by buses, trams and trolleybuses. Buy tickets at RATB kosks, marked ‘casa de bilete’ (30p for a single trip; ratb.ro). the metro has four lines and tickets are sold at station kiosks (US$0.50). only use cabs with meters.
Hotel Amzei is a tastefully refurbished villa just off Calea Victoriei. The spacious reception has a refined feel and the rooms have the same understated elegance, with faux period furnishings, marble bathrooms and warm ochre colours (00 40 21 313 9400; hotelamzei.ro; Str Piata Amzei 8; from US$135).
Stylish beyond its three stars, the Rembrandt Hotel faces the landmark National Bank in the historic centre. Built in 1925, it has a characterful atmosphere. The rooms have been tastefully modernized, with wooden floors, contemporary furniture and white linen. Book in advance as the few tourist-class rooms go quickly (00 40 21 313 9315; Rembrandt.ro; Str Smardan 11; from US$145).
Hotel Capsa served as a bohemian hangout through the 1930s. its room have period features such as wood paneling, high ceilings and large French windows. The furnishings are in keeping: heavy mahogany, with fleur-de-lys print bedspreads and curtains (00 40 21 313 4038; Calea Victoriei 36; from US$175).
Vila Arte is a superb, art-stuffed boutique hotel. The ottoman room is in updated Turkish style, with deep-red bedspreads, fabrics and oriental carpets. The service is top-notch (00 40 21 2210 1035; vilaarte.ro; Str Vasile lascar 78; from US$190).
The queen of Bucharest hotels, the Athenee Palace Hilton is testament to a century-past infatuation with Paris. Like its grand, marble-pillared entrance, the hotel’s 272 rooms are dressed to impress, albeit less characterful than the public rooms. In summer, cocktails are served on the terrace (00 40 21 303 3777; www.hilton.com; Str Episcopiei 1-3; from US$190).
Contemporomania – forum users rate MNAC – the National Museum of contemporary Art. Located at the back of the Palace of Parliament, the museum’s four floors feature eclectic European artists’ installations and video art, often showing provocative, challenging works. There’s also a top-floor open-air café (mnac.ro; Calea 13 Septembrie; Wed-sun 10am-6pm; US$1.60).
Village in The City – forum users also rate the National Village Museum. On the hores of Herastrau Lake, this is a terrific open-air collection of several dozen homestead, churches, mills and windmills relocated from rural Romania. Opened in 1936, it is one of Europe oldest open-air museums and a must-see for children. Get here from the centre by taking bus 131 or 331 from B-dul General Magheru or Piata Romana to the Muzeul Satului stop (museul-satului.ro, in Romanian; Muzeul national al Satului; daily US$2.40).
Princely Home for a day trip that’s easily combined with Lake Snagov, forum users recommend the Mogosoaia Palace, nine miles northwest of Bucharest. It was built by Constantin Brancoveanu, Prince of Wallachia (one of the forerunners of modern Romania) in around 1700, in a style mixing Ottoman and Venetian elements. Most of the contents went in the communist era but the grounds are splendid (palatebrancovenesti.ro; closed Mon; US$1.60).
Learn about the revolution with Peter Siani-Davies’ book The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 or Corneliu Porumboiu’s lighthearted 2006 movie 12.08; East of Bucharest. For planning, visit romaniatouristm.com