Bucharest Introduction Walking Tour, Bucharest

Bucharest Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Bucharest

Bucharest, the capital and cultural center of Romania, is one of the largest cities in Southeastern Europe.

The name București has an unverified origin. Tradition links it to the guy named Bucur, who (according to various legends) was either a prince, outlaw, fisherman, shepherd or a hunter. The Romanian word “bucurie” means joy (happiness), which in turn explains one of Bucharest's several nicknames, the “city of joy”. Other etymologies imply derivations from the word Bukovie, a beech forest, or a certain fellow named Abu-Kariș, who came from the tribe of Bani-Kureiș.

First mentioned as the “Citadel of București” in 1459, the town became permanent location of the Wallachian court during the reign of Vlad III the Impaler, in 1698. The medieval remnants from that period, still found in the Lipscani neighborhood, include Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc's Inn), tiny Eastern Orthodox Stavropoleos Church, and the ruins of Curtea Veche (the Old Court).

In 1862, after Wallachia and Moldavia united into the Principality of Romania, Bucharest became the new nation's capital city, and later, in 1881, that of the newly-proclaimed Kingdom of Romania. That period brought about a new phase in the urban development of Bucharest. Romanian Athenaeum, constructed from 1886 to 1888, is a living monument to that (part of the European Heritage since 2007) and a symbol of Romanian culture.

In between two world wars, the city's elegant architecture and cosmopolitan sophistication of its elite earned Bucharest the titles “Little Paris” and “Paris of the East”, in which Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) was seen as its analogue to Champs-Élysées.

The city suffered heavy damage during World War II. After the establishment of Communism in Romania, Bucharest saw much of its historic center razed and built upon with new developments. One of the iconic landmarks of Socialist Realism, emerged in the 1980s under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, is the Palace of the Parliament, a massive government complex of 1,100 rooms.

Following the Romanian Revolution of 1989, and notably since 2000, the city has enjoyed continuous modernization prompted by both economic and cultural boom. In 2017, Bucharest was declared a European city with the highest growth of tourists staying overnight.

To feel yourself part of the Romanian capital's bustling scene and to explore its alternated history reflected in an impressive mix of medieval, interbellum, communist era and modern sights, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Bucharest Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Bucharest Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Romania » Bucharest (See other walking tours in Bucharest)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Author: DanaU
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Palace of the Parliament
  • Piața Unirii (Union Square)
  • Manuc's Inn
  • Lipscani Street
  • Stavropoleos Convent
  • The National Military Circle
  • Revolution Square and Memorial of Rebirth
  • Romanian Athenaeum
  • Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue)
  • Cișmigiu Gardens
1
Palace of the Parliament

1) Palace of the Parliament (must see)

The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is a multi-purpose building which houses both chambers of the Romanian Parliament. According to the World Records Academy, the Palace is the world's largest civilian building, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest construction. The Palace was designed and nearly completed under the Ceauşescu regime as the seat of political and administrative power. Nicolae Ceauşescu named it the House of the Republic, although many Romanians call it the People's House.

Built on the site of a hill variously known as Spirii Hill, Uranus Hill, or Arsenal Hill, which was largely razed for this mega project in 1980, the building anchors the west end of Unification Boulevard and Civic Center. Constructing the Palace and Civic Center required demolishing much of Bucharest's historic district, including 19 Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches (plus eight churches had to be relocated), and 30,000 residences. The construction began in 1983; the cornerstone was laid on 25 June 1984.

While the building was intended to house all four major state institutions (in a similar manner to the UK Houses of Parliament), Ceausescu opted to make the palace his personal residence and have the government operate in it (as if confining the Moscow Kremlin to one building). By the time Nicolae Ceauşescu was overthrown and executed in 1989, the building had been almost complete. Some of the initially planned furnishings were never installed, and the last three basement levels and a large clock tower (meant to display the official Romanian time) were never finished.
2
Piața Unirii (Union Square)

2) Piața Unirii (Union Square) (must see)

Piaţa Unirii (Union Square) is one of the largest squares in central Bucharest. It is crossed by Bulevardul Unirii and was originally built, during the Communist era, as the Victory of Socialism Boulevard, but then renamed after the Romanian Revolution of 1989.

