Almost two years ago I visited Bucharest for the first time and the more I walked its decadent streets, the more I liked it.
The honesty of this city is brutal as the contrast is perceptible in every single area. You will find old and new, poor and rich and captivating and ill-flavored coexisting so close that the tension is the norm. Bucharest is not ashamed of its past (why should it be?) and every building is part of a very complex history that has just veered 30 years ago. There is no “meh” with this city. You either like it or not.
This is a list of places that I really loved as an architect. Some are quite known and some are hidden gems that locals shared with me (my sister moved there years ago). The stories behind each of these places are unique and the order has nothing to do with any type of categorization – all of them are stunning.
My favorite is #5, yours?
1. Cărturești Carusel
Architect: Square One
Location: Strada Lipscani 55 (Google)
Description: Probably my favorite spot in Bucharest, I’ve spent hours and hours in this wonderful space. The building is located in the old city center and has had a long and intricate history. Built in the 19th century, it started out as a bank and then it became a clothing shop between the 50s and the 90s. After the clothing shop closed, the building became slowly a ruin for the past 20 years before it regained life as a bookstore. Read more here.
2. Palace of the Parliament
Architect: Anca Petrescu
Location: Strada Izvor 2-4 (Google)
Description: Construction of the Palace began on June 25th 1984 and by the time of its completion in 1997 it was the world’s second-largest building (after the Pentagon). Nicolae Ceauşescu’s most colossal creation has more than 3000 rooms and covers 330,000 sq metres. The works were carried out with forced labor of soldiers in order to minimize the cost and around 3,000 people died here during its construction. As you can see, the day I visited was especially grey and I can’t describe how cold the atmosphere around here was. Read more here.
3. Catedrala Mântuirii Neamului
Architect: John Augustine
Location: Strada Izvor 88 (Google)
Year: 2024 (expected)
Description: This massive construction not far away from the Parliament would definitely strike the wandering visitor – the scale of the project is remarkable when compared to its surroundings. It will be the patriarchal cathedral of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world when completed. The fact that it’s located just beside the largest building in Romania arises a debate on what is more important nowadays: Politics or religion? Read more here.
4. Caru’ cu Bere
Architect: Siegfrid Kofczinsky
Location: Strada Stavropoleos 5 (Google)
Description: This exciting gothic revival building has inside it’s popular Caru’ cu Bere, meaning the beer wagon. The magic of this place is to see its thirsty visitors being amazed by its interior decoration, in art nouveau style. People are wandering around admiring the striking wooden stairs while waiting for their beers. Read more here.
5. Stavropoleos Monastery
Architect: Ion Mincu
Location: Strada Stavropoleos 4 (Google)
Description: Originally built as an Eastern Orthodox monastery for nuns in Brâncovenesc style. One of the monastery’s constant interests is Byzantine music, expressed through its choir and the largest collection of Byzantine music books in Romania. The inn and the monastery’s annexes were demolished at the end of 19th century. Over time the church suffered from earthquakes, which caused the dome to fall. All that remains from the original monastery is the church, alongside a building from the beginning of the 20th century which shelters a library, a conference room and a collection of old (early 18th century) icons and ecclesiastical objects. Read more here.
6. Athenee Palace Hilton
Architect: Duiliu Marcu and Théophile Bradeau
Location: Strada Episcopiei 1-3 (Google)
Description: Among the many Art Deco buildings in Bucharest (some of them in the same street), this hotel is the most beautiful and best preserved. Surprisingly, it was Europe’s most notorious den of spies in the years leading up to World War II, and only slightly less so during the Cold War. Another fun fact is that it was the first building in Bucharest to use reinforced concrete construction. Read more here.
7. Grădina OAR
Architect: Romanian Architects Organization
Location: Strada Arthur Verona 19 (Google)
Description: This cute hidden gem is the result of the work by the Romanian Architects Organization (Ordinul Arhitecților din România) and it’s accessible via Carturesti (not the one in #1 of this list). It is such a shame that this discrete and quite lovely place is only open during the summer. Enjoy it while you can. Read more here.
