Posted by: Alex MacGregor | June 19, 2015

A Day in Bucharest

Next up in Transylvania, I was planning on an ambitious hike on Piatra Craiului, a stunning national park near Brașov. But this started to feel a little too ambitious to set off on alone when I saw how fickle and chilly the weather was (in June!), and learned about Romania’s massive bear population.

Well, this blog is no stranger to wonton exploration of random capital cities; why not take in another in the form of Romania’s capital, Bucharest?


Gara de Nord, Bucharest’s train station. Love the fact that Romanian is a Romance language, and thus relatively comprehensible to me!


The urban form of Bucharest took an…interesting turn in the 1980s.


In the post about Brașov, I noted that ex-dictator Ceaușescu for whatever reason really liked for main boulevards to be lined with a wall of highrises.


Well, Bucharest is his masterpiece! It goes on and on like this.


Every so often, a minor obstruction such as a historic church is granted a little break.

In other words, in terms of urban aesthetics, Bucharest was dealt a pretty crappy hand.


But go through an unsuspecting tunnel under one of the high rises and something interesting happens.


Suddenly you’re in Old Town, a bar and club district to rival the best of them. Ceaușescu’s manic superimposition of a grand socialist metropolis onto the existing city often only went as deep as the back wall of the new high rises, with the neighborhoods behind them ignored.



The unexpected transitions between the bleak, masterplanned, aesthetic dystopia and random historic neighborhoods mark a unique part of exploring Bucharest. The only parallel I can draw is with Maputo, Mozambique, where Stalinist housing blocks rise awkwardly out of crumbling Portuguese colonial blight and modern shantytowns.

In this event, it’s certainly cool to see a city making lemons out of lemonade, with a decidedly chic ambiance that’s worth taking in if you’re passing through (perhaps on the way to glorious Transylvania!).




This isn’t to say that Bucharest’s backstreets are all like the gingerbread, bass-thumping lanes of Old Town. Rough edges and bizarre juxtapositions are in full effect as you stumble through the ad-hoc districts of the city.


Plus lots, and lots, of parked cars everywhere!


You never know whether you’ll stumble upon a grand square full of statues…


…or a church harkening the finer bits of Macedonia.


Haphazard wiring.


Shops of various types crowd all manner of structures. This building, which primarily seems to be a medical clinic, also hosts a bar, massage parlor, and beauty salon. (My theory is that, under communism, there was a whole lot less need for shops peddling good and services, leading to such space being at a premium in the modern era.)

Unfortunately, Bucharest’s rough edges cross over into the realm of being hassled on the street. I was asked pretty aggressively for money several times, and the city certainly has a reputation for pickpockets. Budapest isn’t perfect, but it’s far more easygoing in this department.


One positive aspect of having monstrous boulevards slammed onto the city–there are some pretty generous recreational paths, and pleasant strolls to be had!




A manmade canal flowing through town.




Bucharest’s gorgeous main park, which, if this map is to be believed, features a permanent array of Easter Island statues! (It doesn’t.)


Wild strawberries on the cheap. Yum!


And Bucharest’s crowing feature: the it hosts the largest capitol building in the world! And supposedly the second largest building in the world period, after the Pentagon. It was originally named the People’s Palace, and was the masterpiece of Ceaușescu’s masterplanning adventures.


Nowadays, in addition to being the capitol building, is serves as a screen for massive for projected lightshows, and a backdrop for other events. A pretty neat adaptation for the place, and perhaps a decent metaphor for Bucharest itself.


  1. […] always fun exploring a capital–even if this one has a lot less going on than buzzy Bucharest–but rain was setting in and it was time to be departing for the country’s oddball east: […]

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