Although the square lost much of its historical appearance, it nonetheless is very much historical. Back in the early 19th century, it used to be an important commercial hub, with traders from all corners of Wallachia gathering regularly in front of the Hanul lui Manuc to sell their wares. When Bucharest expanded further south, a large market (Piața Mare) appeared here, which gained much popularity with the merchants from Moldova, Transylvania and Bulgaria. So much so, in fact, that, over the years, the increased market had to embrace a number of designated sections: meat (1831), vegetable (1874), fruit (1883), flower (1885), fish (1887), and poultry (1899). The whole complex ultimately took the name of Halele Unirii (Union Halls).

Under the Socialism, in 1985, the last remaining section of the market, Hala Mare (Great Hall), was demolished to clear space for the park at Piața Unirii.

Today, the square is a significant transport hub, containing the Piaţa Unirii metro station and a major interchange for RATB buses, plus a tram terminal near the southwest corner. The Unirea Shopping Center, Cocor department store, and a large taxi stop are found on the east side of the square, while the Hanul lui Manuc hotel is on the north side.

In the center of the square is a small park with fountains which are particularly popular during torrid summer months with both commuters and passers-by. At some point, there were plans to build here the Romanian National Salvation Cathedral, which proved to be technically impossible, though, due to the busy underground environment and little support from the locals; and thence were abandoned.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
3
Manuc's Inn

3) Manuc's Inn (must see)

Manuc's Inn is the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest, Romania. It also houses a popular restaurant, several bars, a coffee-house, and (facing the street) several stores and an extensive bar. Its massive, multiply balconied courtyard hosted many performances and fairs and was a popular place for Romanian Television crews to shoot folkloric performances.

The inn was built in 1808 as a khan, and originally owned by a wealthy and flamboyant Armenian entrepreneur, Emanuel Mârzaian, better known under his Turkish name Manuc Bei. By the middle of the 19th century, it was Bucharest's most important commercial complex, with 15 wholesalers, 23 retail stores, 107 rooms for offices or living, two receiving rooms, and a pub.

Although Manuc's Inn has been subject to repeated restorations — in 1848, 1863, 1966–1970, and 1991–1992, as well as the latest one in 2007 — its essential structure remained intact; of the three surviving 19th century inns in the Bucharest old town, it is the only one currently in use as a hotel.

The inn was the site of the preliminary talks for the Treaty of Bucharest, which put an end to the 1806–1812 Russo-Turkish war. In 1842 it briefly housed Bucharest's town hall. Around 1880 a hall at the inn was used as a theatre, and was the site of the first Romanian operetta performance.

Before Romania entered World War I, in 1914–1916, the hall "Sala Dacia" hosted meetings of the Romanian pro-war party seeking to establish a Greater Romania by uniting with Transylvania and Bukovina; speakers included Nicolae Filipescu, Take Ionescu, Barbu Ștefănescu Delavrancea, and Octavian Goga.

The building was nationalized 19 February 1949. Ownership was restored to Prince Șerban-Constantin Cantacuzino in February 2007.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
4
Lipscani Street

4) Lipscani Street (must see)

Lipscani is both a street and a district in Bucharest. Nowadays the backbone of the Old Town, from the Middle Ages until the early 19th century it had been a major commercial area.

Formerly a home to many trade guilds (goldsmiths, hatters, shoemakers, tanners, saddlemakers, etc.), the area's history is still reflected in the local street names: Strada Blănari (Furriers Street), Strada Șelari (Saddlemakers Street), and others. The word “lipscani” means merchants who brought wares from Lipsca (Leipzig in 17th-century Romanian).

Lipscani Street as such has been in existence since the early 18th century, albeit originally under a different name. It used to link the commercial heart of Bucharest to the Mogoșoaiei Bridge, and gained much prominence during the reign of prince Constantin Brâncoveanu (1688-1714).