8. Diane 4 Restaurant
Location: Strada Dianei 4 (Google)
Description: The house from Dianei Street 4 has a complicated history, as do most of the beautiful 19th century houses in Bucharest. It’s a history that has left traces and you’ll be able to see it. As it happened with most houses that belonged to the Bucharest bourgeoisie, in 1950 the house was nationalized and it was used by several families until the 1990s. After that, it became the property of the state, in the use of the Foreign Intelligence Service. The original owner regained the property of the house in 2007 and nowadays it is used as a restaurant and bar. Read more here.
9. Ion Mincu University of Architecture
Architect: Grigore Cerchez
Location: Strada Academiei 18-20 (Google)
Description: The “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest is the oldest and most prestigious academic institution in this field in Romania and South-Eastern Europe. The new School of Architecture was meant to be a manifesto of the newly emerged national architectural style. The monumental building has a loggia that replicates that of the famous medieval Mogosoaia Palace, and the façade boasts a lavishly sculpted decoration. Since 1953 The University of Architecture and Urbanism bears the name of the Romanian architect Ion Mincu, in recognition for his exceptional contribution to the development of the national school of architecture.. Read more here.
10. Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum
Location: Șoseaua Pavel Dimitrievici Kiseleff 30 (Google)
Description: This outdoor museum is a dream for anyone who loves architecture as it is formed by several vernacular houses that have been brought from all around Romania. The park aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the architectural styles used in building the traditional rural homes in sundry regions of the country (Moldavia, Oltenia, Transylvania, Banat, and Dobrogea, for instance). The houses aside, the patrimony of the museum is complemented by churches, outhouses and mills, and depending on their type are furnished with authentic items (old furniture, tapestries, tools and the like), such as to render as closely as possible the atmosphere of the rural life. Read more here.
11. Bellu Cemetery
Architect: Alexandru Orescu (chapel)
Location: Șoseaua Olteniței 3-5 (Google)
Description: Up to the 19th century, Bucharestians used to bury their dead in small parish graveyards set around local churches; at the same time, a few cemeteries existed around the city. The graveyard was founded on a vast plot of land donated to the City Hall by Barbu Bellu in 1853. It houses the tombs of many notable Romanian writers – a map inside the gate points out locations. Read more here.
12. The Choral Temple
Architect: Siegfrid Kofczinsky
Location: Strada Sfânta Vineri 9 (Google)
Description: First built in 1857, then rebuilt in 1866 following its destruction in a pogrom, the red-brick Choral Temple has a memorial in front of it (visible from the street) that commemorates the Romanian Jews sent to their deaths during the Holocaust. It is a copy of Vienna’s Leopoldstadt-Tempelgasse Great Synagogue. Don’t miss other great Jewish gems around this area (check map below). Read more here.
13. Biserica Rusă
Location: Strada Blănari 16 (Google)
Description: Russian Ambassador Mihail Nikolaevich de Giers built a Russian church in Bucharest, merely for the use of the embassy staff and for the Russians living in the city in 1905. The church was built of compressed bricks and stone, the Russian style being obvious especially in the 7 steeples initially covered in gold. During WW1 it was closed, its valuables being transferred to Iași and then to Sankt Petersburg, where they disappeared during the Russian Revolution. Read more here.
14. Muzeul Municipiului București
Architect: Conrad Schwink and Johann Veit
Location: Bulevardul Ion C. Brătianu 2 (Google)
Description: Despite having been built almost 10 years ago, the grand opening of the museum took place in November 1931. In the aftermath of the war, the Filipescu-Cesianu House was turned into a hospital, while the collections were packed and stored away in a few rooms. The most valuable pieces at the time were evacuated in 1944 and transported to the Raznic commune, in Dolj County, where they were kept until 1948. However, the most remarkable part of this museum is the staircase. Read more here.
15. Palatul Voievodal Curtea Veche and Church
Location: Strada Franceză 25 (Google)
Description: The Old Princely Court Museum (Curtea Veche) houses the oldest historical testimonies of Bucharest, dating from the 13th century. The adjacent church was part of the adjacent Princely Court, to which it was connected by a vaulted passage, and served for coronation ceremonies as well as worship place for Wallachian Princes for two hundred years. Although it is currently closed, the church can be visited. Read more here.