Another prince, Serban Cantacuzino, built here an inn that stood until 1880 and was demolished to make way for the National Bank's headquarters. The Lime Inn, of 1833, still exists; you can see its construction year carved in stone above the entrance.

The eclectic-style buildings of the late 19th-early 20th century (combining elements of the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical) were all nationalized in 1948. In the 1980s, the Communist regime used them as free housing for Romani people, which subsequently brought them into an advanced state of disrepair. The area's continued degradation after 1990 caused the atmosphere of the past gradually disappear. The neighborhood was even scheduled for demolition at some point, which luckily never materialized.

During an extensive restoration, in the early 2010s, many historical buildings had been renovated and ruins of several medieval inns discovered under the pavement. Presently, much of the district is a pedestrian zone.

Apart from numerous restaurants and bars, among which is the famous Caru' cu Bere (Beer Wagon), and major international retail outlets, the area hosts a number of architectural gems, such as The National Bank of Romania, the Linden Tree Inn, and the spectacular bookstore Carturesti.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
5
Stavropoleos Convent

5) Stavropoleos Convent (must see)

Stavropoleos Convent, also known - during the last century when the convent was dissolved - as Stavropoleos Church, is an Eastern Orthodox nunnery in central Bucharest, Romania. Its church is built in Brâncovenesc style. The patrons of the church are St. Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The name Stavropoleos is a Romanian rendition of a Greek word, Stauropolis, meaning "The city of the Cross". Among other things the convent is particularly famous for is Byzantine music; it has a choir and the largest collection of Byzantine music books in Romania.

The church was built in 1724, during the reign of Nicolae Mavrocordat (Prince of Wallachia, 1719-1730), by archimandrite Ioanichie Stratonikeas. Within the precinct of his inn, Ioanichie built the church and a convent which was economically sustained with incomes from the inn. In 1726 abbot Ioanichie was elected metropolitan of Stavropole and exarch [the deputy of a patriarch] of Caria. Since then the convent he built has been known as Stavropoleos, after the name of its old seat. On February 7, 1742 Ioanichie, aged 61, died and was buried in his church.

The inn and the monastery's annexes were demolished at the end of the 19th century. Over time the church suffered from earthquakes, which caused the dome to fall. The dome's paintings were restored at the beginning of the 20th century. All that remains from the original nunnery now is the church, alongside the building, dating back to the early 20th century, which shelters a library, a conference room and a collection of old (early 18th century) icons and ecclesiastical objects, as well as parts of the wall paintings recovered from churches demolished during the communist regime. This new building was constructed to a plan by architect Ion Mincu.

The convent's library contains over 8,000 books on theology, Byzantine music, arts and history. There are patristic, biblical, dogmatic, liturgic, historical, homiletic, catechetic writings, as well as classic languages dictionaries and textbooks, studies on Byzantine art and Orthodox iconography, plus those on the Romanian history and civilization of the 18th century. Some of the books have been donated from the personal library of art historian Vasile Drăguţ, former rector of the Bucharest University of Arts.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
6
The National Military Circle

6) The National Military Circle

The National Military Circle building has been in place since 1912. Designed by Romanian architects D. Maimarolu, V. Stefanescu and E. Doneaud it features French neoclassical style and was intended to serve social, cultural and educational needs of the Romanian army. Currently, it accommodates art shows and book presentations, and other public events.

The building contains numerous reception halls and meeting rooms, a theater, a bookshop, and art galleries. The so-called Marble Hall is one of the most remarkable gems of Romanian architecture, richly adorned with a stunning collection of swords, stilettos, shields, spears, helmets, arrows, statues of winged victories and deities of war, creating a true military atmosphere. The extension of the Marble Hall is the Moorish Hall – clad in quality wood paneling with discreet ornamental motifs. The ceiling is made of boxes, decorated with stylized floral motifs and covered in gold leaf.

The Byzantine Hall takes its name from the Byzantine-style conception that features specific elements of the Romanian traditional art. The Gothic hall, named so for the Gothic architectural ambiance, is characterized by broken pointed arches and simple chandeliers, while the Norwegian Hall is inspired by the specific atmosphere of Northern Europe, including chandeliers in the shape of Viking ships, wooden ceiling with beams finished in consoles, representing fantastic animal faces, also inspired by Scandinavian mythology, creating the feel of old Nordic interiors.

An impressive double-sloped marble staircase, leading to the second floor, is designed so that, while ascending it, the visitor has a chance to gradually acquaint themselves with the ambiance and admire the interior.

The onsite Army Restaurant, located in one of the most sumptuous halls of the Palace, has been in service since 1951. The enclosure consists of elegant partitions, roundabouts masked by ample plush curtains, and balconies with baroque hardware. The venue can seat up to 400 guests.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
7
Revolution Square and Memorial of Rebirth

7) Revolution Square and Memorial of Rebirth

Piaţa Revoluţiei (Revolution Square) was once known as Piaţa Palatului (Palace Square), and was renamed after the Romanian Revolution of 1989.

The former Royal Palace (currently, the National Museum of Art of Romania), the Athenaeum, the Athénée Palace Hotel, the University of Bucharest Library, and the Memorial of Rebirth are all found here. The square also houses the former Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party headquarters (from where dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife fled by helicopter on December 22, 1989). In 1990, the building became the seat of the Senate and since 2006 has accommodated the Ministry of the Interior and Administrative Reform.

From 1930 to 1948, an equestrian statue of King Carol I dominated the square before being destroyed by the Communists. In 2007, the Bucharest City Hall set out to recreate the statue based on the original blueprints kept by the sculptor's (Meštrović) family.

In August 1968 and December 1989, the square saw two dramatic events marking, respectively, the height and the lowest point of Ceauşescu's rule. The former came when Ceauşescu openly condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and started pursuing the policy of independence from the Kremlin. The 1989 meeting, presented by the official propaganda as a "spontaneous movement of support for Ceauşescu", was meant to emulate the 1968 assembly; instead it caused a popular revolt erupt against the regime.

The Memorial of Rebirth, inaugurated in August 2005, commemorates the struggle, which claimed nearly 1,500 lives and brought Communist era in Romania to its end. The memorial features a 25-meter marble pillar, upon which a metal "crown" is placed. The pillar stands amid a 600 m² plaza covered in marble and granite. Despite a commonly-acknowledged need for such monument, its design has been largely criticized as devoid of symbolism, too abstract, and not adequately reflecting the suffering and magnitude of the 1989 revolution.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
8
Romanian Athenaeum

8) Romanian Athenaeum (must see)

The Romanian Athenaeum is a concert hall in the center of Bucharest and an architectural landmark of the Romanian capital city. Opened in 1888, this ornate, domed, circular building is the city's main concert hall and the home of the George Enescu Philharmonic and the George Enescu annual international music festival.

Dedicated to serve the needs of art and science, the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society was founded in 1865 by a group of cultural and scientific personalities, such as Constantin Esarcu, V. A. Urechia and Nicolae Creţulescu. The building was designed by French architect Albert Galleron, and was built on the property that once belonged to the Văcărescu family. Although the building itself was inaugurated in 1888, the actual work on it continued until 1897. A portion of the construction funds was raised by public subscription in the course of a 28-year long campaign, the slogan of which is still remembered today as "Donate one leu for the Ateneu!"

On December 29, 1919, the Atheneum hosted the conference of prominent Romanians who voted to ratify the unification of Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Bukovina with the Romanian Old Kingdom in a bid to resurrect Greater Romania.

Extensive reconstruction and restoration work was conducted in 1992 by a Romanian construction company and restoration painter Silviu Petrescu in order to save the building from collapse.

The overall style is neoclassical, with some more romantic touches. In front of the building there is a small park and a statue of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu. Inside, the ground floor hosts an ornate conference hall as large as the auditorium above; the auditorium seats 600 in the stalls and another 52 in loge seating. A 75-metre long and 3-metre wide fresco decorates the inside of the circular wall of the concert hall. Painted in the al fresco technique, the piece depicts the most important moments of the Romanian history, starting with the conquest of Dacia by Roman emperor Trajan and ending with the realization of Greater Romania in 1918.

Recognized as the symbol of Romanian culture, the building was added in 2007 to the Label of European Heritage Sites.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
9
Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue)

9) Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) (must see)

Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) is a major avenue in central Bucharest. Situated in Sector 1, and having a length of 2.7 kilometres (1.7 mi), it leads from Splaiul Independenței (which runs parallel to the Dâmbovița River) to the north and then northwest up to Piața Victoriei, where Șoseaua Kiseleff continues north.

Initially, the road was known as Ulița Mare (Large Street), also known as Drumul Brașovului (Brașov Road), being part of the trade route between Bucharest and the city of Brașov, in Transylvania. In 1692, ruler Constantin Brâncoveanu paved the road with wood and partly regularized it, making it pass through the domains of the Bălăceni, of the Saint John Monastery, Zlătari Monastery and of the Cantacuzenes up to the Sărindari Monastery. Since 1692 it was known as Podul Mogoșoaiei (Mogoșoaia Wood-Paved Road) because it also was connecting the Bucharest's center with Brâncoveanu's Mogoșoaia Palace some kilometres outside the city.

Most roads in the Balkans at that time became muddy in the spring and autumn, and the wood prevented this. Consequently, the road was one of the most important construction works of the area and a source of pride to Bucharesters. The area surrounding the road became the most fashionable part of Bucharest: 35 boyar houses were located on the road itself in 1775.

Podul Mogoșoaiei was the first street in Bucharest to be illuminated with candles during the night, starting July 1814.

The wood was not a very sturdy material and often it was in a bad state, despite being repaired several times (including in 1793 and 1814). During the Russian occupation of the Danubian Principalities, in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829), an extension from Piața Victoriei northward was built by Pavel Kiseleff, the commander of the occupation troops, and is today named after him. In 1842 the road was paved with cobblestone. It was later upgraded to asphalt.

The road was renamed "Calea Victoriei" on October 12, 1878, following the Romanian victory in the Independence War of 1877–1878.

Today, the avenue is lined with new fashion shops, art boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants, making it an upmarket shopping strip in Bucharest.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
10
Cișmigiu Gardens

10) Cișmigiu Gardens (must see)

Cişmigiu Gardens is a public park dating back to the times when Bucharest was still the capital of Wallachia Principality. Established in 1847, this is the oldest and largest (17 hectares) green space in the city.

The park was laid out on a site formerly known as "Lake of Dura the Merchant", or simply Dura, a popular fishing ground from as early as the 17th century. Part of the present-day gardens was occupied by vineyard, planted around a water source.

The decision to replace the lake was taken in 1846, during a period of Imperial Russian administration, and was based on an earlier proposal made by Russian governor, Pavel Kiselyov, in 1830. The actual plan for the park was formulated in 1844, prior to which, in 1843, Prince Gheorghe Bibescu had called on experts in horticulture and landscaping to partake in restructuring the Dura area. Subsequently, the German horticulturist Wilhelm Friedrich Carl Meyer and his assistant, gardener Franz Hörer, answered the call and arrived in Bucharest.

Under their supervision, by 1851, new species of trees had been brought in including chestnuts from Gorj County, walnuts from Dâmboviţa County, and other plants from places like Vienna and Braşov. At the same time, the lanes were reinforced with debris from the ruins of Curtea Nouă and Zlătari area.

The word “cişmigiu” is of Turkish origin and translates as a person responsible for building and maintaining public fountains. The name replaced older references to Dura, and was coined by the public since, at that time, the administrator of Bucharest fountains was living on the park grounds.

Cişmigiu continued to be developed by Meyer long after its official inauguration. In 1870, he laid out a plan to redesign the lanes, introduce an artesian aquifer, and create a kiosk for an orchestra. He also proposed to have gondolas carrying visitors over the lake.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles

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