16. Muzeul Nicolae Minovici and Dumitru Minovici House
Architect: Cristofi Cerchez
Location: Strada Doctor Nicolae Minovici (Google)
Description: Two houses located one aside the other and yet so different in styles. The first one was built as a museum in honor of Nicolae Minovici, who founded both the first public ambulance service in Bucharest and the city’s first emergency hospital (he also donated the ethnographic exhibits himself). The second one, the amazing red brick Tudor style house holds the small yet stunning art collection of Dumitru Furnica Minovici, who made his fortune in the oil business in the 1930s . Read more here.
17. Union of Romanian Architects HQ
Architect: Zeno Bogdanescu and Dan Marin
Location: Strada Demetru I. Dobrescu 5 (Google)
Description: The building of the Union of Romanian Architects, built in the French Renaissance architectural style was destoyed in 1989 by fire. The remains were used for a new project which has turned out to be a controversial landmark (maybe because it’s a bit painful for the eyes?) The new project follows the modern style, in accordance with the general architecture manner of the neighbourhood but the architects have been accused that the result neglects a historical monument (and I completely agree). Read more here.
18. Casa Universitarilor
Architect: Grigore Cerchez
Location: Strada Dionisie Lupu 46 (Google)
Description: Built for Cezar Librecht, Director of the Post Company during the rule of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. When the prince stepped down in 1866, Librecht left the country and the house was bought over by Marshal Gheorghe Filipescu’s Family. Confiscated by the Communist government, it was granted to the professor guild in town, with a few reading rooms, conference halls, a cinema and a restaurant being set in. For a visit one should get permission from the University of Bucharest headquarters down the Mihail Kogălniceanu Avenue. Read more here.
19. Arcul de Triumf
Architect: Petre Antonescu
Location: Piața Arcul de Triumf (Google)
Description: After all this time of refurbishment, the arch is finally accessible to the public. The first triumphal arch was built hurriedly, after Romania gained independence (1878), so that the victorious troops could march under it. Another temporary arch was built on the same site in 1922, after World War I, Which was demolished in 1935 to make way for the current triumphal arch, inaugurated in 1936. The well-known architect has more interesting buildings to visit, my favorite: The Adriatic Building. Read more here.
20. Muzeul Național al Ţăranului Român
Architect: Nicolae Ghica-Budești
Location: Șoseaua Pavel Dimitrievici Kiseleff 3 (Google)
Description: The National Museum of the Romanian Peasant is one of Europe’s leading museums of popular arts and traditions. During the Communist era, the building housed a museum representing the country’s Communist party; the museum’s basement still contains a room devoted to an ironic display of some artifacts from that earlier museum. The building, which uses traditional Romanian architectural features, was built on the former site of the State Mint (Monetăria Statului). Read more here.
21. Biserica Mihai Vodă
Location: Strada Sapienței 4 (Google)
Description: The story of this church will make you want to visit. Along the centuries the monastery served as a refuge place for more than a few princes, witnessed Turkish assaults as well as dramatic moments. The exceptional value of Mihai Voda monastery as part of the city’s history and memory did not spare it from the woes of the last years of the totalitarian regime. Mihai Voda church is one of the churches which have been relocated during the demolitions of the 1980s. The church and its Belfry were moved away from the hill where they had been sitting for almost 400 years, and transported over 289m. Read more here.
22. CEC Palace
Architect: Paul Gottereau
Location: Calea Victoriei 13 (Google)
Description: The C.E.C. Palace was built to accommodate the operations carried out by the historical savings bank of Romania. The work of Paul Gottereau was complemented by the contribution of Ion Socolescu, a Romanian architect in charge with the execution of the works. The palace is, beyond all doubts, a jewel which complements the architectural patrimony on Calea Victoriei. The interior of the palace is embellished with pictorial works by Mihail Simonide. Read more here.
23. Romanian Athenaeum
Architect: Albert Galleron
Location: Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3 (Google)
Description: Built as a concert hall with money collected publicly, following a national lottery (500.000 tickets were issued). 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. The Romanian Atheneum remains not just a building of universal value, architecturally representative for Romania and the Balkans, but also a symbol of the spiritual tradition of a whole nation. Read more here.
Check these and other amazing buildings of Bucharest on the map below: